Restoration of the Historic Organ at St. Paul’s Church

 

Rededication Recital on June 9, 2006

 

On Friday, June 9, 2006, internationally acclaimed organist Mireille Begin Lagacé played the rededication recital on the newly restored E. & G.G. Hook pipe organ in St. Paul’s Church.  The program included works by Bach, Buxtehude, Gabrielli, and Valente. Regarded as one of the finest surviving pre-Civil War instruments built by the Hooks, the two manual tracker action organ has been completely restored by the A. David Moore Organ Company of North Pomfret, Vermont. 

 

The recital by Mme. Lagacé brought a versatile and exciting musician to Salem.  Born in Canada, she studied organ in Vienna with Anton Heiller and in Montreal with her husband, Bernard Lagacé.  Equally at home on organ, harpsichord, and forte-piano, she has won many prizes in international competitions.  Her concert career on either side of the Atlantic has been distinguished by the brilliance of her technique, as well as the vitality of her performances.  In addition, she has been sought after as a teacher and has held posts at several schools, including the New England Conservatory in Boston (organ) and the Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal (harpsichord and baroque music). She has been a judge at major European competitions and has made many recordings, including a landmark performance of the complete organ works of Dietrich Buxtehude, which she and her husband made together.

 

 

RECITAL PROGRAM

 

Antonio Valente (fl. 1565-1580):  La Romanesca, con cinque mutanze
[Romanesca, with five variations]

 

Andrea Gabrielli (1510-1586):  Ricercar Arioso I, II, IIII, IV

[four pieces in Ricercare form]

 

From the organ works of  Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707):
Praeludium et Fuga [E Major]

Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott   ["Come, Holy Ghost, Lord God"] 

Ciacona  [E Minor]

 

 From the organ works of  Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750):

 Pastorale  [F Major, in four movements, BWV 590]

 Concerto [after Antonio Vivaldi, Opus 3, Number 7—BWV 973.]

[Allegro]—Larghetto—Allegro 

 O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig, 3 Versus
[3 verses on the chorale "O innocent Lamb of God", BWV 656]

 


 

The E. & G.G. Hook Organ, Opus 189

 

The Hook brothers were among the premier organ builders of 18th century America.  Based in Boston, for more than a century their company built organs that may be found all over the U.S. and even in Europe. St. Paul’s restored organ, Hook Opus 189, was built in 1855.  It has two manual keyboards with a twenty-six-note pedal keyboard and has mechanical (tracker) key action.  In many modern organs, pressing a key activates an electrical switch that opens the wind channel to a pipe to play it.  With a tracker action, the organist opens the wind channel by direct mechanical action: each key is directly connected, via strips of wood called trackers and a mechanism called a roller board, to the palettes that cover the openings to the pipes.  The result is a very direct connection between the organist and the sound the instrument makes.

 

The only electricity used today in the Salem organ is for lights and for the wind supply.  Originally, the church was lit by gas and the bellows were pumped by hand.  During the recent restoration, the original pump handle was discovered, as well as the name of Guy Thomas carved on the case near the place he waited for his cue to begin pumping.  Otherwise, its mechanical parts are exactly the same as those of organs from the 16th through the late 19th century—and, increasingly, of many new organs of today.

 

Tonally, St. Paul’s organ is a bridge between the Classic and Romantic organ sounds.  The instrument contains nineteen sets of pipes, divided into three divisions:  swell, great, and pedal.  The swell division is enclosed in a large box inside the organ case and has a set of shades, or moveable shutters, which can be opened or closed to modulate the sound of the pipes in that division.  A series of knobs on either side of the keyboards control the selection of pipes which may be played.  Wooden and metal pipes, with a variety of shapes and attachments, make sounds ranging from soft flutes to brilliant trumpets and the deep rumble of the largest pipes which are up to 16 feet long.

 

The organ stands in the south transept of the church.  Its case is decorated with fruit, flowers, and shields.  On the front, three flats of seven gold-painted pipes stand over balustrades.  Examination of the pinewood case suggests that it was originally painted to look like oak.  Other colors are also in evidence on parts of the case but the whole case was apparently painted white after a fire in 1912.  During the current restoration, the case has been painted walnut, to complement other wood furnishings in the church building.  The wonderful carved details have been highlighted in gold.

 

The Organ Historical Society has placed the instrument on its register of early American organs, both for its outstanding tonal quality and for its excellent state of historically appropriate preservation, the latter due in large part to the ongoing efforts and generosity of longtime St. Paul’s parishioner Winnifred V. Riggle.  The current restoration work is being funded by a major gift from an anonymous donor, support from the Lawrence I. & Blanche H. Rhodes Memorial Fund, Inc., and other private donors.  Fundraising to retire the remaining debt continues and gifts of any size are welcome and are fully tax deductible.

 

History of the Parish

 

Nestled in the rolling hills and fertile farmland of Washington County, Salem is a quiet town with a lot of history.  The Old Burying Ground is said to hold the bodies of more than 200 Revolutionary War soldiers, many of whom died in the Battle of Saratoga.  Another town cemetery was the original burying place of Philip Embury, the first Methodist clergyman to settle in America.  And Evergreen Cemetery is the resting place of Civil War hero Archibald McDougall, a local lawyer who recruited the Washington County Regiment and was mortally wounded during Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign in 1864.

 

The Episcopal Church has been intimately connected with these and other important moments in Salem’s history.  The cemetery where Embury was buried was also the site of the first Episcopal Church in town, Christ’s Church in the Camden Valley.  The founders of that church included veterans of the Revolution and also a priest named James Nichols, a Tory who had been run out of Connecticut because of his political views.  The young Philander Chase, later Bishop of Ohio, then Illinois, was also active as a missionary in the area at that time. 

 

The church in the Camden Valley did not survive, but in 1860 Archibald McDougall and his family were among the founders of St. Paul’s Church, in the village of Salem.  Clergy from Troy came by train to conduct services in the county court house throughout 1860.  In February, a committee of local churchmen incorporated the parish and in September the cornerstone was laid for a church building.  The provisional Bishop of New York, the Right Reverend Horatio Potter, made several visits to Salem in 1860 when, among others, he baptized three of the McDougall children, confirmed Mrs. McDougall, and consecrated the modest brick church building which was opened for services before Christmas.

 

There were several clergy in quick succession before Fr. Henry M. Davis became the rector in 1863.  The growth of the parish was so rapid under his leadership that one wonders whether he may not have literally worked himself to death.  Upon Fr. Davis’ death in 1875, the parish elected the Reverend John Henry Houghton as rector.  At the age of 27, Fr. Houghton brought both energy and vision to the parish and left an indelible mark on it.  During his tenure, the parish continued to grow, two transepts were added to the church building, a parish school flourished, and the catholic (“high church”) churchmanship of the parish was established.  And, before he departed for Denver, Colorado, where he was rector of St. Mark’s Church for the rest of his life, he was instrumental in the purchase of the pipe organ which is one of the great treasures and resources of the parish.

 

The Organ and Music at St. Paul’s

 

In 1855, the firm of E. & G.G. Hook built their Opus 189 for the First Parish Church (Unitarian) in Dorchester, Massachusetts.  In 1888, First Church sold the instrument and it was purchased for the sum of $1,000.00, by the vestry of St. Paul’s Church, Salem.  At the same time, the parish was building the south transept to house the organ.  However, a lack of sufficient funds delayed completion of the addition and the dismantled organ had to be kept in storage for two years.  Finally, with the transept completed, William J. Stuart and Brother of Albany were engaged to reassemble the organ and it was heard in Salem for the first time on February 23, 1890.

 

Twenty-two years later, on February 11, 1912, disaster was narrowly averted when a fire started in the undercroft of the church and nearly destroyed the building and its organ.  Efficient work by the Salem Volunteer Fire Department contained the fire and saved the building, the altar, and the organ.  Today, charred beams under the floor indicate how close the fire came to the organ, but the only damage to the instrument was smoke, soot, and some minor water damage.  Subsequent to the fire, a new floor was laid on top of the damaged floor, new pews were installed, and the once colorful Victorian interior, including the case of the organ, was whitewashed.  But Hook Opus 189 remained fully playable.

 

Music has played an important role in the life of the parish throughout its history.  Records indicate that there was a choir from the very beginning, with a small parlor organ to accompany the music.  Although the choir disbanded some years ago, in 2003 the parish revived a more fully sung Sunday service and in the following year a small schola cantorum was formed under the direction of parish organist Don E. Kerr. The schola sings Latin settings of the ordinary of the mass from time to time, as well as other music before and during services. 

 

In 2004, with the 150th birthday of the organ approaching, the leadership of the parish began to investigate the possibility of a major restoration of the organ. A concert sponsored by Music from Salem drew the attention of the public to the instrument, and a number of unsolicited donations were made to the organ fund. Also, the Organ Historical Society, which had previously recognized the importance of the instrument, announced plans to feature it during the society’s annual convention in 2006.

 

Several firms were invited to submit proposals for restoration of the organ, with the understanding that the goal was to maintain as far as possible the historical integrity of the instrument, as specified by Don Kerr, the curator of the organ. The firm of A. David Moore, of North Pomfret, Vermont, was selected to do the work. David Moore began working on local organs while still in high school. After graduating from the University of Vermont, he apprenticed in the workshop of Charles Fisk in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and has been building and restoring organs in his own company since 1973.  A native Vermonter (his workshop is located on the family farm where he grew up), he has a wide knowledge and deep appreciation of the work of the 18th and 19th century New England builders. He has traveled extensively and studied some of the finest old organs of Europe.

 

A major gift to St. Paul’s, covering nearly two-thirds of the cost of restoration, provided the opportunity for the parish to proceed with its plan. A contract was signed, and work on the instrument began in September 2005. Virtually the entire organ, except for the reservoirs, the case, and about a dozen of the largest wooden pipes, was dismantled and transported to North Pomfret. While the work was being done, the parish had the use of a three rank portable organ which David Moore had built. As work progressed, parts of the organ were returned to Salem and the organ was meticulously reassembled, adjusted, and tuned. It was heard again in a service at St. Paul’s for the first time on Easter morning.

 

Though St. Paul’s parish is small, it is proud of its rich tradition of fine music to support and enrich the worship of Almighty God, and of the remarkable old organ which is an integral part of that musical tradition. The decision to restore the one-hundred-fifty-year-old instrument is a sign of the parish’s serious commitment to the important role of music in worship. The parish also believes that the organ is a major resource for the whole community. Indeed, without the community, notably the local fire department, as well as the musicians and others who have cared for the instrument over the years, the organ would not be here today.  The people of St. Paul’s look forward to sharing the organ with the community through recitals and worship for many years to come. Organists interested in playing the organ are encouraged to contact the parish office (518-854-7294).

 

The entire restoration process is documented on our website. Click here to go to the first page.

 

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