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Man continues passion for pipe organ restoration (w/video)

July 6, 2014 at 2:06 a.m.

The golden facade of pipes from the 1927 model Moller pipe organ at the First United Methodist Church in Cuero. Russell Franklin had stored the pipe organ in his warehouse during reconstruction of the church's damaged sanctuary.

In a generation built upon the digital platform of Twitter and Facebook, Russell Franklin works with his hands, convincing a lead pipe to sing.

In an area with standing-room only, among row after row of metal cylinders that extend upward toward heaven, Franklin casually describes the process of tuning the pipes.

"I had to take this 8-foot pipe and make it speak as a 4-foot pipe," Franklin said.

Franklin not only understands it, but he designs it as well.

Franklin got his start in the business working for Roy Redman, of Fort Worth, who many consider to be the premier tracker organ builder and who has been active since 1966. Following his stint with Redman, Franklin joined Rubin Frels in Victoria, where he honed his skills, designing pipe organs until he decided to branch out on his own in 1986.

Franklin currently services more than 40 pipe organs from Columbus to Laredo as well as Cuero, San Antonio and Victoria. Franklin's first solo job was at St. Mary's Catholic Church in High Hill, near Schulenburg.

Restoration of organs already built and tuning them is the bulk of his workload, he said.

"I don't do pianos," Franklin said, laughing. "Pianos have strings; pipe organs have pipes."

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, one of Franklin's clients in San Antonio, has 1,339 pipes. The First United Methodist Church in Cuero is smaller in scale, but the need for attention to detail is the same.

Damage done to the First United Methodist's sanctuary basement by termites silenced the pipe organ that had served the church since 1925, and church elders had to make some hard financial decisions in 2001, he said.

Divine providence would prevail, and by 2011, the dream to bring life back to the golden facade was realized. Not only was the sanctuary rebuilt, but also the organ's gold pipes spoke once more.

On that eventful day, Franklin remarked, "The first day I made the gold pipes speak, there was lots of shouting and praising the Lord."

His spirituality links him to his craft, and the religious context in which he works defines his faith, he said.

The Rev. Michael Mumme, pastor at First United Methodist, describes the communion of song and pipe organ music as incredibly important.

"Our faith is a faith that is sung. When we are in worship, there is the sermon that is preached and the sermon that is sung," he said.



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