It's a pipe dream: Bruton Parish's new organ

Tuesday morning, a red semi-tractor trailer made its way down Duke of Gloucester Street filled with wooden crates. After parking, a team of men quickly unloaded boxes from the trailer, stacking them neatly inside Bruton Parish Episcopal Church.

What came in those dozen or so crates has taken more than a decade and $2 million to finally arrive: the church’s new Dobson organ.

Beckie Davy, Bruton Parish music director and organist, said the church began looking into getting a new organ 12 years ago when the old one started to wear out. After a six-month search, the church settled on purchasing a new one from Dobson Pipe Organ Builders.

Davy said Bruton Parish chose Dobson to build their organ because the company makes every part by hand, ensuring each instrument is built with its church in mind.

“We like to have control of everything that is in the organ, so we make the pipes ourselves and we make all the windchests, so when a church is looking for an organ they’re generally looking for a work of art,” said Lynn Dobson, president of Dobson Pipe Organ Builders and the designer of Burton’s organ.

The company, based in Lake City, Iowa, has been in business since 1974. Dobson said it has built organs for places such as the St. Thomas Cathedral in New York City and the Merton College Chapel in Oxford.

“We’re the first American organ builder to build an organ for Oxford University, so that’s kind of a big deal,” Dobson said.

Bruton Parish’s organ took a year and a half to build.

“(Building the organ) is quite a long process, we spent quite a number of years on the design process,” Dobson said.

One of the factors Dobson said he took into account when designing the organ was the church’s historic nature.

“The most challenging part has been that the church building is quite small and yet its a very active parish and the music program here is quite extensive,” Dobson said. “In a church like this in the 18th century, they probably would have had a smaller organ, but of course the program here is so busy, they have about 160 recitals a year, so the organ needed to be bigger to handle all of the kinds of music they do.”

The Rev. Christopher Epperson, Bruton Parish’s rector, said the organ is historically accurate and fits the church’s modern needs.

While the organ’s parts have arrived at the church, work isn’t finished yet. Davy said it will take three to four weeks to install the organ, and then another three months for tonal adjustments.

“This organ has a couple thousand pipes and each pipe has to be adjusted so it plays the proper tone and pitch, and all that has to be adjusted in the church for the church’s acoustics,” Dobson said.

Dobson said that requires one person in the church listening to the sound the organ makes while another person is inside working the pipes.

“That process is very painstaking, it’s all done by ear,” Dobson said. “We expect to be finished with this organ by the end of June or July.”

Davy said the total cost of the project, including remodeling the church and installing the organ, is about $2 million. Davy said the money was raised through a capital campaign, and most of it was given by members of the congregation.

“We didn’t have a heck of a lot of difficulties raising money for this project — there was a lot of energy and a lot of excitement,” Epperson said. “It has to do with our music ministry here, several concerts a week, and the real focus of the community on our music program — and the parish recognizes that and got behind (the new organ).”

Epperson said his favorite part of the new organ has been seeing the parish come together.

“It's going to be a beautiful instrument, so I will enjoy the beauty of it — not just physically but also the music and our great organists who make this program what it is,” he said. “I think it's going to be really, really cool.”

What’s next?

Davy said they expect the organ to be fully installed and ready to play by late July. Bruton Parish will have its inaugural organ concert in September.

To learn more about the church’s new organ, visit

Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.

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