“Eighteen months have passed since the morning of Sept. 27, 1933, when fire gutted the Second Presbyterian church’s former home of worship, Waller and Eighth Streets.”
The above is the lead on a Portsmouth Daily Times story dated March 24, 1935. The article goes on to describe what was planned as three days of “celebration and worship” marking the dedication of the rebuilt church to include a custom built and, at the time, brand-new 1935 Kilgen organ.
“All the physical laws known to science including electricity, metallurgy, mechanics and acoustics, go into the building of a pipe organ, according to Dr. Charles M. Courboin, Belgian-American organ virtuoso, designer of the organ at Second Presbyterian Church.”
The above is the lead on yet another Times story announcing a concert on the new organ by Courboin.
Still another story from 1935 mentions in the headline the new organ can produce 2,255 tones.
Flash forward to 2018. Second Presbyterian Director of Music Stan Workman doesn’t talk in terms of how many tones his church’s historical instrument can produce. He does say there are close to 3,000 pipes creating the instrument’s tones, which can mimic virtually an entire orchestra, everything from chimes and harps to various wind instruments.
In a brief demonstration of the organ’s capabilities, Workman easily moves the sound of the instrument from soft and subtle to loud and majestic. He notes when the organ’s pipes were spread out a few years ago to be cleaned, they filled the entire second floor of the church.
Workman said the many and varied “colors” of the organ make it unique among the various church organs in Portsmouth. He added the size and intricacy of the instrument also sets it apart.
At 7 p.m. Sunday, partly to mark the beginning of a fundraising effort aimed at maintaining the intricate organ, local heart physician Jeremiah Martin will take to the organ’s several rows of keys in a concert that is free and open to the public.
“We will be having a series of organ recitals over the next year and raising awareness about this fine instrument,” Workman said, adding part of that awareness includes some understanding of just how much maintenance goes into keeping the organ in working condition.
Those 3,000 pipes mentioned earlier are stuffed into two 15×15 rooms on either side of the keyboard portion of the instrument. The pipes visible on either side of the keyboard are what Workman called facade pipes and not working parts of the organ.
Each of the 3,000 or so pipes that do produce sound, all of which must be hand tuned, have what Workman called a pouch, a piece of leather which controls the flow of air into the pipe. The church recently finished replacing worn pouches in just one of the pipe rooms. Workman said the cost was around $70,000.
“It’s holding up okay for now,” Workman said of the remainder of the instrument. “We kind of just expect it’s going to start showing its age.”
He estimated the total cost of repairing and maintaining the organ at “well” over $100,000.
Somewhat incidentally, those pouches, or the pouch controls, are sometimes referred to as “stops,” since they can stop the flow of air into a particular organ pipe. This is, according to Workman, the origin of the phrase “pulling out all the stops.”
Martin was tabbed to kick off the fundraising/awareness campaign for several reasons. Workman said he has wanted Martin to perform at the church for some time. For Martin, Sunday’s performance will be a warm-up for an impending trip to his native Dublin, Ireland, where he was invited to play at a prestigious organ festival.
For Sunday’s show in Portsmouth, Martin said he wanted to show off the range and abilities of the Kilgen organ. Both he and Workman promised a highlight of the evening will be a performance of German composer Julius Reubke’s sonata on the 94th psalm. Although the composer died at a very young age and produced only a small amount of material, the sonata is considered one of the major pinnacles of organ music, Workman and Martin opined.
Other pieces will be from Bach and 20th Century composer and organist Albert Alain.
Workman said one unique aspect of Sunday’s concert will be a camera set up to film Martin’s playing. The video will be shown on screens visible around the church.
For the future, Workman talked about repeating what he said was last year’s successful “pipe scream concert.”
“It’s a chance to hear music you won’t normally hear in a church setting,” Workman concluded.