15th Anniversary of Pacific Union College's Rieger Organ

By Melinda Smith on June 13, 2007

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October 10 marks the anniversary of the completion of the Pacific Union College Church's Rieger Organ. At the school's chapel service on this date, the anniversary was celebrated as professor of music Del Case performed music on the world class organ which he had played fifteen years earlier in the instrument's dedicatory recital.

A technical and visual masterpiece, the $250,000 Rieger organ is the result of a project which was 18 years in the making. The first commitment by Pacific Union College to build a pipe organ was made in 1963, but insufficient finances and difficulties with the chosen organ company delayed the plans. In 1977 the college was able to pursue the project again, appointing a committee to make recommendations for a builder and for the design. The first task was resolved when, after extensive study, Rieger Orgelbau of Austria was selected from the fifteen North American and European builders considered.

The organ was constructed in Schwarzach, Austria, of materials ranging from African mahogany, Austrian spruce, and ivory, to steel beams for internal support. A French approach was taken in the design, which makes use of 58 stops, eight couplers and eight combination stops. Case, who was in charge of tonal design, emphasizes the organ's uniqueness, writing at the time of its installation in 1981: "Although the instrument is firmly rooted in historic traditions, it is not a copy of a single ideal."

Those involved in the creation of the Rieger Organ held hopes in 1981 that it wo,be a landmark instrument, influencing the surrounding community and shaping musical thought. Fifteen years later, it would appear that these goals have been realized. Many organ committees, in research for the development of their own organs, have visited the Pacific Union College campus to examine and play the Rieger. It has been greatly influential in this way, with its design serving as the primary model for a number of organs worldwide, including the instruments in the First Presbyterian Churches in both St. Helena and Oakland, in Portland, Oregon's Sunnyside Adventist Church, at Union College in Nebraska, and in a concert hall in Hong Kong. Three compact discs have been recorded in the Pacific Union College Church on the organ. And this fall, a group of German organists, touring what they had designated as the most important organs in the U.S., included the college with its Rieger as one of 35 stops.

The impact of the organ on college life has also been significant. Over 50 organ concerts have been given since 1981. The Rieger has generated an organ endowment, which has currently donated over $100,000 in scholarships to Pacific Union College students studying the instrument. Some students have chosen the college over other schools specifically because of the organ. "The Rieger has brought an enormous amount of pleasure to many people," says Case. "It has served as a great inspiration in the worship services at the college."