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Jax Symphony’s 'King Of Instruments' Turns 100

Fans of the Jacksonville Symphony may know the kaleidoscope of sounds that come from the orchestra’s massive pipe organ, but they may not know it’s history, or what it takes to tune it.

“With this many pipes, anything can go wrong,” said organ technician ChazDewsbury, who's been taking care of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra’s Bryan Concert Organ for the last seven years.

Dewsbury tunes the organ once a year. To do that, he has to listen to each of its 6,215 pipes - some as long as 32 feet long. The process takes two days.

The Bryan Concert Organ is 100 years old, weighs about 20 tons, and takes up as much space as a two-story house.

The organ’s birth name is the “Opus 553,” built in 1914 by the Casavant Freres company in Quebec, Canada. Soon after, it was installed in the First Baptist Church in Syracuse, New York. That’s where it stayed until the late 1980s, when the church moved and the organ was put in storage. In 1996 it was retrieved and restored by Quimby Pipe Organs in Missouri. Seven semi trucks delivered it to Jacksonville, where it debuted in it’s new, custom-built home in 2001: Jacoby Concert Hall.

The move and restoration cost $1.5 million. The money was donated by G. Howard Bryan as a memorial to the Bryan family’s long commitment and involvement with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra.

“There are very few orchestral halls in the world that have the organ and the acoustics that our Jacoby Concert Hall has,” said retired Jacksonville physician Ross Krueger, who was on the search committee that found the organ. “It’s one of the best in the United States.”

The Bryan Concert Organ can be heard being featured in the Saint-Saens Thundering “Organ” Symphony at the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra March 12-14.

Peter Haden is an award-winning investigative reporter and photographer currently working with The Center for Investigative Reporting. His stories are featured in media outlets around the world including NPR, CNN en Español, ECTV Ukraine, USA Today, Qatar Gulf Times, and the Malaysia Star.