Organ enthusiasts are gathering in Lebanon County this weekend to see and
hear some of the oldest organs made in this country by a local manufacturer.
The bi-annual Reed Organ Society conference is hosted by the Lebanon County Historical Society, 924 Cumberland St.
The group chose Lebanon County for its gathering because the famous Miller pipe organs were made here. In other years, the event has been held in Michigan and Ohio. About 65 members of the society have registered for the gathering, a number that pleases local organizer Mark V. Herr. "I think it's a good attendance given the poor economy," Herr said.
Attendees from around the country registered for the conference Thursday.
"I love them. I play them. I rebuild them," said Nancy Varner of Iowa. "Once you're bitten by the bug, it's like potato chips, you can't just have one." Varner said most collectors have more than one reed organ because they usually need one for parts. She has about a dozen reed organs. Varner said she became involved with reed organs about 25 years ago when she found one in an antique store in Nebraska that was made in her hometown of Moline, Iowa. "I got it home, and it didn't work quite right, so I learned how to rebuild it. Since then I've rebuilt several," Varner said.
Milt and Sue Bacheller of Massachusetts, who have 18 reed organs, said they too found a reed organ in an antique shop. The organ was built in Worcester, Mass., but was found in a shop in Findley, Ohio. "We decided it should come back home from Ohio to Massachusetts," Bacheller said. "If you get one, then you get two. You have a collection."
Milt Bacheller plays the organ and restores them, and Sue plays classic piano.
Varner said reed organs were popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. "There were more than 900 U.S. companies building reed organs in 1900," she said. "There were 57 companies in Chicago alone."
The Miller Organ Co., which was located at Eighth and Maple streets in Lebanon was of interest to reed-organ enthusiasts because Miller made so many organs from the late 1800s that still exist. The company was started in 1873 and shipped its organs to Australia, Russia, India, South Africa and Japan, as well as throughout the United States. Around 1911, the company stopped making the reed organs.
Several free public concerts will be presented over the weekend. Organist Michael Hendron will give the final performance on Sunday at St. Mark's United Church of Christ, 426 N. Eighth St., Lebanon.
Hendron of California said he became interested in reed organs when he was
about 16 years old. He learned to play piano, but his interest in organs grew
when he and his father decided to restore a parlor organ they had in their
"Once I had that organ to play on, I became very interested in the sound and what music was written for these instruments. You can't play piano music on them. You can't play pipe organ music on them. Yet, there were so many of the reed organs around once you start looking for them," he said. Hendron said a different manual technique is required to play organ music versus piano music.
Hendron said he doesn't collect the organs as other members do, but he has spent the past 20 years researching and collecting the music.
Nelson and Beverly Pease of Massachusetts have three reed organs. They were
among the first members of the society when it was started in 1983. Nelson is
currently the organization's vice president. "I play piano, but I always wanted to learn to play the organ,"
Beverly Pease said. "We acquired a reed organ back in the 1960s, and our
interest has grown."
The couple have a store where they restore the instruments, she said. "I like to play hymns, so it's a spiritual thing for me to play the hymns on an organ," she said.
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