Tonight's 'Pipedreams' highlights restoration of auditorium organ

Tonight's 'Pipedreams' highlights restoration of auditorium organ

April 16th, 2011 by Susan Pierce in News


"Pipedreams," a program of American Public Media, airs on WSMC-FM from 8-10 p.m. tonight. Or listen anytime online at

The story of the 20-year, $1 million restoration of Memorial Auditorium's 1924 Austin organ will be highlighted tonight on "Pipedreams," a public radio program.

Radio host Michael Barone will tell how a grass-roots effort by the Chattanooga Music Club led to the renovation of the historic instrument. His narration will be accompanied by performances on the organ by Robert Delcamp and Peter Richard Conte.

"Pipedreams" is the only nationally distributed weekly radio program exploring the music of pipe organs, including interviews with composers and organists, according to American Public Radio. The two-hour program airs Saturdays at 8 p.m. on WSMC-FM.

"This is what we've been waiting for," said Evelyn Gibbs, the local organist who was chairwoman of the restoration for the Chattanooga Music Club.

"People who listen to this program will become aware of what we did in Chattanooga," she said. "This organ's restoration is important because very few organs around the country have been revived and enjoyed by people. You have to remember that two generations in this city had never heard this organ until the Music Club restored it."

Tonight's "Pipedreams" is divided into two one-hour acts, and the Austin organ will be featured prominently in each.

Delcamp, a professor at Sewanee: The University of the South, will play five pieces in the first hour. Conte, Grand Court organist for the world's largest operational pipe organ, the Wannamaker organ in Philadelphia, will perform "Chattanooga Choo Choo," a Disney medley, "America the Beautiful" and two Civil War songs by Edwin Lemare in the second hour.

Barone said in an email interview that it is Lemare's connection to the Austin organ that gives it such historic significance.

"Remember that Lemare was the most famous and best-paid organist in the world at that time, a phenomenally popular and fluent virtuoso, prolific composer and arranger," said the radio host.

"Your Austin organ is important because its specification was entirely the result of Edwin Lemare's work, and so far as is known, is the only Austin designed by him. It really represents what he thought an organ should be," Barone said.

In his day, Lemare "was more than the equivalent of an 'American Idol,'" Barone said, "since in those days the pipe organ was king in an era when most cities could not boast a symphony orchestra or radio station."

In addition to the Austin organ in Memorial Auditorium, tonight's program will include music performed on the 1928 Wurlitzer in Knoxville's Tennessee Theatre. Performances on six organs in churches in Knoxville, Nashville, Greeneville and Memphis also will be included.