New organ fills Eagle River church with the sound of music

Monday, May 14, 2018 - 14:44
  • Eagle River Presbyterian Church organist Michael Wright plays the churche’s new organ on Friday, April 27, 2018 in Eagle River. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • The inside of the new organ at the Eagle River Presbyterian Church. The church raised funds to pay for the new instrument, which was shipped up from Washington in October. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Organist Michael Wright plays the organ at the Eagle River Presbyterian Church on Friday, April 27, 2018. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Organist Michael Wright looks over sheet music before playing the new organ at the Eagle River Presbyterian Church on Friday, April 27, 2018. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Michael Wright’s organ shoes sit atop the new organ at the Eagle River Presbyterian Church. The soft-shoed shoes are used to more easily manipulate the organ’s wooden pedals. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Organist Michael Wright looks over sheet music before playing the new organ at the Eagle River Presbyterian Church on Friday, April 27, 2018. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)

Sometimes when Michael Wright is practicing on the new organ at Eagle River Presbyterian Church, members of an Alcohol Anonymous group that shares the building will wander into the church to listen.

“It’s a really awesome experience,” Wright said during a recent interview at the downtown Eagle River church.

When Wright plays the new organ, the entire building resonates with heavenly chords that echo outside its walls into the streets beyond.

“You can hear it out in the parking lot,” said church administrative assistant Allison Denton.

The organ is an Allen 5000, which the church bought used from Northwest Organ in Spokane, Washington. Wright explained the machine is all digital but must still be manipulated with the standard keys and pedals of a traditional pipe organ. When it’s turned up to its full volume, Wright said the sound is like no other.

“It makes people sing louder,” said Wright, who wears special soft-soled shoes to work the wooden pedals.

Denton said the congregation raised about $5,000 to pay for the new instrument, which was shipped to Eagle River in October. Denton said when pastor Piper Cartland first heard the new organ in action, she was floored.

“She goes, ‘Oh my goodness!’” Denton recalled.

The new organ has been the talk of the church since it arrived.

“It was exciting for us,” she said.

To showcase the organ, the church is planning a special concert May 17 at 7 p.m. The free event will include “sacred music from past and present Christian composers” and will feature a solo performance by Wright, one of the few full-time organists in Alaska.

“There’s not many of us,” said Wright, who performs in bright shoelaces that match his equally electric ties.

Entitled “Pulling out all the Stops,” the concert will feature the organ at its biggest and boldest.

“I’m super excited for this concert,” he said.

The event will be a swan song of sorts for Wright, who is leaving Alaska soon. His wife is in the Coast Guard, he explained, and they’re shipping out for Florida later this year.

Denton said the church is currently in the process of looking for a new organist to step into Wright’s soft-soled shoes.

In the meantime, folks still have a chance to see what the new organ can do when it’s at its full potential. Wright said he’s hopeful the room will be filled during the concert, and promised a show locals won’t soon forget.

“Mozart called it the ‘King of Instruments’ for a reason,” he said.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected]

Facebook comments