Our Music Legacy

Director of Music and Organist Ben Outen rehearses the St. Peter’s Choir in front of the newly built Van Ness Hamrick Organ. (Photo by Tom Johnson)

St. Peter’s has long been known for its music programs, which inspire the wider Charlotte community as well as members of the church. The St. Peter’s Choir sings on Sundays and at special events, while for nearly a century, hundreds of children and teens have participated in the Boys & Girls Choirs and the MasterSingers, all of which are part of The Choir School at St. Peter’s.

At the heart of the church’s music programs stands the pipe organ. The first organ mentioned in vestry minutes dates from the 1870s. While we don’t know the maker of that instrument, we do know that it was moved to “the new church” in 1894, the building in which we worship today.

Then-Organist and Choirmaster William Wall Whiddit told the vestry in 1934 that the existing pipe organ was inadequate for St. Peter’s growing parish, and vestry minutes record that “Mr. William H. Williamson, Jr., announced that one lady in the congregation promised $500 towards the purchase of a new organ and $100 per year until it was fully paid for.” This generous offer generated such enthusiasm that it became possible to purchase a new organ that same year. Thus the 1934 Austin organ (Opus 1872) was installed, and it provided many decades of music. (Incidentally, Mr. Williamson was the father of Bill Williamson, who chaired the 2007-8 Capital Campaign Committee.)

David Broome, president and tonal director of the Austin Organ Company, visited St. Peter’s in 1996 and at the vestry’s request offered a proposal for renovating and updating the instrument. Because the price was cost prohibitive, the renovation was not in the Miracle on 7th Street capital campaign that was inaugurated that year to improve and expand the church’s facilities.

Despite the extraordinary skill and efforts of Organist & Choirmaster Ben Outen and assistant organists to bring out the best the Austin had to offer, the old organ continued its decline and the decision was made to secure its replacement.

Thanks to the generosity of Grace Van Ness Hamrick and many other individuals and families, the installation of the new C. B. Fisk Opus 136 organ—henceforth to be known as the Van Ness Hamrick Organ—was celebrated on November 21, 2010, at a 10:30 a.m. dedication Eucharist service and marked by a weekend of special concert performances.

With the advent of the new organ, members of St. Peter’s and the wider community will be the beneficiaries of beautiful music on Sunday mornings, at Sunday Evensong, and at many recitals and concerts throughout the year.