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Musicians Give New Life To Organ Salvaged From 2008 Iowa City Flood

An organ in Iowa City will play again publicly this weekend, ten years after floodwaters silenced it. After extensive restoration and reconstruction, the instrument is getting its post-2008 flood public debut.

Musicians are bringing new life to the organ salvaged from the University of Iowa’s Clapp Recital Hall. Previously known as the Casavant Organ, the instrument survived the historic floods that battered eastern Iowa, even as the university's arts campus and Voxman Music Hall were inundated. 

The building where the organ resided was ultimately demolished, but volunteers and enthusiasts decided the signature instrument was worth saving, and rebuilding piece by piece in its new home at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church

Originally built by the Quebec-based Casavant Freres company in 1971, the decade-long restoration and reconstruction of the organ cost an estimated $500,000, a fraction of the instrument's $1.85 million replacement cost. 

Music Director Matthew Penning says these kinds of instruments deserve to be preserved and played, not sent "into the landfill" or "sold for scrap."

"Especially for those who have heard it before, just to be able to sit back and to take in the sounds of it again and reacquaint themselves after ten years of not hearing it," Penning said. 

The instrument is now referred to as the Krapf Organ, renamed in honor Gerhard Krapf, the founder of the UI Organ Department, who is credited with convincing state lawmakers to finance the installation of the instrument in the first place.

As a signature instrument in the UI Music School, Penning says concert-goers in the community have a special connection to the organ, as do the scores of musicians who honed their craft on it. 

"It’s shared with so many people. It’s not just one church or one institution’s instrument. It really has become a community instrument, both near and far," Penning said. “It has a lot of good connections with alumni, the dozens and dozens of alumni that have come through here and are eager to come…and play again.”

Former St. Andrew Director of Music  and UI alumna Shelly Moorman-Stahlman will perform the organ’s first public recital since the flood. In written program notes for the recital, Moorman-Stahlman said the thought of the organ being destroyed was a blow.

"I, like so many other alumni of University of Iowa, was devastated to learn of the flood at the University of Iowa and the potential loss of this excellent instrument which was such an important part of my educational experience," she wrote. "I am thrilled to be a part of this special celebration to dedicate this organ in its new home."

Thanks to a decade of work and dedication, Penning says the organ should be an asset for worshippers, students and audiences for generations to come.

The Krapf Organ "is expected to last another hundred years at least," Penning said.

The recital is slated for Saturday October 20th at 7 pm at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Iowa City.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter