It's made musical memories for thousands of Tulsans since 1924. But Central High School's massive pipe organ has been silent for years, in need of repairs. Soon it will sound again, thanks to some Central alumni who want all of Tulsa to experience the magic they remember.
There's not much room to maneuver in the insides of a pipe organ. But the crew doesnâ€™t complain. They're thrilled to crawl among the pipe, wood and wire that produced a sound they say was like no other. Most of the crew are graduates of Central High School, who remember how the organ filled their school and their hearts all those years ago. "Weâ€™re removing the parts of the organ that had plastic on it and replacing it with leather,â€ said Central alumnus Sam Collier.
Central students bought the organ in 1927. They even made payments on it through the depression years. When Central moved from downtown into the new school in 1976, experts said the organ's leathers were old and should be replaced with longer lasting plastic. "The chemical the plastic was made out of disintegrated, and hundreds of organs were ruined all over the country,â€ noted Central alumnus Garvin Berry. â€œThis was a product they thought was going to work, but it didn't." A chord was seldom struck upon the organ since.
A dedicated band of Central Braves alumni is determined to end the silence. Most of them are members of Tulsa's chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society, an organization dedicated to preserving the particular sound of the pipe organ. Saving this one is a particular labor of love. Phil Judkins, Class of 1950, says he's awestruck to stand within the massive box. "Even though I've been around it many, many times, I'm still totally overwhelmed with the size of it," said Judkins. Berry heads Central High's foundation, which is donating $15,000 toward the restoration. He says the effort is reviving powerful memories. "It was just a very stirring thing,â€ he said. â€œThere was a wonderful hymn written at Central. We would open with â€œThe Star Spangled Bannerâ€, and then play marches, contemporary music and even big band sounds. This organ can do it all,â€ Berry remembered.
Central's new auditorium was designed with the organ in mind, chambers placed for its fullest advantage. They wait to present the full, rich sounds that will come from the grand sculpture. It's expected to take about six months of tender care to bring the instrument back to life. "I think it's the voice of Central,â€ noted Berry. â€œAnd I think it's the voice of the community. I don't know of any other high school anywhere that would have an instrument like this."
Berry says 30,000 Central graduates can't wait to share with others the music that accompanied their youth. They can think of few prouder legacies than lifting the voice of Central High School to be heard again as it was meant to be. Central's Foundation hopes to present the restored organ in a public concert this spring.
Meanwhile, Tulsa's Theatre Organ Society invites everyone to its meeting and concert November 19th at the Tulsa Technology Centerâ€™s Broken Arrow campus.