King of instruments

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Sue Hickey
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Church raising funds for historic organ

Anyone who has heard the majestic swell of a fine pipe organ can easily understand why it is loved by musicians and lovers of its sound everywhere: from the march of a wedding ceremony to the transcendent hymns and "joyful noise" at a church service, to the solemn contemplation of a funeral service.

Don't forget the secular world, either. The name "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" by one of the world's greatest composers, Johann Sebastian Bach, may not ring a bell or "organ tone" for non-musicians, but anyone who's seen a classic horror movie would immediately recognize its sinister melody, as rendered by the pipe organ.

Grand Falls Windsor -

Anyone who has heard the majestic swell of a fine pipe organ can easily understand why it is loved by musicians and lovers of its sound everywhere: from the march of a wedding ceremony to the transcendent hymns and "joyful noise" at a church service, to the solemn contemplation of a funeral service.

Don't forget the secular world, either. The name "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" by one of the world's greatest composers, Johann Sebastian Bach, may not ring a bell or "organ tone" for non-musicians, but anyone who's seen a classic horror movie would immediately recognize its sinister melody, as rendered by the pipe organ.

The congregation of Memorial United Church in Grand-Falls-Windsor is certainly proud of being a home for their "King of Instruments," crafted by Casavant FrÈres, the world-renowned manufacturer of pipe organs, based in Quebec. Their organ is one of 22 in the province (another is at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Grand Falls-Windsor).

No wonder that the church's board of directors and its congregation wanted to restore the organ, making sure the instrument sounds its best. The work was recently completed on the organ, where some of the pipes were sent off to be "re-voiced."

But organ restoration can be a pricey job. The church needed $20,000 for the restoration of the pipes. While the work has been completed, the congregation is still seeking to raise the remainder of the amount. So far, they've raised $16,000.

The Casavant wasn't the first organ at the church. That was an Estey from Ayre and Sons Ltd. in St. John's and was moved into the first church building in 1928.

According to a brochure on the history of the Memorial United Church organs, what you see in the front pipes is the Conacher organ. They are not the speaking pipes. The working pipes of the Casavant are behind that, explained Ralph Angel, vice-president of the board.

"Lester Goulding thought we needed the pipes revoiced, and this past year we sent them away to have that done," explained Robert Down, the church's property chairman. "Re-voicing is when you get the reeds done. Some have to be replaced and others have to be tuned."

Goulding is the Casavant representative in Newfoundland; he is a former resident of Grand Falls-Windsor and was a member of the Memorial United Church congregation.

"It's everything to the congregation," said Down. "If we didn't keep it up, we would be in trouble."

Angel said trying to put into words what the restoration is difficult: one has to hear the organ. One Sunday morning, after he walked into the church and heard the organ being played, he was able to note the difference after the pipes were re-tuned.

"The work was actually done and the congregation could actually hear the difference in the organ when the job was completed. It was much more full, as if we had a new organ."

He believes the organ provides a sort of comfort to congregation members.

When they come in, sit down and look up at the organ, and hear its sound, there's a certain peace, he said.

"When people come into our church for the first time, they say 'Wow!' when they see the pipes," he said. "It's something they won't forget."

Rev. Royden Reynolds agreed, saying the organ is a vital part of the service, literally and spiritually, and it means a lot to the congregation.

The exterior pipes are a piece of history. The church acquired its first "real" pipe organ in 1930, built by the Conacher firm in England in 1896 for the Gower Street United Church in St. John's. The Grand Falls congregation bought it for $1,500.

By 1953, the Conacher had been in service for 56 years, and was showing its age. Then the congregation decided to purchase a Casavant at a cost of $14,200. To replace the organ today would be more than $300,000.

The organ was installed and dedicated Nov. 11, 1953, as a memorial to congregation members who died in the Second World War.

The current organ is an Opus 2182, having two "manuals" (keyboards) and pedals, making it a three-division organ.

There are 994 pipes in total, located behind the exterior decorative pipes: the Great Division with 401 pipes, the Swell Division, 537 pipes and the Pedal Division, 56 pipes.

The organ will be rededicated in late June.

Organizations: Casavant FrÈres, Memorial United Church, Holy Trinity Anglican Church Ayre and Sons Gower Street United Church Great Division Swell Division Pedal Division

Geographic location: Grand Falls, St. John's, Quebec Newfoundland England

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