Sunday afternoon sunlight filters through stained-glass windows, casting the interior of this brick St. Paul church in a soft glow. Besides some friendly chitchat, everything is quiet inside UNITY Baptist Church.
Then Kim Crisler steps out from behind a door and takes a seat before the old Wicks Opus 2470 pipe organ -- an instrument that hadn't been played for years. Suddenly, an ocean of sound, from Bach to "Fats" Waller, sweeps over the pews and out the doors on to Victoria Street.
"We've brought this gift back to life," the Rev. Ronald Smith says.
He'd joked about scrapping the old instrument or selling it for $5. But his friend and fellow minister Carl Walker, founder of the Walker West Music Academy around the corner on Selby Avenue, threatened to clean his clock if he junked this old organ.
So Smith brought together Crisler and a young organ technician named David Grandall, who researched and restored the instrument. Their work led to this recent "Praise on the Pipes" concert, a celebration of the pipe organ's place in African-American churches.
Crisler grew up in south Minneapolis, the youngest of 10 children. She remembers, as a young girl, first hearing the Hammond organ at the Greater Sabathani Baptist Church. And then, as a first-grader, listening to George Rogers pull out of the stops on the pipe organ at Pilgrim Lutheran Church.
"I can picture that console vividly and the way he made it preach and play," she says.
She's been playing organ for 25 years in 10 states, from her regular gig at Macedonia Missionary Baptist to the Heights Theatre in Columbia Heights.
Grandall grew up taking organ lessons in Spring Valley in the southeast corner of the state and now runs his own Twin Cities organ repair business (www.organwerks.com). He majored in mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota, writing a master's thesis on hydraulic hybrid vehicles. He chased his organ-building dream to Georgetown, Mass., working for the Noack Organ Co. He helped install a massive double organ in the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman in La Crosse, Wis.
By comparison, UNITY Baptist's organ is small, with pipes cut to fit below the church's vaulted ceiling. The instrument dates to 1872 and first belonged to the House of Hope Presbyterian Church in downtown St. Paul. When House of Hope moved to Summit Avenue in 1914, the Steere and Turner organ was presented to this church, previously known as Woodland Park Baptist.
A major rebuilding in 1942 could salvage only seven of the original ranks. But after years of inactivity, Grandall finished tuning it up, cleaning the pipes and reworking the stops earlier this year.
"To think it was almost relegated to the dumpster," Crisler says. "We feel like we've brought back a vital organ to life."