First Presbyterian Chuch’s sanctuary organ – 74 ranks, three manuals and pedal – is acknowledged as the finest American example of Rudolph von Beckerath’s late work. When he was selected to build FPC’s new instrument, the Hamburg builder (1907-1976) was one of the best-known organ builders in the world. The entire project was a collaborative congregation project, with congregation and Organ Committee members hosting teas to raise funds for the organ. Members and choristers also hand-painted the decorative gold moldings on the case, and Oak Hill School students introduced to the organ were told that the “smallest child could fit inside the largest pipe.” The mechanical-action organ, built of the finest materials, was installed in the spring and summer of 1974. Dr. Henry Fusner played the dedicatory recital on October 27, 1974.
A zimbelstern (“cymbal star” in German) is mounted prominently on the organ’s case; when activated, the star rotates ringing small bells at random. Dr. Fusner began the tradition of activating the zimbelstern during the Easter Sunday closing voluntary, Widor’s “Toccata” from the Fifth Symphony. Children and adults alike still wait for the “star to turn” to commemorate their Easter Sunday celebrations. Work in 2002 added an electric assist to the mechanical action, as well as solid-state combination memory levels. In 2012, the church welcomed attendees of the American Guild of Organists national convention and a stunning performance by Korean-American organist Ahreum Han. As a work of art and artistry, the very high workmanship and distinctive tonal finishing lend a “friendly, singing quality” to congregational singing and choral accompanying, supporting musicians as they lead the praise of the people of God.