Burlington Church Has An 1864 Organ, But No Organist

Jun 17, 2015

The First Baptist Church in Burlington is looking for a new organist to play its 1864 tracker action organ.

Lynnette Combs, the outgoing organist who made the commute from Montpelier for the last six years to play, spoke to Vermont Edition about what makes this organ so special.

“The organ is a very complex instrument,” says Combs. “From the very beginning it’s been the most mechanically-complicated device that humans have built until the advent of the computer."

The tracker action organ's structure showcases this complexity. The keyboards and the pedal board are directly connected to the linkages or trackers that connect to the wind-chests that produce sounds. This build differs from the more modern electric action pipe organ, which uses electrical cable and magnets to open valves, allowing the console to be further from the pipes.

“This organ is all mechanical. There is an electric blower now that brings the air up but you can still hand pump it, so you don’t need electricity to play this instrument. It’s so complicated, but it's all just wood and metal and put together with screws,” says Combs. “It's just the most fabulous instrument, really.”

"Usually organs get remodeled. They get updated according to ideas at the time. But this instrument is like living history, and it's so wonderful this way." - Lynnette Combs, outgoing organist

The organ was built and installed in the First Baptist Church in Burlington by the Hook Organ Company of Boston. The organ’s original pipes are still in use. “It has been here ever since, and it has never been changed tonally," Combs says.  

“That is very, very unusual,” says Combs. ”Usually organs get remodeled. They get updated according to ideas at the time. But this instrument is like living history, and it’s so wonderful this way.”

The First Baptist Church in Burlington's organ's original pipes are still in use.
Credit Ric Cengeri / VPR

“This is a really fabulous instrument, and organists seek out the most beautiful instruments if they can, to play. And that’s why I like being here,” says Combs.

The First Baptist Church is searching for a new organist to fill Combs' spot at the bench of this historic instrument.