by Jesse Ratcliffe
The Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest is filled with beauty. One particular element has been silent for nearly three years--the Æolian-Skinner pipe organ that graces the chancel of the church. It is with much joy that I report that the organ will find its voice once again in 2021. A short history lesson on the organs of Heavenly Rest is necessary to understand the trajectory of this project.
When the current structure was complete, the organ from the original church was transferred to Meander Street. This organ was built in 1925 by Henry Pilcher’s and Son of Louisville, KY and was approximately two-and-a-half times smaller than the current pipe organ. One can imagine that this instrument did not adequately fill the space with sound, thus a larger instrument was needed, however the church was not designed to contain an instrument much larger than the Pilcher’s & Son.
In 1960, the original committee secured bids from the finest builders of organs of that era and decided on Æolian-Skinner (AS) of Boston, MA-- truly a Rolls-Royce of organs. A budget-conscious specification was selected from numerous proposals from AS.
After 30-plus years of service, it was necessary for the organ to receive routine maintenance and re-leathering. In 1987 Ross King of Fort Worth was hired by the church to perform this work in addition to a few tonal modifications including the addition of a commanding “Trompette Pontificale” and updating the controlling system from a pneumatics to all electric.
In the summer of 2018, some of the organ leather began to fail in a manner which rendered the organ unusable for worship. A committee was formed and it was decided to disconnect the pipe organ console and purchase a digital organ to use until the organ was completely rebuilt, a project to be postponed until a full-time organist was hired.
In 2020 the church secured the talent of Stephen Emery to serve as a consultant for this project. Stephen hails from Quakertown PA and is a well-respected organ technician whom has spent the bulk of his career servicing, repairing, and restoring instruments much like the organ at Heavenly Rest. He and his brother visited the church in late June and performed a thorough examination of the instrument.
The Organ Committee met in early December of 2020 and agreed on first step towards the restoration of the Heavenly Rest pipe organ provided by and to be performed by Stephen Emery. Elements of this initial phase are to repair the failed leather; reconnect the original organ console; address any possible additional issues not repaired by the new leather; tune the organ; and perform a tonal analysis. This work is crucial in allowing the organist, organ consultant and perspective organ companies to hear the organ in real-time to then form an opinion on how to move forward.
The goal of this project is to provide this parish with a restored organ that has been amended to fill the gaps of the original scope and will reliably lead worship with beautiful music. Your continued support and prayers throughout this project are much appreciated.