From the 1950s through the mid-1960s, First Presbyterian Church of Oak Ridge had the only pipe organ in town. How that organ was assembled is a story in itself. The original pipe organ was the brainchild of Ed Bettis, a nuclear engineer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and a former member of the Presbyterian Church in Morristown. When he learned that the Morristown church was replacing its tracker organ with a new pipe organ, Bettis arranged for the Oak Ridge church to receive the old Morristown organ as a gift in 1949 when the building plans for the church sanctuary were evolving. His idea was to replace the mechanically opened valves of this organ with electrically operated valves and to add new pipes to the existing ones. Over a six-month period in 1950, Bettis and his assistants electrified the organ by installing about 1000 magnetic valves with more than 15 miles of wire.
Bettis hauled the organ parts from Morristown to a warehouse behind a store near the present downtown Oak Ridge, where the organ was built and later played. Bettis received considerable help from James Andrews (not a church member), head of the library at Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant who had one of the world's largest organ music libraries. Parts of the organ were worked on in church members' homes. Wives of many of the 30 men who worked on the organ brought sweet rolls and pots of hot coffee to the cold, bleak warehouse. Once they had the pleasure of hearing Bettis try out the organ by playing "Nearer My God to Thee." Among the people helping Bettis construct the organ were Stanley Fulkerson, V. G. Lewis, and Bob Lafferty. When it came time to move the organ from the warehouse to the sanctuary, Fulkerson writes, "We realized that we had built a boat in the cellar and couldn't get it out." So part of the warehouse was torn down so that the pipe organ could be moved to the sanctuary. Annetta (Mrs. T. R.) Jones, the church's first organist, played a small electronic organ developed by Bettis from 1946 through 1950 in Pine Valley School and then the rebuilt Morristown organ in its early days. In July 1953, Mrs. Jones and her family moved to Washington, D. C., so Peggy Carper was employed as church organist, a job she held for 20 years. Bettis contributed to the church in other ways, too. He was well known locally as a "great" Sunday School teacher. He was responsible for the church's present chandeliers, which were constructed from scrap iron, fly screens, pie tins, and plastic. And he led church members in laying sewer lines and sidewalks, building kitchen cabinets, and completing the landscaping and parking lot.
By 1957, it was apparent that the organ's capabilities did not match the needs of the growing congregation, so the Session approved funds for upgrading it. Jimmy Marks, a member of the congregation and an organ buff; Ed Phares, an ORNL biologist, and Joe Lee, an electrical engineer, player of piano and organ, and organ builder (later professionally), located a used organ at St. John's Episcopal Church in Knoxville. This instrument, purchased for $308, became the basis for the new pipe organ in the 1950s. The total cost for the project was estimated to be $1300. He was also the "on call" person for organ upkeep for many years during the 20th century. The divisions of the church's organ, which are collections of pipes that make various combinations of sounds, are the choir, swell, pedal, and great divisions. The first three divisions for the updated organ came from the St. John's organ. The great division was built with new pipes. Dick Busey constructed the attractive oak casework for the exposed chest on the wall over the choir seats, and many other individuals helped build the chest, pipe racks, and other parts. One was the late Reverend Harry Hubbell, then 86, who helped install the 445 valves that came from the first organ.
John Bigelow, John Keyes, and A. E. G. (Griff) Bates reprogrammed the combination machine and overhauled other parts of the console (keyboard, pedals, and stops). The combination machine automatically selects different sets of pipes that it turns on or off. The console was originally loaned by Lee, who later sold it to the church for $500. A new one would cost about $30,000 today. By 1960, the partially completed organ was ready to be played, though Mrs. Carper remembers that she had to manage without expression pedals and many of the pipes that were installed later. The organ has been used ever since to accompany the choir and congregation in singing anthems and hymns and to play cantatas and fugues. The dedicatory concert for the church was given by Alfred Lunsford, a Lutheran organist from Knoxville. In 1962, the first concert for the community using this organ was presented by James Bloy of Maryville College, as a Coffee Concert sponsored by the Oak Ridge Civic Music Association. From 1978 through 1980, the organ received another upgrade. The session hired Joe Lee to rebuild the swell division by replacing the electro-pneumatic valves with solid-state electrical ones.
By 1985, less than $10,000 had been invested in the project (mostly in 1955-1962 dollars); by contrast, a new pipe organ of comparable size would cost at least $l50,000. Probably 150 individuals worked an estimated 8,000 hours on the church organ. Current church members who worked countless hours on the construction of the organ are Roy Norris, John Smith, and Ed Phares. In 1990, the pipe organ was refurbished by adding a newly reconditioned console. Says Phares, who was once in charge of the continuing repair of the organ, "A pipe organ is like a cathedral; it's never finished!"
The organ was significantly upgraded starting in March 2003 and ending in September 2004. A recital was performed in January 2005.
While Annetta Jones was organist from 1946 through 1950, Thomas R. Disbrow, Riley Barrett, Mrs. R. W. Judd, and Gil Scarbrough were choir directors. Disbrow left the church shortly after he had joined in August 1946. Barrett, who served for nine months until his resignation in late August 1948, died shortly after leaving the church. Scarbrough left his church position in 1953 to be able to devote more time to his position as band director of Oak Ridge High School; until the early 1980s he was vice principal at the school.
In 1953, two years after Peggy Carper was hired as the organist, her husband Harry Carper became choir director. In the 1950s the congregation grew to the size of 1,000 people and a choir of 35 members. Two Sunday worship services were held, at 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., so the adult choir was responsible for two services. (Today the church has only one worship service, held at 10:00 a.m.)
The Carpers resigned on September 1, 1962, and John Dyer, a music teacher at Robertsville Junior High School with a B.A. degree from Furman University in Greeneville, South Carolina, took over as both organist and choir director. Dyer left in the fall of 1963 to earn a master's degree in music from Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. The Carpers returned in 1963 and remained in their capacities until they resigned again in 1970. The Carpers remained very active in the life of the music ministry of the church until they died. Harry Carper, a bass singer in the adult choir, served as choir director when needed; Peggy Carper, an alto in the adult choir, also served as children's choir accompanist for many years. The children's choirs, which were organized by Dorotha Phillips in the 1950s, were rehearsed and conducted by Barbara Johnston, Marilyn Ayres, Wordna Agee (interim), Roberta Sommerfeld, Jackie Faulcon, Arlette Conklin, and Mary Lou Gast.
Gordon Warner became choir director on April 17, 1971, and in 1973, Jim Allen, an Albion College student working in Oak Ridge under the Great Lake Colleges Program, became organist.
He continued playing the organ as much as he could while studying at UT to become an engineer. During his leaves of absence (to spend more time with his twin sons whose mother, Diane DeBinder Allen, once sang solos with our church choir), Norma Williams (now deceased), an organist for 28 years at the River Forest (Illinois) Presbyterian Church, filled in for him.
Today Jim remains the church organist and celebrated his 40th anniversary in this position in 2013. Although he is a hobby musician, many people in the church are impressed by Allen's outstanding ability to perform Bach fugues, Widor toccatas, and other major works. Interestingly, he keeps a computer database of all the works he has played and the dates he has played them. He always plays major works around the time of important church events such as Christmas and Easter, and he performs classical organ pieces at weddings and memorial services.
On May 7, 1978, Arlene Crawford became the new choir director, replacing Gordon Warner, who had resigned.
An accomplished pianist, piano teacher, and accompanist for the Oak Ridge Chorus, Mrs. Crawford revitalized the musical life of the church with her great musical talent, enthusiasm, and contagious smile. That September she organized three youth choirs - the Cherub Choir for preschool children, the Carol Choir for elementary and middle school children, and the Westminster Choir for teens. She continued to rehearse them weekly, and they sang in church monthly during the school year during her career at the church. Periodically, the youth groups present cantatas in full costume on Biblical characters such as Moses, David and Goliath, and Deborah. Other cantatas presented by the children’s and youth choirs were Once Upon a Night (1981, 1984, 1992), Babble at Babel, 100% Chance of Rain (1980, 1986), A Reason To Rejoice (performed in area churches in 1982), A Star To Follow (1988, 1991), Five Loaves and Two Fishes (1985), Rejoice Mass (1985, 1990), Sing Carols of Joy (1985, 1989), What a Wonderment (1984), A Star to Follow (1988), It's Cool in the Furnace (1991), A Night for Dancing (children’s cantata, 1993); and Calling All Angels (Carol Choir cantata with Mary Mullins and Peggy Terpstra as soloists, 1999). The above choirs were fortunate to have outstanding regular accompanists: Peggy Carper, Helen Rush, Nancy Coutant, Karen Rhoades, and Diane Beeler.
Mrs. Crawford taught the young choir members how to accompany themselves on Orff instruments that had been purchased in 1979 by a church benefactor and on hand chimes added to the choir program in 1993. She encouraged youth and adult church members to play their instruments during worship services. For example, Chuck Hadden, a Chancel Choir tenor singer who composes music for the choir to sing, often accompanies the choirs on recorder or flute. Peggy Terpstra has played many well-received clarinet solos. And Mrs. Crawford's daughter Susan played many violin solos during church services in her high school years and during Christmas services annually while a college student and working musician. Other instrumentalists who have performed at church services are Richard Ward, Andy Bostick, and Brian Crawford (Mrs. Crawford's son) on trumpet; John and Frances Drake on recorders; Nathan Barrett and Brian Crawford on drums; Greg Horne, Don Mykles, Steve Shappert, Evan Horne, Scott Trowbridge, Susanna Drake, Diane Krause, and Gene Ice, on guitar; Linda Coutant on violin; Scott Trowbridge on bass; Dvera Hadden on viola; Steve Krause, Diane Krause, Susanna Drake, and Lydia Hadden on piano (Lydia also played harpsichord).
Mrs. Crawford gave her choirs ambitious assignments each year. At least twice a year the adult Chancel Choir sang long
excerpts from church classics to the accompaniment of a small orchestra or brass ensemble. In 1978 the adult choir
performed Daniel Pinkham’s Christmas Cantata (with brass) and Franz Schubert’s Mass in G (string quartet). In 1979 Orff
instruments were purchased for the preschool choir (Cherub Choir). The adult choir sang G. F. Handel’s Messiah (part 1
and 2) to the accompaniment of a small orchestra conducted by Edgar Meyer Sr.). In 1980 the adult choir performed J. S.
Bach’s Gloria in Excelsis with a small orchestra. Mrs. Crawford directed Babble at Bable, her first youth choir cantata
at FPC. In 1981 the choir sang Bach’s Easter Cantata and a reprise of Pinkham’s Christmas Cantata. In 1982 she led a
youth choir family tour to Chattanooga and other cities, where the choirs sang A Reason to Rejoice. The adult choir
performed Gabriel Faure’s Requiem.
And the costumed Madrigal Singers, consisting of half the members of the adult choir, started a tradition of providing enjoyable, centuries-old music during the Christmas season. They sang at a Christmas dinner at the church and around town.
In September 1983, under Mrs. Crawford's direction, the choir performed a reprise of Faure’s Requiem (with an orchestra and Wordna Agee as soloist) in a benefit concert for members of the community; the concert raised over $1,000 to support the medical mission abroad of Dr. Bob Dunlap, local surgeon and Chancel Choir member who also composed and arranged music for the choir. In December 1983 the Chancel Choir was one of seven church choirs who joined the Oak Ridge Chorus in presenting a concert for the whole community entitled Sing Christmas. In the spring of 1984 the Westminster Choir and members of their families went on tour in Tennessee to present the cantata Celebrate Life (with drums, guitar, and dancing), which was well received.
Mrs. Crawford directed the Chancel Choir, accompanied by an orchestra, in performing the following Christmas and Easter programs: Christmas Cantata by Pinkham (1978, 1981, 1987, 1993); Mass in G by Schubert (1979, 1984, 1991, 1995); Cantata #191: "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" by Bach (1980, 1983); Requiem by Faure (1982, 1990 with First Methodist Church); Messe di Gloria by Giacomo Puccini (1986 with Jim Allen on organ); Gloria by Francis Poulenc (1986-87, 1993 with Jim Allen on organ); Requiem by Wolfgang A. Mozart (1988 with First United Methodist choir and orchestra); Gloria by Antonio Vivaldi (1988, 1998); For Unto Us a Child Is Born by Bach (1989, 1992); Requiem by John Rutter (1990, 1994); Te Deum by Rutter (1992, 1995); Messiah (Parts I and II) by G. F. Handel (1979, 1985), and Christmas Oratorio by Charles-Camille Saint-Saens (1984, 1990), and Johannes Brahms’ Requiem (with 27-piece orchestra, 1996). In 1997 the FPC and two other choirs sang in an ecumenical choir concert at First Baptist Church. Many Chancel Choir soloists were featured in these major works. Among them were Susan Sharp, Grimes Slaughter, Chuck Hadden, Dr. Robert Dunlap, Leslie Stringfellow, Marjorie Horne, Wordna Agee, Oakley Crawford, Harry Carper, Joyce Bowers, David Horne, Mary Mullins, Peggy Hilliard, Nancy Coutant, Sandy Barrett, Craig Little, Edgar Miller (former editor of The Oak Ridger), and Steve Campion.
The youth and adult choirs also performed staged and costumed cantatas together, as in a 1990 production of Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors (featuring Susan Sharp as the mother; Diane Krause as Amahl, the crippled son; Oakley Crawford, Bob Dunlap, and Chuck Hadden as the three wise kings, and Steve Krause as page) and in a 1994 debut production of the rock opera Deborah written by church members Steve and Carolyn Krause (Diane Krause, Carolyn and Herb’s daughter and Steve's sister, played the role of Deborah and Steve played Barak). Amahl and Deborah, two special programs that resulted from the combined efforts of the Youth and Chancel Choirs, were both staged and televised for the community.
In celebration of the church’s 50th anniversary in 1995, Arlene Crawford led the Chancel Choir in performing Brahm’s Requiem with a 25-piece orchestra and John Rutter’s Te Deum. The Chancel Choir also performed with five local church choirs in an ecumenical choir festival. The Westminster Choir traveled to Davidson College in North Carolina to sing with the youth choir there in a Sunday worship service. Fifteen singers from the church attended the Montreat Music & Worship Conference in Montreat, N.C.
In 1996 the youth choirs performed the Celebrate Life Rock Cantata and the adult choir performed Handel’s Messiah and Brahms’ Requiem during an April homecoming event in which the new grand piano in the sanctuary was dedicated in memory of our first installed minister, Bob Thomas. In February 1997 the adult choir participated with two other church choirs in the Ecumenical Choir Festival at First Baptist Church. In April, Arlene Crawford led the Chancel choir and an accompanying orchestra in a performance of Rutter’s Gloria. In 1998 the Chancel and Westminster choirs sang Faure’s Requiem on Palm Sunday and Vivaldi’s Gloria before Christmas. The children’s choirs were renamed Joyful Noise and Celebration Singers. In 1999 the adult choir sang Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass in May (with youth participants) and Francis Poulenc’s Gloria in December (with Oak Ridge Chorus members and orchestra).
March 12, 2000, was a big musical day in the life of our church. The adult choir sang Renee Clausen's A New Creation during the worship service and then sang it that evening under Arlene’s direction as part of a mass choir and orchestra concert. Other participants in this “Concert for the New Millennium” at First Baptist Church were the First Baptist and First United Methodist choirs. Their directors conducted two other major works. Arlene directed A New Creation at a similar event in the same venue in 2005.
In the 21st century, the adult and youth choirs, led by Arlene and later Anna Thomas, continued the traditions of the previous decades by attending worship and music conferences in June at Montreat, N.C., providing opportunities for youth and adults to play their instruments or sing during worship services, and hosting college choirs and soloists who sing and play during the services. During the Christmas season in 2001, the musical highlights of the year included two performances of Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors, featuring Peggy Bertrand Terpstra as the mother; her daughter Sarah Terpstra as Amahl; Oakley Crawford, Bob Dunlap, and Herb Krause as the kings, and Ross Hilliard as the page. Arlene and Jim Allen played two pianos.
In 2002 the Chancel Choir performed Rutter’s Requiem in the spring and a Rutter’s Gloria with anthems featuring the Madrigals, ringers, and brass in December. Also that year, the FPC and Davidson College Presbyterian Church (N.C.) youth choirs did an exchange in which each sang at the other’s church. In 2003 Maundy Thursday was enhanced by a special musical service written by Eric Bjorklund of Los Alamos, N.M.; he and his wife attended our church during the year he spent guiding the construction of part of ORNL’s Spallation Neutron Source. The Westminster and Carol choirs sang and played hand chimes as they performed the Paul & Company cantata in costume. Also in 2003, Arlene Crawford’s 25th service anniversary was celebrated. As a gift to Arlene, composer Alice Parker was commissioned to write an original piece that the Chancel Choir performed several times.
The Chancel and youth choirs sang the premier of Parker’s “All Earth Shout for Joy” in 2004. That year a new sound system was installed in the sanctuary, and Dan Vaughan from Rockwall, Texas rebuilt the organ.
During this time the sound system and booth were completely rebuilt.
Dick Lord proudly showing his newly-installed board
The small plaque thanking Dick Lord and Paul Rohwer, April 2016
The board was seriously updated in October 2017.
While the organ was out of service, UT’s David Brunell provided piano accompaniment for choir and congregational singing. The adult choir performed the Brahms Requiem in April and Daniel Pinkham’s Christmas Cantata.
In January 2005 a dedication concert was held for the rebuilt organ, with church organist Jim Allen and organ renovator Dan Vaughn playing it for the public, including area organists. The adult choir performed a “Hal Hopson: Festival of Hymns” concert, accompanied by brass, horns, timpani, trumpets, chimes, and ringers. The Lessons and Carols service, sung by the choirs and congregation, featured songs by composer Hopson.
In 2006 our church family hosted 12 talented singers and drummers of the Presbyterian Choir of the Congo. The choir provided evening worship music, part of which was televised by WBIR, and told of problems in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Under Arlene’s direction, the adult choir, assisted by outside singers and accompanied by a brass ensemble, performed Rutter’s Te Deum. The youth and adult choirs presented excerpts from Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass, and a new hand chime choir performed during several worship services.
In 2007 bagpipe music returned to the sanctuary with the revival of the Banner service. The big choir event was the Christmas Concert December 16 for church members and the community. FPC’s Chancel Choir sang K. Lee Scott’s Christmas Cantata. The 16 members of the Chancel Choir were joined by 12 singers from the Oak Ridge Chorus. The concert’s music included excerpts of John Ferguson’s Magnificat and Rutter’s Gloria.
At the end of August 2009, Arlene Crawford retired. In January 2009 she directed the adult choir in performing the Brahms Requiem (with her daughter, violinist Susan Crawford, as concert master); the Rutter Magnificat and favorite anthems as a retirement worship concert, and parts of the Faure Requiem during the worship hour on August 30. A dinner and program were held in her honor.
Anna Thomas, who plays flute and sings beautifully, was hired as the new director of music, and began work at FPC in September 2009. She restarted the youth choir with local musician Wendel Werner as part-time accompanist.
Gene Ice started a guitar workshop, which continues to teach church members and guests how to play simple music on the guitar.
The guitarists perform in worship services, at retreats, and in special services for the Drug Rehabilitation Center at the Morgan County Correctional Complex.
In 2010, our church hosted the Presbytery of East Tennessee quarterly meeting. Singers from FPC and Graystone Presbyterian sang for the morning service, accompanied by Wendel Werner, music director of Graystone. During the summer, small ensembles sang or played. FPC hosted the handbell choir from Graystone Presbyterian Church, which performed during the Lessons and Carols service in December.
In 2012 a new guitarist enhanced worship services: the Rev. Sharon Youngs, who was installed in October and also brought her singing and piano skills.
At the first Service of Memory and Hope she initiated, Sharon and Anna played guitar-and-flute duets. Sharon sometimes sings in the choir. Both have played guitar and flute separately in a number of worship services. In May 2014, Anna and Andrew Duncan, music director at First United Methodist Church in Oak Ridge, organized a concert in which the church’s two choirs were accompanied by members of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. Our church held a chili cook-off to raise funds to defray orchestra costs. The concert featured the performance of the uplifting Sunrise Mass by Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo.
Copies of a new hymnal, Glory to God, arrived and were dedicated in November, replacing the previous hymnal that Sharon was involved with while working for the national church -- Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) -- in Louisville, Kentucky.
In October 2014, FPC and Graystone Presbyterian collaborated to host a Hymnfest using Glory to God. Singers and instrumentalists from area churches participated in the afternoon service held at Graystone. The speaker for the event was the Rev. Mary Margaret Flannagan, Hymnal Advocacy and Relations Coordinator.
In 2014-15, at the request of Anna, Knoxville composer John Purifoy set six psalms to his original music for a Service of Psalms held in February in the Methodist church during Lent. Purifoy played piano, Anna played flute, Duncan played violin, and Simon Hogg played organ, as the FPC choir and three other choirs sang.
One long-time musical tradition at the church, started by Arlene Crawford, is to invite attendees at the Easter Sunday worship service to come up to the choir loft near the end of the service and join the choir in singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” of Handel’s Messiah. The uplifting, glorious music brings joy to the choir singers and congregation.