By Kate Barcellos
St. Luke’s has a brand-new set of pipes.
This spring, the beloved old reed organ in St. Luke’s Episcopalian Church, which was originally constructed by the Estey Organ Factory in Brattleboro, was finally retired after 100 years of music.
“It wasn’t a very pleasant sound any more,” said June Hale, volunteer director of music for St. Luke’s. “It was time for it to go to heaven.”
Hale said the old-fashioned reed organs create their music by moving air across the pipes like little tongues.
“They’re more related to a harmonica or an accordion,” Hale said. “Some people still collect them and love them, but they’re kind of dinosaurs.”
The old organ needed some TLC, and Hale knew just the man for the job: her first organ teacher, Timothy E. Smith. of Portageville, New York.
“I started studying with him until I was 40 years old,” Hale said. “I worked with children all the time, so I wanted to work with adults and round myself out. So I decided to get a church job as a music director and learn the organ.”
Smith came to Fair Haven and visited the old reed organ to see what could be done, but his diagnosis was bleak.
“When he looked at it, we discovered it would be well over $2,000 to bring it back up to its best, and even then it would have limitations,” Hale said.
Smith doesn’t just fix old organs, though: As a part of Smith & Gilbert builders, Smith also collects pipes and parts from unused pipe organs all around the country that could be used for new installations.
Then, when the time comes that a church needs a new one, Smith creates a custom-made, one-of-a-kind pipe organ from the materials he’s collected.
Hale said it wasn’t worth it to fix the old organ, so the 20 parishioners at St. Luke’s got together and raised every cent themselves to cover the cost of a new pipe organ from Smith, a total of $9,300.
“Everyone was very generous,” Hale said. “They’re very faithful, and would love to see the church grow. They decided it was worth it.”
The new organ made its way to St. Luke’s this June: Hale and her husband, Van, along with several other parishioners, installed two manuals, a pedalboard and 365 pipes from all over America.
“This new organ has pipes from Brooklyn, Montréal, Baltimore and suburban New York City,” Hale said. “Some of the mechanisms were from Germany and the Midwest.”
Hale said the new organ is much more responsive and far easier to play, and has a fresh voice that has already won over the hearts of St. Luke’s parishioners.
“It has sounds like a cello, one sounds like a flute, and some that sound like strings,” Hale said. “They love music and they love the sound of the new organ. We’ll be able to play all the same songs, and they’ll sound a world better.”
Hale said the organ can play big, inspiring, glorious hymns like the ones played from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Sundays, but also sings gently behind the church’s new children’s choir and during the peaceful Wednesday night services that feature calm music for ending the day.
“It was impossible for the old organ to play that music,” Hale said.
The new instrument is built to last: Hale said St. Luke’s won’t have to worry about replacing this organ for a lifetime.
“This will be around when we’re long gone,” Hale said. “The builder will come every year and tune it. It will need to be re-leathered (used to close some of the pipes) in 50 years, but they have very long lives. It will be around for 100 years or longer.”
To launch the residency of the new instrument, St. Luke’s will host a dedication recital at 7 p.m. on Aug. 23, with guest musicians traveling from around the region to test out the organ’s new voice.
“People will really be able to hear the scope at the concert, and we may have a violinist come play the performance of the children’s choir,” Hale said. “It will be a kaleidoscope of music.”