In our last ENews, we discussed the heating system of “This Old Church” and the surprises and unexpected costs. This week I want to talk about something more emotional and probably personal – the organ in our sanctuary.
If you have been attending services in a Christian church for many years, I don’t need to remind you the integral part the church organ plays in our worship. The ability of a good organ to shake us with the low notes (makes us pay attention!) and join in song is very important.
Booker T. Jones (Yes, of the 70’s group Booker T & the MGs, if you are old enough to remember) described the organ in worship in this fashion – “The very basis of the design of even the most modest organs flows directly out of natural, God-given laws found in the overtone series…Without any doubt, the organ is the most naturally supportive instrument for singing that Western culture knows of. Its very design and its intelligent use in hymn singing are meant to accomplish one purpose: to support singing by the intelligent use of registers chosen to fill in the cracks–to provide both an underpinning and a blossom to the work of the congregational voices.” Quite a statement from a guy that wrote songs like “Soul Limbo” and “My Sweet Potato”!
Early on in the Capital Campaign, it was clear that the congregation wanted to save the organ. So we made it one of our first priorities. We looked at replacing it with an electronic organ, but evidently it did not feel right.
Fortunately, we appear to have a good one. If my internet research is correct, our organ was manufactured in the 1920’s by E. & G.G. Hook of Boston (in a quick search of churches in the area with early 20th century organs, Hook shows up a lot), and then overhauled by Conrad Olsen of Waltham, Massachusetts in the 1960’s (during our last Capital Campaign), our organ is arguably one of the finer musical instruments on the North Shore. Although in recent years I don’t think we could appreciate this as the instrument was “tired” and not up to its potential. Those of you who are in the choir or altar guild would likely have seen this bowl full of broken controls on the console. Even to the untrained eye, the instrument was clearly on life support.
Initially, the property committee recommended replacing our old organ console, as that was the most obvious problem, with a refurbished cabinet containing new internal equipment. We thought this would be the best value for the money. This cost was just over $67,000 – a new cabinet would have cost at least $30,000 more. Remember that organs of this stature are extremely custom in nature. No assembly line means it is not a low-cost fix. At this time the other portions of the organ system were considered to be in good condition.
After checking references of several companies, the committee recommended selection of Spencer Organ Company (also of Waltham!) for this project. A contract was signed on Nov 12, 2013 and work started in Spencer’s shop soon after. The used console was refurbished and new internal equipment installed at Spencer’s Waltham shop. Installation at Good Shepherd began on June 23, 2014.
Then the surprises started. Unfortunately during construction it was discovered that the five organ reservoirs had deteriorated and required refurbishment. The total cost of this work was an additional $25,000. This included the re-leathering of a total of six wooden flutes as well as rebuilding the reservoirs. There was a plan to overhaul the other flutes, but since this would add another $27,500 to the cost it was deferred to a later date.
For electrical work we hired W.B. Stockwood, Inc. of Winchester. They modernized the organ’s electrical connections for under $2,000. The entire project was completed in September 2014. The bottom line is that the surprises brought the cost from $67,000 to almost $100,000.
Those of you who have been at the 10:00 service on Sundays since can clearly tell the difference! What comes out of those pipes is truly inspirational. I don’t know about you, but I think we are close to concert quality here. We have truly updated a legacy that we will leave to future generations.
Speaking of legacy, I’d like your help. Dig into your old family photos and see if you have any shots of the organ “in action.” You know, a wedding or other celebration. If you or any of your family were ever in the choir, I’m sure you have some! If you can share, it will help build the history.
In my next column, we’ll review other surprises discovered as we continue to overhaul our buildings in order to make them last and be more welcoming. As always, please reach out to myself, a member of the Vestry, or the property committee if you have questions or concerns.