THE GRAND OLE LADY’S DAYS ARE NUMBERED: The pipe organ at Immaculate Conception Church has been nick-named “The Grand Ole Lady” by our organist Bob Broderick who, through the years, has “fallen in love” with her. Unfortunately the Grand Lady has been on life support for YEARS. And as Bob has realised more and more recently she is now in her final days. A very SAD situation for the parish family, which has been blessed with her presence for a century.
In 1919 the Tellers-Kent Organ Company in Erie, Pennsylvania crafted an INCREDIBLE pipe organ that was destined for the relatively newly-built Church of the Immaculate Conception about 175 miles to the south-south east in Connellsville. The church had been built in 1896 with a choir loft ready to accommodate a pipe organ but it took almost a quarter century before the community was able to financially afford an organ. From the Friday 27 August 1897 Weekly Courier article on the dedication of the new church:
There is one thing lacking in the grand church and that is a pipe organ. The choir [loft] was built for the placing of one in the hope that one might be obtained without placing an extra debt upon the congregation but so far the kind donor has not shown up.
By 1919 generous donors HAD come forward and in mid-1920 the Tellers-Kent instrument was dedicated. From the Monday 7 June 1920 Daily Courier:
The pipe organ at the Immaculate Conception Catholic church, donated by Mr. and Mrs. Basil J. Soisson, will be dedicated Friday evening at which time Casper Koch, organist of Carnegie Music Hall, Northside, Pittsburgh [sic] will render a program.
For the next 100 years the Grand Ole Lady filled the church with glorious music. But eventually she started showing signs of her age. Repeated patchwork measures have been taken to keep her going, but the “doctors” could only do so much. Within the past decade one half of the instrument has been inoperable. During this Christmas season the other half started to exhibit signs that it, too, was not long for the world. Emergency measures may have bought her some time; but when the “death rattle” starts the inevitable IS close at hand.
So what now? I can‟t help note that it is fortuitous that the 100th anniversary of the organ"s construction just happens to coincide with the parish‟s 150th anniversary. And furthermore, that it is precisely at THIS historical moment that our Grand Ole Lady would be gasping her last breaths. Because of these concurrences this would seem the IDEAL time to start raising money to replace the organ. Of course, the PERFECT solution to our dilemma would be for a new “Mr. and Mrs. Basil J. Soisson” to swoop in and write a cheque for a new organ. I, for one, would be VERY open to accepting such a donation on behalf of the Immaculate Conception family! Barring such a MIRACLE (which I certainly believe CAN very well happen!) our only option is to ask parishioners as a whole to contribute to this effort.
At this point I need to explain what is meant by “replacing” the organ. A new pipe organ is most definitely OUT OF THE PICTURE. Five years ago Saint Vincent Basilica in Latrobe installed a new pipe organ. The cost? One and a half MILLION dollars. I don"t know about you, but I can"t see that happening here. Thus the only real option for us is to replace the GUTS of the instrument with an electronic organ. A proposition to which I can anticipate two objecttions. First, it won‟t SOUND nearly as good as the “real thing.” And second, we will lose all the BEAUTY of the Grand Ole Lady, which has graced the space since 1920.
To these very UNDERSTANDABLE objections I offer the following rebuttals. First, only the most trained of musical ears would ever even be able to tell the difference. And given the reduced capacity of the organ for quite some years now, the electronic organ would inevitably sound BETTER than what we have been hearing. Second, note that I specifically wrote replacing THE GUTS of the organ. By this I mean that the whole GORGEOUS façade (the pipes, the wooden console, etc.) would remain. What would change would be the innards, things not visible to the congregation.
With those objections countered I believe that this is the route we should take. And rather than 1.5 million, this would cost around 85K. THAT, to me, seems an eminently ACHIEVABLE goal!
I was blessed to spend time late last week and early this week with one of my best friends (his wife joining us for part of the time) in Deep Creek, Maryland. (I am actually writing this as my last act before hitting the road back to the Jewel.) I captured this scene of a bare, lonely tree on the shores of the frozen lake.
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