Organist and composer Wes Broderius

Performing at St. James Methodist Church in Central City

By Jaclyn Morrow

The sails and trails of Wes Broderius have hardly been a lonely journey. Born and raised in Denver, he has adventured around the world with melodies guiding the directions. Group travels of The Lutheran Chorale spanned the United States, oceans and continents. By God’s graces, he has always returned safely to home and family. We in Gilpin County know Wes as the organist who makes amazing music fill the Victorian sanctuary for the last six years at St. James United Methodist Church (UMC), Central City. He feels privileged to be able to play this historic tracker action organ. It uses mechanics, not electricity to move his action on the ivory keys, pedals, and stops to open and close the pipes where the air flows through to make the resounding melodies.

This is the same kind of organ Mr. Broderius’s favorite composers used. For centuries, organs used human power to pump the air with bellows through the massive pipes which makes the sound, much like a flute needs air moving to make its sound.

Wes pointed out that the 1898 organ in St. James UMC has an original lever on it to turn on or off the water motor included to make the air flow through the pipes. The metal plate around the on/off lever has the Springfield, Massachusetts manufacturer’s name of JW Steere & Son Water Motor, 1898. When electric pumps became available in Central City, the water pump was replaced with an electric blower to move the air.

Mr. Broderius explained moving air with any type of pump or bellows is necessary to have sound come from the organ. Installing an electric blower is one early upgrade the St. James organ has for reliable performance. The other mechanical upgrade was to replace the hemp connections with wire.

Hemp has long been used for securing mechanical connections. In the organ, hemp was the critical point which connected the long wooden track directly moved by the keys, pedals, and stops to the air plugs on the pipes to permit air through the pipe for sound, or replace the plug so air did not move in a particular pipe. The disadvantage to the hemp connector was drying could make it brittle, critters could make it weak from nibbling on it, or time eventually makes a connection fail. Wire has become the more practical connector.

Newer organs use an electrical impulse created by the motion of the keys, pedals, and stops to open or close the pipes, which makes changing the stops much quicker. Electronics can also even simulate the sound of the pipes.

The old mechanical stops may take extra hands to operate in some compositions, so often more than one person would be on the organ bench. Teams of boys may have been at the organ to peddle the bellows for the sound to be heard. Organ playing was rarely possible as a solo event.

The foot pedals in this old style are flat, so it requires some reaching to use all the pedals. The newer ones have an arched feature to make it more reachable to press the outer edged peddles.

Central City has two original tracker action organs. One is housed in St. James UMC, and the other in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Documented by The Organ Historical Society in 2008, Denver has 18 tracker action pipe organs. Others may be found in in older Colorado towns: Georgetown, Leadville, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Lyons, and Pueblo.

The real old-fashioned sound is much preferred by many, along with Mr. Broderius, and considered the ultimate sound.

Breathing a spiritual life through the worship service are hymns and other accompaniments Wes Broderius presents. The rhythms and harmonies nurture spiritual life, just as other musicians for the last 160 years at St. James UMC.

At St. James, devotion to God’s scripture, prayer, and holy reverence of the Lord is held by the long history of parishioners balanced in serving the community needs. Beautiful stained glass representing God’s history with man, ornate paintings, and the sounds of worship may contribute to the accumulated presence of spiritual wellness that permeates the sanctuary.

Wes Broderius’s prelude and postlude pieces which open and close the Sunday morning services are surely inspired. Often they are composed by Bach, Handel, or other classic composers, filling the worship time with the historically respected pieces played with his skill on this rare mechanically operated pipe organ. Occasionally, contemporary composers are heard, particularly when using an electronic keyboard in the Opera Garden for summer worship outdoors during COVID-19 restrictions.

Often in the summer months when opera singers are in Central City, some bring their talents to St. James to join with the historic organ sounds for worship. Wes is able to arrange music to work with the singer’s strengths. Collaboration brings a verity of musical styles, including gospel spirituals. It is such a privilege to have these talented singers resounding with historic acoustics.

Collaborating with multi-talented people is a revered characteristic. Churches are where we may often find great talents shared as an offering to God and others, yet may also be compensated with payment. Wes has traditionally offered his talents through the Lutheran Church.

Mr. Broderius brings his eloquent experience with classical and worshipful music to St. James on a full-time basis after an eight decade journey through music education, choir directing, composing, arranging, and performing.

This Colorado gentleman is also recognized as a musical scholar, teacher, craftsman, architect, owner and sole employee of Broderius Builders.

He came to St. James as an occasional fill-in for the previous organist, Susan Tillemon. Ms. Tillemon served 17 years playing organ full-time at St. James UMC. Before retiring, Ms. Tillemon called on Wes Broderius and Mrs. Moodhart (2nd generation of an original home in Aspen Springs) to cover the summer organ playing at St. James UMC. Ms. Tillemon began offering summer music camps in New England, so Mr. Broderius became the St. James full-time organist in 2014.

Wes Broderius Tales

Wes Broderius was born to parents who met in Denver after the depression. His mother came from Mount Magazine, Arkansas, of parents who immigrated from Ireland. She worked for the telephone company in Denver. His father was born in Blue Island, Illinois, of parents who immigrated from Germany. He served as a Denver policeman for 25 years. Their family included two boys, Wes and Melvin.

Wes attended Emmaus Lutheran School in Denver first through 9th grades. A girl he was sweet on was planning to attend Concordia Preparatory School part of Concordia College (now University) in Seward, Nebraska. Wes, not knowing about the school until one of his friends showed interest, convinced his parents to allow him to go the private Lutheran school established in 1894. Unfortunately, the classmate was not able to go to school with him in Nebraska.

The preparatory years at Concordia availed Wes’s high school diploma. In 1951, as a college freshman at Concordia College, Wes began studying organ. Wes graduated with a BA in music education in 1955. Years later, he was voted into the Concordia College Hall of Fame, because of his contributions in football and tennis.

While at Concordia, he began dating Virginia Lorenz. She had also been a classmate at Emmaus Lutheran School in Denver. Upon graduation, they were married.

The young Broderius family served Lutheran churches as Minister of Music, Organist and Choral Conductor, in Wisconsin, Florida, Nebraska, and Colorado. Virginia was a teacher.

Two daughters expanded the family’s delight. Debora was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and by age three set her sights on being a ballet dancer, which she has achieved. Rebeca was born in Orlando, Florida.

The family returned to their alma mater, Concordia College in Nebraska. Virginia attended seminary and was an English Professor. Wes become a staff member and taught organ, music history, and conducted two college choirs.

The Concordia Singers, a touring choir, originated as the first Lutheran choir to travel through the southern states singing in all African-American churches. The acapella choir finished this tour singing an Easter Sunrise Service on the beach in Nassau, Bahama Islands.

Wes was awarded the Master of Music degree in 1970 from the University of Colorado. Two years later the family returned to Colorado, living with the Lorenz family in Boulder.

The opportunity to study with Dr. Lynn Whitten attracted Wes to the program at CU, Boulder.  Wes began studies for a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Choral Conducting. When all course work and performances were completed and the Doctoral Degree awarded, Wes took leave of absence to build their home.

Castle Broderius

Up above Golden on Lookout Mountain, a Denver dentist divided up some of their land to sell off. They had purchased much of the mountain in 1920. Wes was able to make a $20 down payment, and began planning the family home.

Wes designed his home while a neighbor was the official architect when building began in 1977. The original 2-story humble abode overlooking Denver, has been home for 45 years now. Broderius Builders, employee of one, has continued to make regular upgrades and expansions on the now 2,876 square foot, 3 bedroom, 4 bath, 2 kitchen, multi-level castle home.

Dreams and schemes developed the first addition in 1987 to the original home. Their architect neighbor drew up plans for the large deck with two 6-sided towers with spiral staircases. Working together, they constructed the 33 x 15 foot pool and spa on the ground level. Later the ballroom was enclosed above the pool with the deck and towers above the ballroom.

From then on, the additions were designed by Wes, as he built the north wing of the castle by himself. It has four levels. The highest tower has six levels from the ground floor, and includes a bedroom and deck on the 5th level.

Daughter Debora kept her interest in ballet dancing, so many, many years of ballet lessons kept the Broderius family on schedule. It all facilitated the thrilling opportunity to be a Prime Ballerina of the New England Ballet Company. Debora had a long career with the company and continues to teach ballet from Connecticut where she lives with her husband.

Daughter Rebecca learned to ride horses on the Lorenz farm in Windsor, CO. Later she took English riding lessons at a riding stable. She lives with her daughter in one tower and plays one of the three grand pianos at the castle, preferring Beethoven. She is also a computer “geek,” electrician, plumber, carpenter, and roofer.

Two projects are the current focus of Castle Broderius. Earth moved from the heavy 2016 rains initiated repairing a railroad tie retaining wall along the driveway and parking area with 800 bricks laid in herringbone fashion 20 years ago. After receiving an expensive estimate, Wes designed and is implementing an affordable, long-term and effective repair himself.

Also, the blue metal roof shingles on the steep pitched turret roof peaks, as well as the rest of the home have been getting replaced. Tim Casey of St. James Church had been working on that project, but sadly, has recently suddenly passed away. Wes and Rebecca are now working on completing what remains of that project.

The Lutheran Choral

Not long after home building began in 1977, Wes was asked by two other Lutheran musicians to organize a Pan Lutheran Community Choir. Wes conducted the choir for 35 years that was called “The Lutheran Chorale” (TLC), which did not discriminate members by Lutheran level achievement of church membership. Between 60-80 voices became the norm although closer to 35 were the starting numbers.

TLC was accompanied by an orchestra which at times included cooperation with the Lakewood High School orchestra and local high school choirs. Some members from the Colorado Symphony also played with the TLC orchestra. All the major choral works of the masters were presented, including Handel’s Messiah.

Spanning the years of choir directing, Wes has composed and arranged many choral anthems as well as much liturgical music. Bach is the composer he prefers with excellence for organ and choir.

Broderius published compositions included in 2001 the “Bach Liturgy” being published in “The Service Hymnal,” a new Lutheran hymnal facilitating a complete setting for Holy Communion. Another liturgical work for piano accompaniment, “A Nineteenth Century Mass,” was adapted and arranged using melodies from the composers of the Impressionistic Era such as Debussy, Ravel, Satie, and Mussorgsky.

Wes also composed pieces for the choir and orchestra. Influenced by his Irish mother, he composed pieces using classic Celtic composers arranged to add sacred lyrics.

Wes led the TLC on seven acapella choir tours to Europe, Scandinavia, and the British Isles. The choir went to each of those regions on a three year rotation to go to each two times. One year the choir also went to Australia.

Wes’s final choir concert season included classic composers, his own original pieces, and an arrangement of Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.” Elgar’s tunes and lyrics came to Wes when he was waking up from surgery for his heart attack.

No longer directing choirs, Wes Broderius’s joy is playing the St. James Church organ. It is deeply rewarding to play the historic tracker organ installed in 1899. Playing organ is a personal thrill for Wes, although it differs from the essence of cooperation found in a choir.

Virginia, now retired, had served with three different parishes in Denver.

As a Renaissance man, Wes Broderius continues to do arrangements and compositions. He has completed 12 Celtic pieces and has set a personal goal of 20 to be published with sacred lyrics.

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