NEWBERRY — The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer held a festival of hymns and musical celebration on Oct. 2 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its Schantz pipe organ.
The service featured organ solos and accompaniments by Huger Caughman Jr., with hymns and anthems sung by the church choir under the direction of Gayle Lindley. Among those attending the event was W. Darr Wise, the organist who performed the dedication recital 50 years earlier.
Wise, 87, served as the church’s organist and choirmaster for 52 years, beginning in 1956. That same year, he began a career at Newberry College as a music theory and piano teacher, and as accompanist for the College Singers under Dr. Milton Moore, and college organist.
At that time, Redeemer was housed in its second building, and the organ in use was Möller’s Opus 460, constructed around 1900 by the M. P. Möller Organ Company of Hagerstown, Md. In 1964, the church building and annex were demolished and the organ sold. The church conducted services at Boundary Street Elementary School until the consecration of the present building in November 1965.
Wise and the organ committee spent six months touring churches for inspiration for a new organ, but Wise said his search ended upon hearing the Schantz organ at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Augusta.
“I fell in love with that organ,” Wise said. “I loved the way it sounded and how it was put together.”
He said Resurrection’s organ, which was built just five years earlier, directly led to the purchase of a similar organ for Resurrection. The church’s present organ is one of four in Newberry constructed by the Schantz Organ Company of Orville, Ohio.
Caughman says the other three are in St. Luke’s Episcopal, Central United Methodist, and Wiles Chapel at Newberry College.
Alongside Schantz District Representative A. E. Lunsford, Wise designed the new organ for Redeemer, which was to include the 21 note set of chimes taken from the previous organ.
“The company provided me with the plans for the organ, and I had to make some changes,” he said.
The changes he made to the design weren’t large, some as simple as choosing pull knob stops over switches, but they made a difference.
On Sunday, Oct. 2, 1966, Wise performed the dedicatory service and recital. Valued at around $800,000 50 years later, the organ was worth between $35,000 and $40,000 in 1966, between $260,000 and $300,000 today.
Wise began playing for the church at age 19, during summer and Christmas breaks when he was home from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, where he completed his bachelor’s degree. However, he says that he fell in love with piano much, much earlier.
“I grew up in a house that didn’t have a piano,” he said. “But Grandma Wise had a piano in her parlor, and children weren’t allowed in the parlor except for special occasions. So, when I was about 3 years old, I sneaked into the parlor to play with the keys. I took every chance I had to fiddle with it.”
Wise retired from the Newberry College faculty in the spring of 1998, but continued on as organist and choirmaster at Redeemer for another decade. His impact on the church was emphasized at Sunday evening’s commemoration. One of the featured choral anthems, entitled “When in Our Music, God is Glorified,” was arranged by Michael Costello of Columbia and commissioned in Wise’s honor last year.
Wise’s lasting impression on the College was also made evident.
Dr. Chris Sheppard, choral director and chair of the Music Department at Newberry College, sang in Redeemer’s choir for the fiftieth anniversary celebration. “Every day I teach the Newberry College Singers, it’s in the W. Darr Wise Rehearsal Hall,” said Sheppard.
To this day, Wise is “so supportive of the music program.”
Caughman succeeded Wise as church organist in 2008. A 2000 honors graduate of Newberry College, Caughman teaches math at Newberry High School, and he was named the Newberry County School District’s Teacher of the Year in 2015.
Caughman, 38, grew up in the Jollystreet community of Newberry County, and started playing piano when he was 4 1/2 years old.
“My mother got me into playing the organ in sixth grade,” he said. Aside from taking lessons in Chapin, he mostly taught himself until he studied under Wise at Newberry College.
Caughman is Redeemer’s second organist since the present organ’s installation in 1966.