A project during 2019 to replace our ailing pipe organ with a good, second hand instrument from a redundant church.
The existing organ is almost 200 years old - the organ you see and hear today is an early 1900s rebuild of an instrument dating back to the 1830s. A well-made pipe organ should last 100 years or so before needing a rebuild or restoration, so work on the organ would be due around about now. However, very recently the organ has been quite badly damaged by adverse environmental conditions, and it's now deteriorating quite rapidly. You may have heard some strange noises coming from upstairs - not always the organist's fault - caused by air leaking into places where it shouldn't be, a sign of problems which are very difficult to correct. Occasionally, with the wrong sort of weather, the organ is unplayable.
A full overhaul of the organ was previously costed at c£50,000 - and this was before the current set of problems made matters worse, and even more expensive. As the organ is a fairly undistinguished instrument (and the 1900s rebuild largely spoilt it, removing any remaining historical value from its 1830s incarnation), the church was given expert advice that replacement, rather than restoration, would be a more sensible course.
A second-hand instrument from a redundant church - St Martin's (Church of Ireland) church in Belfast. This organ was built in 1983 by the Northern Irish firm of Wells-Kennedy. Both the builder and the instrument have a very good reputation. It would be installed by a specialist firm who rescue, restore and reinstall redundant organs.
The proposed new organ will sit in approximately the same position in the gallery as the current one, it’s more or less the same size, albeit slightly larger, and in a case that would be an enhancement to the church's interior. Musically, the Wells-Kennedy organ would be a significant improvement on the current instrument.
The cost of purchasing and installing the organ, including modifications and project overheads, is slightly short of £60,000.
Many churches install a digital organ as a quick-fix alternative to replacing or restoring a pipe organ. A well-made digital organ from a specialist firm, capable of filling a church with sound and leading a full congregation, would admittedly sound indistinguishable from the real thing and be perfectly adequate for liturgical use. However, a typical installation for a church this size would still cost anywhere between £30k and £100k depending on the quality of the instrument. Moreover, digital organs have a notoriously short lifespan (think of how long you'd expect a computer, or flat-screen TV, to last) - and are prone to technical obsolescence and difficulties with maintenance and support. 15 years, according to a recent survey, is the average life of a digital church organ before replacement was needed. With the St Martin's instrument, we have the opportunity to acquire a real organ, which will last for generations, for less than the cost of a digital, which will last a decade or two.
Saint Mary’s has an enviable music tradition within the Diocese and the Northern Province. It always has done - the church was built with a dedicated musicians' gallery, not common in a Roman Catholic church. The replacement organ would mean that the music, both for the regular Church Services and also for other musical performances involving the wider community, could be supported and maintained and built upon for a long time to come.
We plan to set up an educational project for young organists within the area, something for which there's relatively little provision within our region, especially in Catholic churches. Our project would help to ensure a new generation of Catholic church musicians, properly trained.
As a building, St Mary's has a superb acoustic and lends itself well to concerts and performances - it is already used by local choirs and schools, the organ project would build on this and ensure St Marys' place as a centre of musical excellence, both within and outside the liturgy.
The cost will be absorbed into the church's general improvement project budget, as this is one of the church's fixed assets. However, the choir will be heading up the fundraising, as there are many musically-themed ways of raising funds for an organ project, as outlined below. As a new organ would have value outside the church in the wider community, we’ll be seeking help from funding bodies.
Also, individual monetary donations are, of course, most welcome.