Organized Repairs

Hoisting electric motor & parts for a famous instrument

A hoist, an electric motor, and turbines.

Such a trio are integral in the ongoing repair of a storied instrument this week in New England. In Southbridge, Mass., a large organ of French Romantic origin required some emergency refurbishment following its 100th birthday. The organ, which has resided at the town’s Notre Dame Catholic Church for a century, is locally and regionally renowned as one of the premier instruments in New England due to its classical construction, unaltered state, and exceptional size, writes Brian Lee of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

A full community effort is in place to restore a historic piano in Southbridge, Mass.

A full community effort is in place to restore a historic French Romantic era organ in Southbridge, Mass.

In December, its electric motor failed unexpectedly, cutting off any hopes of operations or chamber music.  A big step toward refurbishing the instrument occurred recently, as an estimated 600-pound motor and several blower turbines for the piece were taken out of the church tower from a 60-foot high window by a crane operator. Several onlookers snapped pictures and watched the process. A Northampton organ building company called Messrs. Czelusniak Et Dugal Inc. is refurbishing the instrument. Company President William F. Czelusniak called the Notre Dame organ “a very important instrument” because of its age, size and unaltered state from original construction. Parish organist and music director Brandon Vennink told the Telegram it has been “one of the premier organs in New England” for quite some time—of interest to organists and music aficionados because of its capacity for original organ sound quality conducive to the playing of Golden Age music.

When the restoration is done, the organ is “going to be even more valuable because it’s been untouched since its building 100 years ago,” Mr. Vennink told the Telegram, “That’s hard to find these days because most organs that have been redone, they don’t sound like the original instrument.”

The first phase to the project, which means lifting out and refurbishing the motor along with its many parts, is estimated to cost $60,000. Next, the organ’s ivory keys and pedals are up to be refinished, expected to tack on an additional $20,000. According to Vennink, gathering these funds was difficult enough, and will cover the essentials, while there are still other refurbishments he would like to complete, such as restoring damaged leather on one of the manuals (keyboards).

People talk about a sense of community…here, it’s abundant. You don’t hear this often, but the movement of some of the heavier piano pieces was provided by Doug Boyce Crane Service, also of Southbridge, for free. Workers began trying to carry out the heavy pieces in February, and the crane service stepped in at a parishioner’s request.

In terms of sound, Mr. Vennink called it the best organ he’s ever used, and good for playing music of many types, but especially the repertoire composed in the French tradition. France was the leader in organ music during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, “and even today a lot of our church music lends itself well to this type of organ.”

The distinct sound, he told the Telegram, is not a roaring organ; rather, it has “lots of different shades of color and nuance, but nothing’s overbearing.

According to the restoring experts, replacing the motor would take a couple of months of shop work and followed by the same hoisting process in reverse, bringing the it back up and rebuilding the machine in the tower. This would also require bringing three-phased power into the tower.

As the Telegram concludes, “Mr. Vennink noted that there were actually two motors in the church tower. The organ was originally run by a gas generator because there wasn’t electricity in the building 100 years ago. It was eventually replaced by an electric motor with fans and turbines.”

Vennink has set up a fund for donations, where people can contribute by calling the church office at: (508)-765-3701.

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