Giving an Organ a Proper Funeral

For six years I have been part of an Anglican church plant in the city of Peoria, Illinois, serving as the music and song leader (www.epiphanypeoria.org). After spending parts of those years as a house church or in a rented space in a ministry center (http://www.dreamcenterpeoria.org/) in the autumn of 2015 we were given the opportunity to finally move into our own space. Two churches in our diocese were going to combine (becoming www.stmichaelspeoria.org/) and our bishop said we could have the building of one of the congregations if we so desired. It was an old and beautiful gray stone building, formerly St. Andrews, and either the building itself or the congregation began in 1897.

I knew it when we moved, but what did not fully sink in because of all the busyness was there was a very old organ in the sanctuary. Being bi-vocational, having 3 kids, and operating a blog and podcast did not leave me much headspace to think about the dormant musical instrument dwelling peacefully among us. According to the commemorative plaque on the wall, it was a Lancashire-Marshall organ that had previously been restored in 1983, signaling that it was actually much older.

For those who might have trouble seeing it the plaque it reads:
Praise ye the Lord, Praise God in his sanctuary
Praise him with the timbrel and dance;
Praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord
Praise ye the Lord—Psalm 150:1,4,6

Summer 1983
Restoration of the Lancashire-Marshall Organ made possible
through the donations and efforts of the congregation and
friends of St. Andrews Episcopal Church. Rededicated
November 6, 1983 to the glory and service of the Lord.
Father Vincent H. Butler (Vicar of St. Andrews),
Lt. Francis McClain (Senior Warden)

The previous congregation was using an expensive digital organ when they moved out and I suppose I assumed "that old organ" didn't even work anymore. Our worship is more "praise band" oriented anyway, so needing to use the organ was not much of an issue for us during worship.

But then one Sunday, months after moving in, one of the youth of our church flipped on a switch and there it was! The thing worked. We played around on it for a few minutes and I began dreaming what I could do with it. 

For several years now I have been planning to release an album of Christmas music, if only I could find some concentrated time to work on it. This past autumn I decided to take the plunge and finish all those songs I had been working on. I immediately thought I should utilize the organ for a few tracks. I thought it would go well with two traditional carols "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming" and "Of the Father's Love Begotten." After getting everything ready for those two tracks, I set up the computer and microphones and was eager to record...except...the organ was woefully out of tune and the everpresent hum of the pump was all too evident on the recording. It simply would not work.

This turn of events was a big disappointment. It was important that the organ play a part in the Christmas album. You see, I had recently received news that our congregation was needing to move out of our building after only a year and a few months of inhabiting it. Both our diocese and our vestry (head committee) wanted to save money by finding another place to worship. This was all well and good from an economical perspective, but what about that poor organ!? While not completely sure, I have my suspicions that our building will never be a space for worship, liturgy, or the Word and Sacraments ever again. My brain began composing a sob story: I am sure it will never be played again, whether to aid the Church in worship or for a recital of gorgeous classical pieces. It will die here lonely and forgotten. I anthropomorphized it in sentimental Toy Story fashion, imagining it feeling completely abandoned, never to be played again. "No one wants to make music on me anymore. No one even wants to hear me. Where did all the organists go...?" Poor guy.

In this mindset I decided to throw him a funeral. A real send off. One last chance for him to shine. And I wanted him to go out on his own terms, playing a song all by himself.

I quickly learned one of my favorite Bach melodies "Zion Hear the Watchmen Singing", got it recorded, and now you can listen to it right here:

(The rest of the album is available for purchase and download for only $1 throughout the Christmas season: https://chrismarchand.bandcamp.com/album/the-hopes-fears-of-all-the-years-a-christmas-album

Just so I'm clear: I am not an organist. I actually cheated while playing the song, recording the bass line and melody separately. If you're an organist, will you forgive me?

Over the years I have read a number of articles of how authentic air powered organs are being replaced by digital counterparts and praise bands. On that latter phenomenon I suppose I am part of the problem. Again, will you forgive me?

Nonetheless, I wanted to preserve the legacy of a beautiful instrument designed for the glory of God and so I wrote this blog post with two hopes in mind:

1.) I wanted people to hear the instrument one last time, most especially those who attended St. Andrews (the former congregation) as well as any organists and Church musicians who are interested in organ preservation.
2.) I wanted to make a small plea to see if anyone wanted to help preserve it and restore it. I don't know what it takes financially or where it would have to be moved to but I thought there might be someone out there who would be motivated to see that this is not actually the organ's funeral but the beginning of its resurrection. We'll see I suppose.

I plan to contact the people at the Peoria Chapter of the American Guild of Organists (http://www.agopeoria.org/), the Organ Historical Society (http://www.organsociety.org/), the Organ Clearing House (http://www.organclearinghouse.net/) as well as the Watson Pipe Organ Company (http://watsonpipeorgan.com/) to see if they have any advice or know what should be done with the ole' Lancashire-Marshall. If you're reading this and have any advice of your own feel free to contact me with the email at the "About" section on this website.

You can listen to my podcast episode on my Christmas album The Hopes and Fears of all the Years here: 
Ep35: Christmas album excerpts and commentary
Related articles:
The Golden Ages of Worship Music: Which One is Yours?
Chasing the Ghosts of Worship Past—a worship leader's lament
Will it Endure? The Search For a Canon of Contemporary Worship Music
I Don't Care If the Church Will Sing It In 2065
Hymnals = Vinyl: The Case For and Against Hymnals in Worship
Worship Music Should Be Radically Contemporary

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Please contact the Organ Clearing House. Lancashire-Marshall was an excellent builder that evolved into the Marshall-Bennett and then Bennett organ company. The latter continued in business until the Depression. Most of the organs are in the mid-West but there is one, transplanted, in Maryland that is still giving a good account of itself.