Friday, August 23rd, 2019

Perfect Harmony

An ancient pipe organ gets a major overhaul

By Tom Millhouse

Some of the pipes of the St. Augustine Catholic Church organ in Minster. The ins. . .

MINSTER - St. Augustine Catholic Church's grand pipe organ, which has its roots in the 19th century, will soon receive a 21st century overhaul to bring it into the digital age.
A successful fundraising campaign to finance the complete renovation of the church organ is wrapping up, church music director Jared Post said. A contract has been awarded to Reynolds Associates Inc., a pipe organ company in Marion, Indiana. Post said the cost of the renovation has been set at $850,000.
The engineering and design work has been completed. Post said with the exception of the largest pipes, Reynolds workers will dismantle the organ in February. They will take it back to the company's workshop to begin creating a nearly all-new instrument.
"In August (2020) they will begin reinstalling it like a big jigsaw puzzle," he said. "We're hoping it will be done by November, but realistically it will be done by Christmas."
Although the schedule has not been finalized, Post said special concerts will be held in 2021 after the project has been completed.
"The year 2021 will be celebration of music with the organ," he said.
The process began a year ago with the formation of a committee to research companies offering church organ construction services and seek bids on the first complete overhaul of the organ since 1939. Post said he served as the staff adviser and St. Augustine pastor the Rev. Frankline Rayappa also served with the committee.
Three bids were received, with Reynolds being selected to undertake the project.
"As a whole, we are very happy how the project has gone," Post said. "It has been received generally very well (by the congregation)."
Post said the church has been fortunate the organ has served so well for 80 years after the last overhaul, noting an organ usually lasts only 55-60 years to a maximum of 70 years before needing renovation.
Pilcher and Sons of Louisville built the original organ and also completed the 1939 overhaul.
"They were known for their long-lasting organs that didn't require a lot of maintenance," Post said. "They built an instrument that was basically like a tank."
"We certainly have been blessed with a very long-lived instrument," he continued. "But now the time has come (for a renovation)."
Post said the leather valves have worn out over the decades, and other issues precipitated need for the project.
The mammoth organ has 2,300 pipes with 37 stops, according to Post. The smallest pipes are the size of a pencil, while the largest pipe is 18 feet in length and 18 inches in diameter.
Plans call for 760 of the original pipes to be included in the renovated instrument, which will have 3,100 pipes when completed.
The organ also will move into the computer age after the renovation.
"It will be all digital," Post said, noting the console will be computerized, as will the rest of the organ.
A more decorative façade will be placed in front of the hundreds of pipes, he said. The organ is housed in the loft over the sanctuary.
From the time it was purchased in 1896 for $2,500, the organ has undergone a number of changes.
The first improvement came in 1911 with the installation of an electric blower. Previously two people were needed to man bellows to provide the air pressure needed for the organ.
"It was a laborious process," Post said of manning the bellows for an entire Mass. "If he (organist) was playing with a lot of sound, it would have required considerable pumping to keep up with the instrument. Now we just turn a switch. It's so much easier."
The 1939 overhaul involved the electrification of the organ. Like the upcoming project, the earlier renovation replaced nearly the entire organ, except the pipes. The project added pipes and stops to produce a more vibrant sound. The number of pipes was boosted from the original 1,300 to 2,032 in 1939.
"It's grown every time it was worked on," he said.
In 1968, a new console was installed and, four years later, four more stops were added.
Post said the church's grand piano will accompany choirs and the congregation until the organ project has been completed.
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