Heavenly Pipes -Fall 2013

by: Claire Martin

photography by: Jim Powers

Tucked away in six churches off Nantucket’s cobblestoned streets are true island jewels:
historic organs played each week during religious services and the occasional public concert.

The large instruments evoke the same deep, rich sounds of church hymns and psalms that emanated from the same organs so many decades before.

“It’s a neat thing,” said organ aficionado and restoration expert Robert Newton of the Andover Organ Company.

“There are places that have a lot of historic organs but not that date as far back. It’s particularly unique to have two that date back to the 1830s: the Goodrich and the Appleton organ.”

Newton has a passion for restoring historic organs and has dedicated over 50 years to the proper restoration of the historic instruments on Nantucket. “Keeper of all things organs,” as some have called him, Newton holds decades of history on the organs of the island.

The organs have long stood the test of time, according to both Newton and other historic Nantucket organ experts, but their preservation was not always by design. The long economic slump that followed the collapse of the whaling industry and the Great Fire of 1846 both served as an accidental means of safeguarding the organs. Due in part to its remote location and luck, Nantucket escaped much of the industrial development and architectural renovation that the rest of country experienced during the late 1800s.

The two most historic organs on the island, the 1831 Thomas Appleton organ in the Nantucket United Methodist Church at 2 Centre St. and the 1831 William Goodrich organ at the Unitarian Universalist Church at 11 Orange Street date back to the early 19th century.

Originally a one-keyboard instrument, the Appleton organ was brought to Nantucket in 1858 by E. & G.G. Hook, a Boston-based organ company of the time. While the origin of the organ is not precisely known, Newton believes it was built for the South Congregational Unitarian Church in Boston. Before its move to the island, a pedal windchest and 13 open wood pipes were added to the organ by Simmons & McIntyre.

The organ remained virtually unchanged until 1968, when an island builder made several alterations to the instrument, resulting in lower wind pressure, a revoice of the pipes and replacements that made the organ unplayable unless the organist had a reversed clubfoot. A proper restoration of the organ by the Andover Organ Company began in 1985. Under the direction of Newton, proper additions and restorations were made. A second phase included windchest, manual keyboard and pedalboard repairs, raised wind pressure and pipe restoration and restoration. The final restorations were completed in 2008 and the organ was reassembled that summer. Barbara de Zalduondo, 94, and a member of the church for over 25 years, has been a champion of preserving and restoring the organ.

As one of only several Thomas Appleton pipe organs in existence, the organ at the Nantucket United Methodist Church is the only one that has been in continual play since its construction in 1831.

“It’s a charming, but important, example of early American organ building,” said organist, composer and music director at the First Congregational Church Robert Behrman of the Appleton organ.

“It’s a bit of an arcane and antique field to work in. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a dead field by any means. It’s quite alive.”

Built by William M. Goodrich, a self-taught organ builder during the 19th century considered the “father of Boston organ-building,” the 1831 Goodrich is widely known for its beautiful selection of flutes, strings and fine, clear pipes. Installed in the Unitarian Universalist Church in 1831 by Goodrich himself, it is the only authenticated Goodrich organ still intact and in its original building.

“I suspect the original Goodrich sounded very good,” Newton said. “And I hope it all sounds the same although it has been through a lot.” As the organ that has been on the island the longest, the 1831 Goodrich organ has endured several decades of wear and tear.

In 2010, the Andover Organ Company completed an extensive restoration, one that included a fairly involved rebuild of the chest due to damage from leaking plumbing. It now stands in a handsome case of mahogany in the rear gallery of the church.

“The Goodrich has such a sweet, lovely sound. It’s really one of the nicest-sounding instruments I’ve ever heard. It really is a great instrument. It’s beautiful,” Behrman said.

The Congregational Church on Centre Street houses two organs, a 1904 Steere Organ in the church’s main sanctuary and a 1989 Roche organ in the Old North Vestry of the church.
Built by J.W. Steere & Sons, the 1904 Steere organ is the largest organ on the island. With two manuals and 21 ranks, the organ boasts 1,219 pipes, according to the Organ Historical Society’s database. The Andover Organ Company first did renovation work on the organ in 1971 with the addition of a few stops for brightness, but left the full-bodied sound of the organ intact. A second renovation was done by the Roche Organ Company in 1996 and most recently, a renovation by the Andover Organ Company in 2004 added trumpet and mixture.

In 1989 the Roche Organ Company built the first new pipe organ installed on Nantucket since 1912. Although one of the smallest tracker organs on the island, it has great versatility, capable of a wide range of organ literature. While built in the style of a historic organ, it is still considered very new, according to Behrman.

“The Congregational Church is very forward-thinking in the preservation of its instruments and does a wonderful job of maintaining its collection. We have a really good collection of both pianos and organs and maintenance is a priority,” said Behrman of the congregation’s support of proper organ restoration.

“This island just has a really interesting collection of organs. It’s really unusual, but I think it’s connected to the historic nature of the island itself and its preservation-mindedness.”

The 1902 Hutchings-Votey organ is at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church; and the island’s most modern organ, the 2002 Bigelow organ, is housed at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church.

The Hutchings-Votey was built in 1902 by Edwin Scott Votey and George S. Hutchings, who started their business in 1869. It is another organ that remained untouched for several years. The Andover Organ Company completed enlargements and rebuilds of the instrument in 1971 and 1986. It was expanded from a nine-rank organ to a 12-rank organ and now has slider chests, mechanical key action, a mechanical stop, balanced swell shoes and a flat, straight pedalboard.

A third extensive restoration of this tracker organ is planned for this fall. Ann Colgrove, organist, pianist, harpsichordist and music director at St. Paul’s, plays the 1902 Hutchings-Votey each Sunday at services.

“It’s wonderful to play that piece of history,” she said. “I love that part of it. I have something about antiques and wondering about all the people who have played before I have.”

She said, however, that there are some inherent limitations to the organ. For one, she noted that it is too small for its space and can at times be a little “quirky.”
“This organ does have limitations, quite a few limitations. But every time he (Robert Newton) comes I can tell how much he loves it. He points out things that always make it easy to overlook the limitations,” Colgrove said.

In consulting with Newton, St. Paul’s has made the decision to move forward with a proper restoration by the Andover Organ Company this fall. While they could potentially alter the organ and fix some of the limitations, they have instead taken the advice of Newton and made the decision to keep the historic nature of the organ intact.

“There really is a commitment within the church to enlarge it and refurbish some of the stops in it,” Colgrove said. “It will make it much more versatile and much more fun to play, but will still be preserving the historic integrity of it.”

The Bigelow organ was built in 2001, the most recent addition to the island’s collection. With two manuals, 17 ranks and 12 independent voices, all actions of the organ are purely mechanical.

Fully embracing the true historic nature of Nantucket, an annual Pipe Organ Crawl is held each Columbus Day weekend in celebration of the island’s unique assortment of historic organs. Presented by the Nantucket Community Music Center, the crawl visits the six organ locations in succession, stopping for a short 20minute recital at each one.

“I love to think that that’s our contribution to that kind of historic preservation,” said Nantucket Community Music Center artistic and music director Mollie Glazer of the overall historic and cultural preservation on Nantucket.

“And in particular, look at the music that people play on it. It offers such a historical perspective of music for an instrument because people play music of the 17th century all the way up until now, so that’s historic preservation in and of itself.”

Glazer has been the NCMC’s music director since 2007, a teacher since 1992 and an active participant in the crawl for many years. She plays the cello and ukulele and has accompanied organists during the crawl.

“They’re like people, they’re all different, they all have different voices,” said Glazer of the different organs. “If you heard the same piece of music on each organ it would be a different experience.”

From Federal Street to Centre Street to Fair Street, the crawl visits each church with an historic organ.

“We’re a tiny little island and to have magnificent instruments within walking distance of each other is pretty unique and fantastic. That’s what makes this event so interesting,” Glazer said.

“It’s interesting because each organ is so different and each one has tremendous strengths,” Colgrove said. “And it’s so much fun to hear them one after another, you get such a perspective. To be able to go to one island and hear different organs for each piece is great.”

Behind the history and music of the organs is Susie Jarrell, longtime parishioner of the Unitarian Universalist Church and creator of the organ crawl. Jarrell joined the congregation many years ago, when her children were in grade school. Jarrell played a large role in the growth of the church. At the time, the church was in need of an organist and having only taken a few lessons, she stepped up to take the role. She then took lessons under the chief organist at the Harvard Memorial Chapel, commuting back and forth to the island. Her organ-playing resulted in the development of the first-ever music program at the church, which remains in place today.

“Ted was absolutely marvelous. He said ‘Do whatever you want’ and just gave the whole thing to me,” Jarrell said of Rev. Ted Anderson during the time when he was trying to build the church up in the early 1970s.

“So my job was to bring them in with the music.”

For the next 20 years Jarrell shared her passion for music and the organ with thousands of parishioners and community members alike by directing, teaching and playing. At the age of 94, she continues to enhance the lives of others with her energy and love for the organ and her dedication to the preservation and celebration of the island’s organs.

“How grateful we are to Susie for this wonderful idea,” Glazer said. “And she’s kept it going. It’s been her baby for all these years. She’s the one who does the artistic work of gathering all the players.”

Over the years, the crawl has brought in many wellknown organists to participate including, Laurence Young, Martha Johnson, Peter Sykes, Barbara Owen and Carson Cooman.

“Well-known organists love to come to Nantucket to play the organs,” Jarrell said.

“They’re well-known, and the organs are well-known. The diversity of music is fantastic. It’s vibrant.”

A new addition to the crawl this year will be one that enhances the overall experience of organ-playing and the organist. Through a contribution from islander Curt Livingston, Glazer said, the hands and feet of the organists at three of the churches will be filmed and broadcast on a live feed, giving audience members the opportunity to truly see behind the scenes of organplaying.

“This is a big thing, so to have this is going to make all the difference,” Jarrell said.
The annual crawl typically draws a crowd of about 100, including many off-island visitors, to each church. Admission is free, but there is a box for donations at each church, and those monies help support restoration and maintenance of the historic organs.

“The important thing is that the community has supported large endowments, large campaigns to preserve the organs, which is wonderful," Jarrell added.

This year’s 22nd annual pipe organ crawl will once again celebrate both community and faith, regardless of denomination, bringing people together under a blanket of rich, cascading music.

“It’s a musical experience as well as a historical experience, that’s for sure,” Glazer said. “The fact that we have really fine, fine players is a bonus in my mind. We’re not just celebrating the instruments but the artistry of these people as well.”

Claire Martin was a summer intern at The Inquirer and Mirror. She is a senior at St. Michael’s College in Vermont, where she is majoring in journalism and captain of her lacrosse team.

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