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The Back Story: Maurine Jackson Smith Pipe Organ

Read about the history of this unique part of campus culture.

UNLV History  |  Oct 9, 2013  |  By Brian Sodoma

The Doc Rando Recital Hall stage inside the Beam Music Center is home to the Maurine Jackson Smith Pipe Organ. (Geri Kodey/UNLV Photo Services)

Very few instruments are crafted by hand anymore. But when a massive pipe organ is to be installed in a specific space, the old approaches to building come back into play. That's the case for the handcrafted pipe organ. The stunning instrument sits on the Doc Rando Recital Hall stage inside the Beam Music Center.

The organ debuted in fall 2004. The organ was out of commission for a year after sustaining water damage in May 2012. A broken sprinkler damaged the wood housing of the organ.

The massive instrument was originally installed after a four-year building process. Its 10,000 pieces were handmade in Hamburg, Germany, and shipped to Las Vegas. It took the previous summer to install. The organ has three manuals (that's a keyboard to most of us), 38 stops (which control the flow of air to the pipes), and 3,000 pipes arranged into 53 sets. It is the largest pipe organ in the state.

Once the organ was installed, it took six weeks to tune the instrument because each pipe needed to be tuned individually and then in chorus.

The pipe organ was made possible by a $500,000 donation from the family of the late Maurine Jackson Smith, an organ aficionado. She graduated from UNLV in 1995 magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree in history at the age of 59.

Past music department chair Isabelle Emerson, along with other colleagues, conducted a search for a pipe organ builder and settled on the Rudolf von Beckerath Co. after hearing one of the builder's instruments in California.

When the Artemus Ham Concert Hall was built in 1976, there was consideration given to building a pipe organ, but an electric one was chosen instead.

The Southern Nevada chapter of the American Guild of Organists uses the 300-space Doc Rando Recital Hall and handcrafted organ to host professional organists from around the world.

Built: Over the course of four years, starting in 2000
Originally dedicated: Oct. 4, 2004.
Size: More than 30 feet across and 40 feet tall