UNT Musicians Learn On Historic Instrument

By Steven Pickering | KRLD

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DENTON (KRLD) – The University of North Texas is celebrating a new acquisition this fall. Students in the College of Music are getting the chance to play on an instrument that’s older than the State of Texas. It’s called the Raisin Organ, after the town where it was discovered.

“Raisin — some people will recognize that as a very small town around the Victoria area in south Texas, and that’s where this instrument was discovered many years ago,” said Professor Jesse Eschbach, coordinator of UNT’s Organ Program. The organ was built in the late 1700s in Europe, but eventually found a home in Texas.

“It was brought from Switzerland sometime during the course of the 19th Century, probably in the 1840s or 1850s,” Eschbach said. “It was brought over, we think, by a Lutheran pastor. There is a flourishing German community in Texas, and there was definitely a mission in that area of Switzerland and southern Germany to send over Lutheran priests as required by the congregations here in Texas. So, we have reason to believe that this instrument was brought over by one of these Lutherans.”

The organ was used by a small parish for decades before it was replaced and put into storage. It was rediscovered nearly 75 years later. “It was discovered by an organ builder who had heard rumors that an abandoned stagecoach relay station that at the top of the stairs, there was some kind of organ,” Eschbach said.

That person bought the organ and commissioned an expert to restore it. The organ was later sold to UNT alumna Susan Ferré, a noted classical musician, composer and teacher. She loaned it to the Mesquite Arts Center in the 1990s. Last year, she donated the instrument to UNT.

Having a historic instrument in working order, Eschbach said, is a huge benefit to the students at UNT and the community.

“It’s a window on time. To have that available for faculty and students and the greater community is absolutely sensational. It’s a veritable coup,” Eschbach said. “How many universities all can boast that they have a Swiss instrument from the 1780s? The time of Mozart and Haydn, just after our own American revolution. It’s a veritable time machine is what it is.”

The school held a special concert earlier this month to showcase the instrument. It will also be featured in future performances.

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