Concluding his 43rd year at First Presbyterian Church of La Grange, organist Henry Sybrandy has no interest in a traditional retirement party. Instead, a special musical celebration will be held at 3 p.m. Nov. 7, showcasing the church’s world-class Aeolian-Skinner Organ.
Walter Whitehouse, retired associate organist for the University of Chicago, will be the guest organist, a news release stated. When asked who should play for the event, Sybrandy said, “No one else should play. Walter is a great friend and a superb musician.”
In the planning for his retirement, Sybrandy said, “Please don’t have one of those events where people talk on and on about my work with the church. If it’s all about me, I don’t think I’ll bother coming.”
He is, however, keenly interested in the ongoing care of the church’s Aeolian-Skinner Organ, considering it an honor to long have been the artist and custodian of the fine instrument.
Receiving the announcement of Sybrandy’s retirement in the summer of 2021, the Session, a Presbyterian church’s governing body, immediately conferred upon him the title Organist Emeritus in recognition of the congregation’s profound gratitude for his dedication, professionalism and artistry.
“Providing accompaniment for over 3,000 worship services, several hundred wedding ceremonies and memorial observances, not to mention thousands of hours in rehearsal with various choirs, it is impossible to overestimate Henry’s contribution to divine worship at First Presbyterian Church of La Grange,” the Rev. Jonathan Krogh said in the release.
“From our congregation’s beginning in 1890, a high priority has been given to the importance of music for Christian worship,” Krogh said. “Over the years, our congregation’s leaders have endeavored to secure the highest quality instruments and musicians to assist our voices in praise, our hearts in celebration, and our spirits in reflection.”
The current pipe organ necessitated a complete redesign of the church’s sanctuary. In 1960, a contract was signed with the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company of Boston for a three-manual, 40-rank gallery instrument (plus preparations for four additional stops), which was installed in 1962 – Opus 1390. It was designed by Thomas V. Potter, Aeolian-Skinner representative in Chicago, and the installation’s tonal director was Joseph Whiteford, then president of the prestigious organ builder.
“There was no small amount of controversy during the organ’s installation,” Krogh said.
The committee tasked with selecting sanctuary decor chose to install carpeting in the aisles and chancel – a decision that infuriated Whiteford.
“In our archive, we have some rather heated correspondence between the church’s building committee and the executives of Aeolian-Sinner,” Krogh said. “There is even a hand-written note from Dr. Albert Schweitzer, a noted friend of Whiteford’s, scolding the church for adding the sound-dampening floor covering.”
Arriving as organist in April 1978, Sybrandy, previously organist for First Presbyterian Church of Chicago and graduate student in the department of musicology at the University of Chicago, was absolutely thrilled to engage such a finely crafted instrument built by one of the most prestigious organ builders in the world.
“Playing that instrument week after week was a consistent joy,” Sybrandy said. “Its voicing and precision never disappointed. Every Sunday, I wanted people to enjoy what a wonderful instrument they had.”
“It’s Henry’s desire that we celebrate the instrument, not his service,” Krogh said. “Pipe organs are living – and literally breathing – things. They require regular maintenance, and whole sections from time to time need careful reconstruction. Retaining relationships with craftspeople capable of honoring such an instrument is costly, but we are stewards of a rare and valuable installation.”
The concert will be held in the church at 150 S. Ashland Ave. (Ashland and Elm) in La Grange.
Gifts to the Organ Fund of the First Presbyterian Church of La Grange will be received to insure the contribution of the instrument’s grandeur for worshipers and music lovers for generations to come. For information, call the church office at 708-354-0771 or contribute online at www.fpclg.org/henry-sybrandy.