July 31, 2014

Elyria
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Oberlin student to display talents at concert series

ELYRIA —If you’re still having trouble finding that holiday spirit, the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Elyria may be able to help.

The church is hosting an Advent Organ Concert Series today to showcase its historic pipe organ, and to evoke some Christmas cheer.

Donald M. VerKuilen, minister of music and organist at the church, will perform.

VerKuilen, 18, is studying organ performance at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. But don’t let his age fool you.

VerKuilen has traveled the country, and the world, performing, even playing the International Festival of the Organ in Italy in front of the pope.

VerKuilen, originally from Green Bay, Wis., joined the church in June.

“Playing in church is definitely a religious calling for me, as well as my way of expressing and sharing my faith,” he said.

The organ he plays at First Congregational Church was built by Walter Holtkamp in 1949. Most of the pipework is from an older organ — a 1898 Hutchings, he said.

“So some of the sounds of the organ are well over 100 years old,” VerKuilen marvels. “It is such a beautiful instrument. Some of the world’s most famous organists have traveled to come play this organ: Albert Schweitzer, E. Power Biggs and also one of the most well-known organ performers, Virgil Fox.”

Other performers include Fenner Douglass and Haskil Thompson, an long-time organist at First Congregational and a renowned organist in his own right.

“The whole point of the series is to share our wonderful and beautiful instrument with the community,” VerKuilen said.

Unfortunately, the organ is in need of some work.

“Most of the mechanisms are starting to fail,” VerKuilen said. “It is in need of some updating so that the organ can sound for another 100 years. There is a lot to this organ and the church does not want it to fall silent because of neglect.”

Cost to repair the instrument is estimated at $100,000, VerKuilen said.

Right now, the church is in the process of soliciting official bids.

Since every organ is different, the repair process for each instrument is different as well. The entire organ may need to be moved in order to be repaired, or repairs could be made piece by piece.

VerKuilen would like to see the work done by next Christmas.

While the concert on Sunday is free, a free will offering will be taken with all proceeds going toward the organ fund.

Sunday’s performance is the last in the series, which is fine with VerKuilen.

“The last one is the one they remember,” he joked.

What: Advent Organ Concert Series

When: 3 p.m. today

Where: First Congregational United Church of Christ in Elyria, 330 Second St., Elyria

Contact Christina Joliffe at 329-7155 or ctnews@chroniclet.com.