Composing a unique student research opportunity

Rachel Carey '16 chronicles College's pipe organ history

Writing history is no small task. For history major and music minor Rachel Carey ’16, though, the task is a welcome one. 

Combining her love of history and music, Carey is compiling the background of the College’s 1950s Reuter opus 1148 pipe organ that magnificently welcomes visitors to Parmer Hall in the High Center for Worship and Performing Arts. The organ, purchased from Millersville University for $5 at a public auction during the High Center’s construction, was updated and restored to fit Messiah’s space. The Mid-Century organ was built during what was known as the American Organ Revival. As part of her senior honors project, Carey is examining the cultural influences of this revival, focusing on Messiah’s prime example in Parmer.

Carey began the project last summer by meeting with S.D.G. Organs, the Millersville, Pa., company that originally sold the organ. That’s where she began to learn about the pipe organ’s past—specifically looking at where it came from, what the installation process was like and other important details.

From there, Carey collected additional oral histories from various individuals involved, including organ professors at both Messiah College and Millersville University, faculty in the music department and operations employees. Each one has helped her piece together the timeframe and details of how this organ came to be and how it got to Messiah.

The oral histories, Carey says, have been her favorite part of the project so far. “Talking to people who are so passionate about…what the organ means for the school is incredible,” said Carey. “It’s been really helpful to hear how they have each been involved in part of the organ’s history.”

For the graded part of her project, Carey completed a literary review during the spring 2015 semester, which included reading and analyzing 25+ books on organs and cultural history. The second part of the project (which Carey will complete this fall) includes a senior thesis—a 30-page paper on the topic of the effects of post-World War II American culture on the organ revival.

Carey’s project will culminate with a public presentation and Q-and-A session in Parmer Hall at 7 p.m. Dec. 8. Following her presentation, Messiah’s Adjunct Organ Instructor Shawn Gingrich and his students will give a 30-minute pipe organ recital, featuring some of the original repertoire played during the organ’s original installation in 1956.

— Erin Bray ’10