The grande dame of pipe organs in Bakersfield needs some TLC.
The massive Aeolian Skinner organ at Valley Baptist Church is 86 years old, and has been in service to the church and the entire Bakersfield community since it was installed on the church’s Olive Drive campus in 1988. Any organist, such as Dr. Philip Dodson, will tell you that a pipe organ is living thing, and like any living thing, it needs to be cared for.
“When we purchased the organ, we probably had three-quarters of it rebuilt, with a new console,” Dodson said. “Now we have to do the last part.”
Dodson said the “last part” to be repaired is the bank of pipes known as the reeds, the pipes that mimic the sounds of clarinets, oboes, flutes and bassoons.
“They give the brilliance to the instrument,” Dodson said. “You put those on, you know the organ is around.”
Dodson said the reed pipes range in size from 32 feet high (yes, you read that correctly) down to the size of a straw, and they are not doing well.
“Many of them were built in 1932, and the pipes are collapsing,” Dodson said.
To raise money for the repairs, Dodson and his family — wife and violinist, Jean; daughter and violinist Donna Fraser; and son and trumpeter, Eric Dodson — will perform a benefit concert on Sunday, at the church. Dodson said the concert is an experiment for the family: using the historic stained-glass windows from the original church on Truxtun Avenue (now The Tower Craft Bar and Grill) as inspiration for their music selections, combining pictures, words and music.
“We’re taking the story of redemption through the stained glass,” Dodson said.
The program includes music by Felix Mendelssohn, J.S. Bach, gospel-inspired music and traditional church hymns, each matched to a stained-glass window, which will be projected on a screen while the music is performed. Narration for each window will explain the significance of the window and the music.
“I thought it would be fun to photograph (the windows) and show them with a ‘wrap-around’ in telling a story,” Dodson said.
Dodson noted that the windows are even older than the organ, as they were built for the original church in 1932, and were eventually placed in the Olive Drive building in 1979.
“Unless you take the time to walk up to them, and look at them, you forget they are there,” Dodson said.
Joining the Dodson family are trumpeter Michael Raney, and in another family-affirming move, Jodie Lavender, the daughter of former pastor Dr. John Lavender, who served at the church starting in 1962.
Lavender will sing the spiritual “Were You There,” using the same the arrangement that her mother, Lucille, sang for the church decades ago.