organ was built by W. Zimmer & Sons of Charlotte, NC, and installed early
in 1969, although the nameplate carries the year 1968. Wilhelm Zimmer, a
German, had married into a Dutch organ-building family before World War II. He
was drafted into the German Army, and after the war returned to Holland; from
there he emigrated to South Africa, and then, in the
1960s, to the United States. His organs were Germanic in nature, and in those
days he used two German pipe-making firms to supply pipes: Laukuff
(Weikersheim) for flues, and Giesecke
(Göttingen) for reeds; only the large wooden
basses were made in his shop in the 1960s. So it was that the pipes for the Fondren organ were made in Germany,
and because of a dockworkers strike in Hamburg, they were late in arriving in
the U.S., hence the delayed installation. The organ cost $50,000 in 1968, but
by now (2008) would probably cost about $700,000.
When the Fondren sanctuary was first built (in the early 1950s) the ceiling was covered with soundproofing material (a variety of acoustical tile) that quite literally put a damper on all music - organ, choir, & congregational singing. The opportunity to correct this came in the 1980s when some of the tiles came loose and appeared likely to fall - possibly on the heads of worshippers! The initial thought was to have an acoustical tile company put up scaffolding and make sure all the tiles were secure. Because the major portion of the expense would be putting the scaffolding up, this provided an opportunity to improve the sanctuary acoustics (and as a result the worship experience) by having the tiles covered with dense, sound-reflecting material. On the recommendation of the Zimmer company a product called Novaply, made in Oxford, MS, was installed by the Nall Construction Co. The acoustics did improve, the organ was more effective, and congregational singing benefitted as a result.
In 2005 the swell organ (consisting of the pipes that are in a small chamber to the right and thus hidden from view) received water damage from Katrina, as well as from s subsequent rainstorm more than a year ago. The pipes, being made of metal (tin/lead or zinc) were not damaged, but the chest they sat on was (such chests are made of wood with numerous leather parts), and it was decided to have them replaced by David Finch, the organ builder who cares for the organ). This work was completed last month (August, 2008). The sheet rock on the ceiling of the chamber was replaced by a waterproof material that is also very dense, which improved the acoustical properties of the chamber. In addition the trumpet stop (also located in the chamber) was cleaned and revoiced. The overall result is a brighter sound from the swell organ.
-Glenn A. Gentry
September 1, 2008