For centuries, the organ has played an essential role in music of the church. Yet recent years have seen a decline in the number of students studying the instrument. While some conservatories and music schools have struggled to find new students or closed their organ departments altogether, Interlochen has continued to cultivate a new generation of organ musicians. Inspired to play and teach, they represent a bright future for a time-honored instrument.
So when Interlochen’s cherished Reuter pipe organ began to fail a few years ago, there was no question that the necessary repairs would be made. The organ had been built in 1948 for Hanover College in Indiana and in 1981 it was modified for the then-new Dendrinos Chapel & Recital Hall at Interlochen. During its tenure as Interlochen’s only concert instrument, it had been running almost continuously for rehearsals, lessons, and recitals. Many of the world’s best concert artists have performed on it, providing inspiration to some of tomorrow’s brightest stars who have grown up listening to its music.
Restoration of the instrument was estimated at $450,000 and Interlochen began to seek the necessary funds. "Interlochen is the only place of its kind where high school students can go to study organ," said Instructor of Organ Tom Bara, himself an alumnus of the program. "Interlochen needs its instrument to be worthy of its mission and success. A truly fine pipe organ will be an inspiration, well-used and appreciated by Interlochen organ students for many years to come."
A cadre of dedicated supporters committed funds to the project, and the organ's restoration became a transformation. The Reuter Organ Company of Kansas built for Interlochen a new recital instrument, Opus 2227, using the best parts of the original. They alleviated urgent mechanical issues with a new console, relay system, re-engineered chest layout, winding, facade, and great and pedal division, and addressed the tonal concerns in the swell and choir division. In addition, the number of ranks was expanded to 50.
The transformed organ, dedicated in fall 2006, was named the Upton-Murphy Pipe Organ in memory of the person most responsible for the success of the organ program at Interlochen, musician and educator Robert Murphy. Murphy, who passed away in 2001, was a charter member of the Interlochen Arts Academy faculty and music director of Traverse City's Central United Methodist Church. His name evokes intense affection and loyalty from former colleagues, students, trustees, and alumni.
Coincidentally, it was Murphy's childhood Sunday-school teacher, Margaret Upton, whose distinguished family arranged the initial donation of the original Reuter pipe organ to Interlochen, and twenty-some years later provided leadership support for the 2006 transformation.