St. Peter’s Organ Restoration

Below is an article written by Joe Dzeda, co-owner of the A. Thompson-Allen Company, about our historic organ and the work that is about to commence!

It’s unlikely that many people who hear the organ at Saint Peter’s Church think much about the sophisticated machinery that dwells inside Philip Feyring’s elegant 1764 organ case. And why should they? Week after week, year after year, the organ plays on, the mechanical genius of its builders concealed beneath an almost limitless palette of musical colors capable of expressing human emotions.     
 
Saint Peter’s instrument was made by Boston’s celebrated Skinner Organ Company, then as now generally considered the finest organ-building firm of their day. The organ’s 2,565 pipes have supported the worship services in this historic church for ninety years. Thanks to the good stewardship of the people of Saint Peter’s, this organ has outlasted at least four earlier instruments that once stood behind the visible casework. Affectionately dubbed “Margie” by the musicians who have sat at the console, Opus 862 (as the builder called her) has long been the musical soul of Saint Peter’s Church. 
 
Ernest M. Skinner’s ability to design an organ that complements its acoustical environment is nowhere more evident than at St. Peter’s Church. A total of forty-seven stops are controlled by a three-manual console. Two-thirds of the pipes are “under expression,” in louvered enclosures that provide a wide dynamic range. While the smallest pipes are the size of soda straws, the largest pipe, if stretched out, could reach across Pine Street. The kaleidoscopic musical resources of this instrument include gentle ethereal whispers, hauntingly beautiful flutes, broad and rich foundation stops, and a powerful tutti that is completely satisfying and never oppressive.  
 
Recently, however, after millions of notes have been played, the organ needs to be rebuilt.  Many of the stops are peppered with dead notes and pipes that have drifted “off speech.”  The gentle hissing of air leaking from the many bellows indicates that they need to be rebuilt. Occasionally a valve won’t close completely, causing a pipe to cipher. Organists have learned to dodge the dead notes and work around an increasing list of ailments. The organ’s pipes need to be washed, repaired and speech-regulated, and the thousands of valves within the windchests must be replaced. 
 
In recognition of this organ’s remarkable service, and with optimism for the future of this parish and its music program, the Vestry of Saint Peter’s Church has decided to invest in a complete restoration of Ernest Skinner’s instrument. In a few months, the organ will be removed from the church and taken to New Haven, Connecticut, for a year-long stay where “the old will be made new again.” Literally thousands of hours will be spent cleaning, rebuilding and regulating the organ’s pipes and mechanism. When Opus 862 returns home, there will be a joyous celebration as familiar acquaintances are renewed, and “Margie” will be ready to serve the people of Saint Peter’s for generations to come.

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