by Sue Ann Rybak
The First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, 35 W. Chelten Ave., is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the McLean Memorial Pipe Organ, donated by member Mrs. William L. (Sarah) McLean, with a series of free concerts in 2019-2020.
The Rev. Rebecca Segers, pastor of the church, said the organ is known as the “Germantown Giant,” and is the largest church organ in Philadelphia, second only to the Wanamaker organ. She said it has four manuals, 125 ranks and more than 7,000 pipes.
Segers said the organ was given to the church by Sarah McLean, whose husband owned the Evening Bulletin, in memory of her son, Lt. Warden McLean, who died during World War I.
“We are celebrating the organ and remembering veterans on Sunday, Nov. 17, at 4 p.m. with a showing of the silent movie “Wings,” the recipient of the first Academy Award,” she said. “It will be improvisational accompanied by organist Peter Krasinski, winner of the American Guild of Organists’ National Competition in Organ Improvisation. This is a free event and open to the public.
“For over 200 years, the First Presbyterian Church in Germantown has been celebrating the living Lord, both inside its doors and reaching out into the community beyond them,” she added. This [concert series] is only one of the ways that we strive to share God’s love with the community.”
F. Anthony Thurman, music director and organist at the church, said it was unusual for a silent movie to be shown anywhere these days.
“It’s even more unusual to have a magnificent organ like we have to provide the soundtrack with Peter Krasinski improvising in real time,” he said. “The whole art of silent film is one that is almost lost nowadays because silent movies are a legacy that aren’t shown so much in theaters. There was a day when every movie theater had an organ – that’s how the film was accompanied. There aren’t too many people in the world who can do this. And Peter Krasinski happens to be one of the best in the world. He is based in Boston, but he travels worldwide to accompany silent films.
“Wings” was produced in 1927 by Lucien Hubbard, directed by William A. Wellman and released by Paramount Pictures. It stars Clara Bow, Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Richard Arlen. Gary Cooper appears in a small role which helped launch his career in Hollywood.
“’Wings’ is a phenomenal movie,” Thurman said. “It was one of the first films to mount cameras to airplanes to create realistic air combat scenes, and more than 3,000 American troops were used in shooting the film.”
He said the movie itself is “just shy of two hours,” and the church will be renting a rear projection screen that they will place in front of the church’s sanctuary before dimming the lights to give people a “high quality movie experience.”
Thurman added that one of the goals of the concert series is to introduce young people to the pipe organ and create a community of musicians who share their passion for the organ or piano.
He said the first concert in the series, entitled “Pedals, Pipes, and Pizza,” was designed for students and included a demonstration by Clara Gerdes, a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music and winner of the AGO/Quimbly MidAtlantic Regional Competition for Young Organists. It was held on Nov. 10.
The series will feature two more McLean Memorial Organ concerts next year. On Sunday, Jan, 19, at 4 p.m. at The First Presbyterian Church in Germantown. Marvin Mills, organ, and the Philadelphia Brass will perform a concert commemorating the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The series will wrap up with a program by Ken Cowan of solo repertoire and orchestral transcriptions on Sunday, April 26, at 4 p.m. at the church. All are welcome. A freewill offering is requested.
For more information, visit the church’s website or call 215-843-8811.
An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that the organ had four consoles and 99 ranks.