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Music Instruments at MLC Madison, AL

Messiah Lutheran Church values church music and the vital role it serves in supporting worship, inspiring creative expression, and the capacity is has to form communities — such as Messiah’s choirs and instrumental ensembles. These exceptional instruments are tangible expressions of that love of music — each instrument was purchased exclusively through the dedicated gifts of MLC members! Messiah is the only church in the City of Madison to have an actual pipe organ. Both instruments are of the quality that professional musicians expect. These instruments paired with the sanctuary’s exceptional acoustics helped establish MLC’s Music at Messiah Classical Concert Series in 2013 for the purpose of presenting free classical music concerts for the community featuring professional musicians.

MLC organ and piano

The Miller Organ

The pipe organ is rightly called “the king of instruments”. In size alone it dwarfs any other musical instrument. Then, there is the capability. In addition to the specific “organ” sound, it approximates the sound of many other instruments, such as the trumpet. Messiah’s organ was specifically designed around the acoustics of the Messiah sanctuary.

When the sanctuary was expanded in 2012 the existing pipe organ could not be easily expanded to meet the new spacial requirements. The importance of music to the Messiah congregation was recognized, and both the size and location of a pipe chamber and the acoustics were major considerations in the design of the expansion. After an extended search, Miller Pipe Organ Services of Atlanta was selected to provide the organ. Miller Pipe Organ continues to tune and service the organ he designed for MLC on a regular basis.

The instrument has the typical 61 note GREAT and SWELL keyboards (manuals) and a 32 note PEDALBOARD. All of the pipes are under expression, which means all pipes are enclosed. This organ has a predominance of 8 foot ranks, providing the rich sound of the instrument. Details of the instrument are provided below.

For concerts, the console of the organ is moved to the center of the chancel and turned so the back of the organist is to the audience, exposing the pedals and the movement of of the legs.

Please see the chart below for its technical details.

The Steinway D Piano

The piano was made by Steinway and Sons in their New York factory. Steinway is an American piano company started by the German immigrant Heinrich Steinweg in 1853 in Manhattan. The first piano was given the serial number 483 because Steinweg had made 482 instruments prior to coming to America. This piano is number 484671, which indicates that it was completed in 1984. It was purchased from a church in Birmingham in the spring of 2018 . A dedication took place on June 6.

Steinway makes 6 different grand pianos, varying in length from about 5’ in the S model to 9’ in the D, which is the piano we have here. They are handmade. And with about 12,000 parts, each one takes about a year to make. They are made not only from wood and metal, but various kinds of wool felt, as well as leather. The woods are carefully chosen for their strength, resilience, and tonal properties. The rim of the piano is made of layers of hard rock Canadian maple. Tension is built into the rim as the layers are bent and glued in a press invented in the 1880’s. The metal plate inside the rim is cast iron. It holds the tension of the strings and prevents the piano from pulling itself to pieces – when the 243 strings in a D are in tune, there’s over 20 tons of tension on the frame.

The strings are not actually string, but wire made with precision by Mapes Wire in TN. The composition and diameters are carefully chosen so that when each string is pulled to tune, it is within a few percent of the total tension needed to break the string. The soundboard is made of Sitka spruce from Alaska. Much like a violin or guitar, the soundboard is what amplifies and colors the sound of the vibrating strings. The Sitka Spruce is one of the key determinants of the piano’s sound. The string tension and sound are transmitted into the soundboard by a bridge – just as in a violin. It’s not flat, but arced upwards like the top of a violin. The keys are cut from a single slab of Bavarian spruce, and their surfaces are made of a plastic polymer – Steinway stopped using Elephant ivory in the 1950s.

Of course, the most important thing about a piano is its sound. The sound of every piano is slightly different due to the natural materials used to make it and the tensions built into the instrument by the manufacturer and the technician. There is no one right sound. Steinway’s are clear but complex, much like our religion and faith. The complex series of overtones and the way they interact cannot be analyzed or understood by striking a single key. It is the way that string interacts with others through the bridge, the soundboard, and the rim which gives each piano its unique character. Weather and humidity also impact the sound and performance and for that reason, temperature controls in the Sanctuary are maintained at optimal levels.

One of the beauties of an acoustic instrument is that its sound can be molded differently by each performer in the way they touch the keys, a reflection of their personality and how it interacts with the tension and flexibility of the natural materials in this instrument. The piano is one of the beauties of God’s creation. It demonstrates the truth in Martin Luther’s statement: “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure
in the world.”

Written by John Shriver (for the Piano’s Dedication Bulletin)

Other Instruments at MLC

Messiah has four other upright pianos in addition to the Steinway on site to support our children’s choirs, our annual summer Music Camp, and activities taking place in our Fellowship and Parish Halls. An electric piano is used by our Contemporary Ensemble once a month during worship and for other events. Messiah also owns a full set of Handbells and Chimes which are used by the Notabella Handbell Choir. MLC has an annual “Ring and Sing” concert for the community that raises money for the Madison Public Library.