With a snap of his fingers . . .

Rudolf von Beckerath, 1907-1976

Rudolf von Beckerath, 1907-1976

One thing Pastor Don Johnson (LCH pastor 1969-2000) will not forget was the first time organbuilder Rudolf von Beckerath entered the Lutheran Church of Honolulu — that was before it was remodeled — closed up, air-conditioned, and terrazzo floors installed. (For a comprehensive biography of von Beckerath, check out this link on the company’s website.) In those days, some forty-three years ago, there were twelve doors that opened to the outdoors and through its permanently open windows flew mynah birds which nested in the rafters. Pastor Johnson had picked up Herr Beckerath from the Pagoda Hotel on a weekday morning  for his review of the building before proposing a tracker organ.

“He walked into the room and snapped his fingers.  Not an ordinary snap.  It sounded as though he had clapped two flat sticks together.  He repeated his snap in various spots calculating the reverb time and what our walls did with the sound.”

During that visit they talked at length about what the congregation hoped for in its new organ.  Johnson talked about the church’s location in the middle of the city and their hope to become a significant metropolitan congregation beyond its German roots in culturally-mixed Honolulu. The planning committee wanted an organ which would be as diverse as its community — one that would do justice to Bach’s works, but also be able to play the romantic music of French composers as well as very contemporary music.

En chamade trumpets at East Tennessee State University

En chamade trumpets at East Tennessee State University

Pastor Johnson’s personal wish was for a rank of en chamade (horizontal) trumpets, but Beckerath said the room wasn’t big enough and they would be overpowering. Instead they got a zimbelstern (check out my post, “Zounds! the Zimbelstern!“) which is a revolving star which rings bells.

The LCH zimbelstern

The LCH zimbelstern

Johnson also liked the rumble of 32′ pipes, but Beckerath told him the room didn’t have enough volume for the lower sound waves to develop. In fact, he compared it to a kid blasting music from his car with the volume turned way up. It sounds too loud because the lower notes develop their volume off the walls of the surrounding buildings.

They also talked about the organ case and the solid Danish oak that he favored. Pastor Johnson told him about his Swedish grandfather who was a cabinet-maker who got Don started on a woodworking hobby.  When the organ was finished, there were a few pieces of Danish oak left over which Beckerath presented to Pastor. The organbuilder delighted in talking about how well the instrument had turned out, and that he considered it to be a favorite gem of his creation.

Some of Pastor Johnson's handiwork in using the leftover wood from the organ: jewelry tray boxes and cutting boards.

Some of Pastor Johnson’s handiwork in using the leftover wood from the organ: jewelry tray boxes and cutting boards.

Those few pieces of wood Pastor Johnson crafted into jewelry trays for three koa music boxes, the light wood in seven patterned cutting boards, in a couple of trivets, and the lock fixtures on his tool cabinet. Further, he carved one of Lutheran Church of Honolulu’s discarded pew ends of Philippine mahogany into a dragon to guard his tools. Apparently the only way you can open the cabinet doors is to know the secret latch that is a part of the dragon’s tail.  Johnson says, “so our little acts of creativity bless with delight those who hear or see them.  I believe their moments of delight are a form of thanksgiving to the Mysterious Master of all creation.”

Pastor Donald Johnson with some of his woodworking projects.

Pastor Donald Johnson with some of his woodworking projects. 

The Tree of Life project is a recent sculpture he crafted for his seminary colleagues, and is made from the wood of a discarded Danish baby crib. He says that “Abraham’s children, Muslims, Jews, and Christians, all have the Tree of Life in their Garden of Eden story so I have hung copper symbols of their religions in its branches, to say, ‘Since we have the same roots, we might learn to live together in peace.’ “

About Katherine Crosier

In addition to playing the organ I am interested in documenting life's special moments through journaling, scrapbooking, photography and slideshow production. My family just groans.
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2 Responses to With a snap of his fingers . . .

  1. John Alexander says:

    Beautiful story, elegantly told. Thanks, Kathy!

  2. Donald K Johnson says:

    Thanks Kathy, your catching some of the early history of the Beckerath organ at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu is a delight.

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