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The History of Our Pipe Organ

At

The Congregational Church of East Hampton

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As with many historic Congregational churches, music has played an important part in our church life. In our early church history, voices alone were heard, with a person “lining out” the hymns, and the congregation responding. Gradually, instruments were incorporated into the service, the fiddle and cornet being used. The church purchased a second-hand pipe organ in the 1800’s. This instrument was located in the rear gallery. In 1935 it was replaced by a Hall pipe organ situated in the chancel. (As a side note, in the early times, the choir was seated in the rear gallery.  When the choir performed an anthem, the congregation stood up and faced the choir until the anthem was over.)  This organ, along with the rest of the church, burned in 1941. After the church was rebuilt, a Hammond Organ was used until 1963 when a new 2 manual Allen electronic organ was purchased. This instrument gave excellent service, but by the 1990’s, was showing its age. The amplifiers and speakers had been replaced several times, but now the note tuning capacitors were starting to fail, and with this in mind, an Organ Replacement Committee was formed. Electronic and pipe instruments both were considered. Finally it was recommended that a new 2 manual and pedal pipe organ be purchased from Austin Organs, Inc., at a cost of $190,000. Unfortunately the timing for such a proposal couldn’t have been worse. The economy was then experiencing a recession, several parishioners had lost their jobs, and church finances were in a state of uncertainty. For this reason, the project was initially rejected by the church members.

The project then lay dormant for a while, until 1992 when a member saw an advertisement in The American Organist, an organist trade magazine, stating that an Austin Organ, Opus 36, built in 1901, was for sale for $5,000, buyer to remove. The church selling the organ, a Lutheran church in Pittsburgh, PA., was buying a new organ, and needed the old organ removed.

After a quick trip to Pittsburgh to evaluate the organ, a decision was made that much of the core components of the organ, such as the console, note actions, and pipes could be rebuilt and reused, and the rest would be made new. A down payment was given and, at a congregational meeting, the project was approved by a large majority.

A group of 18 men and women from the church then went to Pittsburgh and spent a week dismantling and packing organ pipes and components. Everything was transported to East Hampton in two trucks and a van. A large group of volunteers were waiting to deposit the nucleus of our future organ in the new “organ shop”-- the top floor of a vacant factory building which was generously made available for our use free of charge.

The real work then began. Every Wednesday evening was organ volunteer night. A 12’ long washing tank was made. Because our factory was vacant, there was no running water, so a pump and tank were hooked up to the nearby stream, and 100 years of accumulated dirt were scrubbed off the pipes. Lumber was purchased, and work began on the eight windchests and other components. {In the winter, heat for the “organ shop” was provided by several kerosene heaters}. Many parts such as valves and stop actions were recycled from old organs. Most of the valves came from old Austin organs damaged in floods and hurricanes. The leather pads were replaced and the metal buffed up, and the valves were good as new. Other note and stop actions were re-leathered. Some components such as springs, hinges, trackers and jacks were purchased from Austin Organs, Inc., while others, such as rollers, chest braces, joining plates, etc., were donated by local companies. The two bellows were re-leathered at this time. Solid state switches were assembled from kits. Except for the reused note actions and valves, all the windchests are completely new.

         

As the windchest work was progressing, all the pipes were rescaled, repaired and re-voiced. Additional pipework was purchased for a nominal fee from a local pipe organ service man. These were also re-voiced into a custom designed tonal scheme.

Work was also progressing on the organ chambers. The organ is located in two chancel chambers. An architect and structural engineer were consulted, and special support structures and flooring were constructed by volunteers. The sheet rocking and painting were coordinated by a local boy scout earning his Eagle badge. The two facades of the organ were designed by Alfred Isaacson of Austin Organs, Inc., and the speaking front pipes were bought from Austin. The actual building of the casework posed special problems, because the molding we were trying to match was actually done in plaster and did not match standard molding. Luckily, a local cabinet maker was able to make special molding cutter knives, and donated the molding at cost. Finally, the organ was moved from the organ shop and hoisted into the completed chambers using an elaborate system of scaffolds and block and tackle. Work then started on the facade casework. Constructed completely by volunteers, facade work continued through the summer of 1994, during which time church services were held downstairs in Fellowship Hall.

       

During the whole organ project, special coordinators supervised the several projects, many of which were in progress at the same time. Two new blowers were purchased, and substantial PVC ductwork connected the organ to the blowers. A church member electrician supervised the electrical work, a very competent craftsman supervised the facade casework, someone else managed Wednesday night volunteers, work on the organ chambers was coordinated, someone else was purchasing agent, etc. Then there were the fund raising volunteers. Church money from the general fund was not used for the organ ,so all money was raised by the Organ Committee. There were bake sales, tag sales, dinners, benefit concerts, an historic house tour, and even a benefit concert held by the local Catholic Church to show support for the project. Equipment was also generously donated. All of the tools needed for the removal of the organ from Pittsburgh were loaned by Northeast Utilities Company. Wood was donated by a local lumber company. Organ components were given by an organ maintenance company. All the screws used were donated by a member of the church.

As part of the music program and organ project, the acoustical environment was considerably improved. Wall to wall carpets were removed, and the underlying hardwood floor refinished. The result is that now the spoken word is enhanced, singing -- especially of hymns, invigorated, and the full beauty of choir and organ is clearly heard.

The organ was formally dedicated on September 20, 1998, as part of our 250th year anniversary celebrations. An evening concert was presented by John Rose, a well known recitalist and Organist at Trinity College, Hartford, CT. Although officially dedicated, the organ was far from completed, and work continues.

The most rewarding part of this project has been the overwhelming support of the congregation, in “sweat equity,” donations of money, and moral support. Over 100 people volunteered to work, and logged in over 15,000 hours of work. Because all were volunteers, a special sense of pride and satisfaction was felt by everyone. They truly shared and supported our vision. A copy of the dedication program was put in the “time capsule” box in the cornerstone, and we hope generations to come may take pride in the efforts of our congregation.

 

 

 

59 Main St., East Hampton, CT 06424
(860) 267-4959