ROCK HILL — No birds flew through the air but still all eyes were on a recently refurbished pipe organ that belted out the sounds of “The Cuckoo” – with its high-pitched whistle and tweedle-tweedle-dee’s – in one of Rock Hill’s oldest churches Sunday.
Gathered at the First Associate Reform Presbyterian Church on East White Street were more than 100 church members and music enthusiasts who came to hear the booming sounds of the organ after a three-year effort to repair its deteriorating wood and brittle leather.
“We had to either maintain it or shut it down,” said Patrick Robinson, the church’s director of music.
The church chose to keep it going, and enlisted help from Morris Spearman, who was already caring for the organ on a maintenance basis, to lay out a three-year, multi-phase plan that would enhance and renovate the organ.
After spending at least $250,000, the organ’s renovation was completed this spring. Now remodeled, it stands high behind the church’s pulpit with a blend of new and old pipes from an organ the church purchased in 1971– the fourth since its founding.
To commemorate the occasion, church members organized a program to show off the newly refined instrument, as well as feature a native talent.
J. Marty Cope, born in Rock Hill with roots in Ebenezer Associate Reform Presbyterian Church and connections with First ARP, stepped on the stage and told the congregation that it was Robinson who first asked him to play for First ARP’s choir when he was a young boy.
“I’m very grateful for this church,” he said about the “finest choir in all of the town.”
“Occasionally, the repertoire we did comes back in my mind when I’m planning programs,” he said.
Commotion in the sanctuary was quickly stilled as Cope played “Processional,” a lively piece by Welsh composer William Mathias. Several pieces later, his fingers dashed across a keyboard as he played “The Cuckoo,” composed by famed French composer Louis-Claude D’Aquin, followed by “Prelude,” a somber piece with a dynamic finish.
After each piece, he was treated to roaring applause as some in the audience followed along in hymn books. Others bobbed their heads to the music.
Cope, who received music training at St. Olaf College, Indiana University and the University of Cambridge, said he fell in love with the organ – “what Mozart called the king of instruments” – when he was in the ninth grade.
“I saw the pipes and (heard) the sounds, and I got excited,” said the 36-year-old Cope before his performance.
Now Cope directs the choir and serves as associate organist at Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas. But that doesn’t stop him from returning to First ARP, a church he’s developed a “partnership” with, every now and then.
“They have a very strong choir,” he said. “I’m glad to be here.”
So was Anthony Navarro, an elder at a Presbyterian church in Huntersville, N.C., who played hookey from choir practice to attend the concert.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a real organ,” he said, adding that he also wanted to hear a “real organ” play.
Cope’s performance met his expectations, Navarro said, but he also basked in connecting with other members of the Presbytery.
“It’s wonderful to see that interconnectedness,” he said.
After Cope finished playing, attendees swarmed into a fellowship hall, where many stood in line for a chance to shake hands with Cope. One of them was 80-year-old Dorcas Hinson who, after speaking with Cope and hearing him play, said she was inspired to “take up music” again.
Hinson, a member of First ARP, said she was “very impressed” with Cope’s performance but more pleased that members of the church can now enjoy the organ they raised money to repair.
“I felt great about it,” she said. She’s happy “to have it behind it us” and now “we get to hear the music.”
For Ken Gasque, the booming music spoke.
“I could have listened for another hour” he said. “That organ just talks to you.”
For Morris Spearman, co-owner of Charlotte’s Spearman-Hawkinson, Inc., the company that rebuilt the organ, it all came full circle on Sunday.
Spearman said the organ “has the most wide range of color” of any organ he’s ever built.
“It’s wonderful...exhilarating,” he said. After three years of remodeling the organ, “This is the culmination.”