The Interesting History of our Organ

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Our pipe organ was built and installed in 1895 by Boston organ builder George Horatio Ryder (1838-1922) as his Opus 180. It is a tracker organ — that is, there is “a mechanical linkage between keys or pedals pressed by the organist and the valve that allows air to flow into pipes of the corresponding note,” according to Wikipedia.

George Ryder himself (pictured) played the dedicatory recital on October 25, 1895.

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In the 1960s, the almost 70-year-old organ began to experience mechanical problems.  An electronic organ was purchased to replace it.  In 1975, UUCSW parishioner Patrick Mullarky received permission from the Board of Trustees to undertake restorative work on the tracker organ.  The work, which continued on and off for three years, included some revoicing by William F. Patchell, an organ builder from Malden.

In the early 1990s, the organ became unplayable during a service and remained so until August 2014.  Organ builders Alex Belair and Michael Tanguay, after many questions, discovered that during the installation of a new heating system in the early 1990s, the organ blower had been disconnected and when re-connected had been turned 90 degrees, which resulted in the loss of wind.  After years of non-use, in 1995 it was decided to dismantle the organ and pack the pipes inside the organ chamber.   (Picture below — see the small pipes behind the large pipes?  They had all been removed to make room for speakers for the electronic organ.)

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In 2014, several parishioners — in particular Ken Young and Nancy Avila — were determined to make the organ playable again. Board approval was given.  William Young led donations for the cause, and organ builder Alex Belair of Connecticut was contracted. Belair and his associate, Michael Tanguay, worked night and day — first removing the speakers of the electronic organ from behind the façade pipes, then checking each of the 500 pipes, reinstalling the pipes, reconnecting the blower and tuning each pipe.  Within five days, just after midnight on August 15, the work was done — and the organ was playable!

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Anxious to hear the organ, a few church members (pictured above L to R: Ken Young, Nancy Avila, Bob Cunningham, Rev. Mark Worth, Leonardo Ciampa, Michelle Worth, Bill Young, Nancy Gage) and our new Music Director Leonardo Ciampa (pictured below) went the next day to the church to hear the organ. As Ciampa reported on UUCSW’s Facebook page:

“Tonight I experienced something of an organ resurrection.   …One week and $5,000 later, the organ plays! All of it! And in tune! A group of us gathered at the church this evening. Folks were emotional. Some had never heard the instrument. Others hadn’t heard it in 50 years. …When you pull the Great Open Diapason and play a few notes, you immediately remember that THAT SOUND is what it’s all about. That’s why we organists persist. What a great evening, one which says much about the power that music holds over the human spirit.”

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You can read more about our organ in the well-known book All the Stops written by former New York Times columnist Craig R. Whitney, who in his early years had lessons on this organ.