Since hearing a recording of First Presbyterian Church’s Aeolian-Skinner, Opus 1173 pipe organ as a college student, Jim Hejduk has made the East Texas Pipe Organ Festival an annual trip.
“My knowledge of the Kilgore organ goes back to the fall of 1962,” he said, laughing.
This year marked the seventh year for the festival and Hejduk’s sixth time attending and getting to answer the question he asked himself about what kind of a community Kilgore had to support such an effort as the pipe organ festival.
“It was absolutely stunning. First of all you drive into Kilgore, you think, ‘What’s this doing here?’” the Lincoln, Nebraska, resident said.
Steven Peters was drawn to Kilgore by the Opus 1173 also, Peters said, calling it “probably the best church organ ever built.”
“Kilgore – and also Shreveport and Longview – have this incredible treasure in these organs that is unique on the planet,” Peters said. “I’ve been here six out of the seven years, and in fact I was drawn here by the organ over at [First Presbyterian Church] because it is probably the best church organ ever built and does things that just simply can’t be done.”
John Mok, of Cleveland, Ohio, is making his first trip to Kilgore after multiple invitations from Peters. Although he has experienced pipe organs before, he said, it has been limited to those in cathedral churches in New York and Europe.
“This is actually my first experience with smaller-scale venues if you will, and the sound is spectacular… I’m getting to appreciate how pipe organs can be extremely articulate and agile instruments, which I’ve not experienced before because in a big cathedral like Notre Dame or what have you, the sound is just reflected. It’s just a lot of fun,” Mok said.
Each instrument is made to fit its particular room, using the same set of pipes in the way that works best with the church, Peters said, commending the communities and congregations for supporting and investing in the preservation of the instruments.
Kilgore resident Nathan Abernethy, who has ties to First Presbyterian Church, attends as many Kilgore and Longview recitals he can during the festival.
“My mother was a church organist as I was growing up, course not on the level that you’re hearing now, but I grew up around organs… I never imagined that anything like this could be started here in little old Kilgore,” he said. “Lorenz (Maycher, festival founder and First Presbyterian Church choirmaster,) has really taken the bull by the horns and has really turned it into just a fantastic event.”
Hejduk’s favorite thing, he said, is to hear big-name organists play the instruments in Kilgore, Longview and Shreveport over the course of the festival.
“There’s one particularly amazing artist after another that normally you wouldn’t think you’d hear except in some huge venue in some much larger city,” he said.
One of the best parts about the festival, he said, is hearing young musicians, such as 19-year-old Henry Webb, in the early years of their careers.
“Hearing some of these folks who are just starting out who are just so amazing is one of the real pleasures,” Hejduk, a retired organist said. “The fact that Lorenz finds these folks and really gives their career a wonderful kick-start is just wonderful.”
Peters, who visits from Georgetown, called the festival a gift to the city.
“These organs are really, really special, and you could go to some of the largest cities in the country and not find instruments that were as fine as these are, so people in Kilgore should be encouraged to come and participate,” he said.