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August 12, 2008
Vol. VIII, No. 6

"Google Some Good News"
The big news story around town this week (for organists) was about Col. Jack Moelmann, who spent almost $120,000 of his own money to rent out Radio City Music Hall to perform a show on the historic Wurlitzer.

On a whim, I decided to Google "Pipe Organ" and see what other stories might be in the news. My search returned 306 news stories, not a lot by Google standards but, hey, this is the pipe organ we're talking about. 306 news items is a lot of pipe organ news. But my smile quickly turned to a frown when I saw the story at the top of the results:

"If the pipe organ won't fit, sell it"
This is a strange story. Near as I can tell, a developer offered the congregation land and a new church building in exchange for their church and they accepted. Only problem is, the new building design didn't take into account the pipe organ and now there's no room for it.

"The tallest pipe stands at five metres, so the new building would have had to be renovated to include a well in the floor or a dormer in the roof to enable the organ to fit in, parish administrator Dorothy Hallas said. With the building almost finished, the congregation elected to take a much smaller electronic organ along to the new location."

Now they're selling their century-old Casavant for 5 cents on the dollar. Where were the adults when all this was happening!?! In the next news story, another church miraculously seemed able to figure things out for themselves:

"Fairfield church seeks to move windows"
"According to the application submitted by architect Albert Kolff, the installation of a pipe organ requires the Tiffany windows visible from the Beach Road side of the church to be moved to the side of the church that can be seen from the Old Post Road and the former Fairfield Historical Society building next door. The three relocated Tiffany windows would take the place of other stained-glass windows in place there now. The windows being removed to make way for the Tiffany windows would be restored to their original location flanking two similar windows on the Beach Road facade. Two new stained-glass windows would be designed and made for the church's Webb Room to complement the relocated Tiffany windows."

It's not rocket science; it's a matter of having your priorities straight. To wit, I was able to find yet another story where a great effort was made to accommodate an organ:
Historic First Presby of Georgetown, Kentucky is having the Miller Pipe Organ Company restore its 100+ years Votey/Holtkamp. On the church's website, I found this entry on the History page:
"In 1945...the installation of the new organ required some changes in the design of the sanctuary including the relocation of the organ from the center to the pulpit side and the relocation of the choir loft to the lectern side."

I guess that organ was pretty important to the congregation for them to rearrange the whole church. And it must be still if they're going to pay good money to restore that old thing. Seriously, though, over 100 years old. DO YOU THINK THE ORGAN HAS PAID FOR ITSELF YET? Nice return on their investment. I bet the church members really appreciate the wisdom and forethought of their predecessors. Here's another similar situation:

"Zion Covenant Church Repairs Pipe Organ"
"Zion Covenant Church, 520 Fairmount Ave., Jamestown, NY, has had 42 pistons added to its >>> 104-year-old <<< Kimball Pipe Organ. This was a replacement of the old piston system that was wearing out."

Apparently, smart knows no bounds, be they geographical or denominational. And sometimes a congregation knows enough that they realize a whole new instrument is in order:

"World-class pipe organ rises at church"
"The roughly $1.2 million instrument is a gift from church members Bonnie and Tom Trotta. Bonnie Trotta, who has been a member of the church for 21 years, said she's a music lover who is particularly impressed with Newman's talents as an organist. 'I love that church. My husband and I were married there. My four children all were confirmed there, baptized there,' said Trotta, a Chappaqua resident who also is president emeritus of the Boys and Girls Club of Northern Westchester in Mount Kisco. 'It's a special church to me. And given that they need a good organ and they had a great organist, I felt it was worthy to get a great organ.'"

OK, so you're saying not everyone can afford a new pipe organ or even maintain their old one. Really? Well, I found some stories of people out there who would beg to differ. The comments made by the church members in these various stories really shed light on the attitudes at work in their churches:

"Pipe dream: Restoration of St. Paul's organ continues"
"But now, after more than eight decades [80 years!!! --Dan] of uninterrupted service, the downtown church's 1928 Austin organ is going into the shop for a complete overhaul. The $130,000 organ restoration project was kicked off in 2004 with a $60,000 contribution from Dr. Hal Bowman and his late wife, Sally, a strong supporter of St. Paul's music program who died the following year. The rest of the money was raised through donations of parishioners and others within six months. 'I was astounded,' Masters said. 'I thought it would take a lot longer.' St. Paul's organ is one of the biggest in the Muskegon area with 53 ranks."

That's a big organ and they're protecting their investment. They could have used that money to buy a digital but would it survive 80 years? They're smart to go with a proven winner. 80 years!!! Here's another (note the emphasis on community):
"St Johnís pipe organ sings a new song"
"If Canon Anne Wentzel had her way, the pipe organ at Johnís Anglican Church would become the focal point for music events in the entire Mudgee region. Over the past 12 months, the 124-year-old organ has undergone extensive restoration and re-assembly by Sydney-based organ specialists, Peter DG Jewkes P/L. Canon Wentzel said the restoration had been costly but important for Mudgee with its rich historic culture. 'The whole restoration came to around $160,000 with more than two thirds from the Mudgee community via appeals and fund raising events.' The NSW Heritage Council gave the church a grant of $50,000 to assist with the work. 'Now we are able to say thank you to the community with concerts and recitals of all kinds and with top quality music that only an organ can provide,' she said."

Ah, but they both had help, you say, with big kickstart gifts to their fundraising. The point is, they found a way, even if it meant asking for help. But wait! Not having help still doesn't stop some churches. This is my favorite article yet:

"Parish works to restore historic organ"
"The Restoration Committee is dedicated to seeing the precious instrument restored and will do whatever it takes to raise the $308,000 needed to complete the four phase project. So far - after collecting money through the annual Harvest Fair, gathering donations and selling tickets to concerts, which included silent auctions and comprised varying music such as folk musicians and New England Chamber Choir's Richard Donahue - the committee has raised $56,000. But to begin Phase 1 of the project, it needs $168,000. 'It's a mountain,' Parent said. 'We're climbing a mountain.'"

"So committed to the restoration of their beloved instrument are committee members that in December 2006, at the 75th anniversary of the organ, they participated in a service replete with hymns and readings all about organs, during which they rededicated the Kilgen, and dedicated themselves as well, committing, in the presence of the congregation, to complete the project. "

"'It was a huge undertaking and we wanted to show to the church our dedication to getting it done,' Parent said."

"'And it energized the church,' said co-chair Teresa Stewart."

"The committee hopes more kind souls will come forward and pledge donations for the historical organ. 'We're continuing with our projects and we do have some big donors, I just wish we could come up with some grand scheme where we could raise the money, do the project and divert our time to other projects such as outreach,' Parent said. The committee wants 'to move on to bigger stuff' like helping people locally, increasing membership and potential mission projects in Haiti, she explained. 'We really would like to do more.'"

Unfortunately, the Google good news was not without end:

"New organ to bring beautiful music to St. Peter"
"Thanks to modern digital technology, the new Allen organ offers more than the church's smaller, original organ, which was installed in 1946 by the Wicks Organ Co. 'I'm sure it was adequate for its time,' said Brother Kenneth Boesch, music director of St. Peter Church and principal organist. He said efforts to acquire a new, modern organ began two and a half years ago, and the Allen organ was purchased through donations from the congregation. 'We wanted a more versatile instrument that would be able to lead the congregation -- an instrument worthy of praise to give full glory and praise to God,' Boesch said."

Let me pause there. This is the kind of article that makes my blood boil. That comment "adequate for its time" is just so disrespectful, and reveals a bias that discredits the rest of the article for me. But there's just so much else wrong with the paragraph that I can't let it stand. They wanted a "more versatile instrument that would be able to lead the congregation"? That just doesn't make sense. You can lead a congregation with an 8' Principal if you know how. Also, " instrument worthy of praise to give full glory and praise to God" makes the music director sound as if he feels earlier members of the church weren't good stewards when they had the pipe organ installed. But wait, there's more:

"To demonstrate its versatility, the organ will accompany the sounds of trumpeter Gary Benoit, a duet by St. Peter Vocal Director Anne Simpson and boy soprano Bryton Gunther, and the 25-member adult choir of St. Peter Church, who will be joined by guest vocalists from the choirs of Our Lady of the Lake and Mary, Queen of Peace. The concert repertoire is varied, and includes "Pie Jesu" by Andrew Lloyd Webber, "Alleluia" by W.A. Mozart, variations of "Amazing Grace," and Handel's "Allegro from the Water Music Suite."

Perhaps the Wicks organ was small but I have a hard time believing it couldn't handle any part of that program. Here's what the new organ is really about:

"One special feature of the new instrument is its ability to sound like four different types of organs: American Classic, Neo Baroque, English Cathedral and French Romantic."

When the choice is an organ or a toy, I'll take the organ any day. In the end, there was one article that gave me hope that not everyone is being hoodwinked by the sellers of this technology (and I include some organists in that group). It seems one church has found that digital isn't all it's cracked up to be. They're adding pipes to their digital. It's not much but it's a start:

"Organ in tune at St. Stephen Church"
"The first ranks of 154 pipes for the organ at St. Stephen Lutheran Church have arrived from the M.G. Christian Organ Co. of Roscoe, Minn. and are being installed above and at the sides of the mural on the west wall. According to Michael Christian, designer/pipe organ builder, the pipes will add to the present digital sound. Among reasons for installing the pipes, Christian cited 'having the breath of air of real pipes, with the hopes of adding an additional rank for a grandiose scale of twelve. We are now installing about three ranks. Room is planned for the additional nine if funding becomes available,' he said. 'The pipes will accentuate the traditional feel of the sanctuary.'"

Frankly, I'm exhausted. We've just traveled halfway around the world and back and boy is my Google tired. But I find it encouraging that there is so much activity not only to build new pipe organs but especially to preserve existing ones. People all over recognize the true value of a pipe organ, not just from a monetary standpoint but also from a community standpoint. They have experienced the quality that it brings to their lives and in their dedication to that quality serve as shining examples to others, whether those others are willing to accept it or, as we have seen, not.

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Have a great week!

Dan Long

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