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Church To Refurbish 1920s-Era Pipe Organ

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BRUNSWICK, Md. (AP) — Grace Episcopal Church moved into its new building in 1922, and it bought and installed an 11-rank pipe organ the following year.

A rank, explained Grace’s organist and choirmaster David Gunning, is a set of organ pipes that produce sounds of a specific timbre or tone.

The church bought the organ from M.P. Moller, a now-defunct producer that had a factory in Hagerstown, Gunning said.

The company provided pipe organs for many churches in the region.

“We were very fortunate to have them in our backyard,” he said.

Parts wore down, and the American Guild of Organists established standards for these types of organs in the 1940s and 1950s, Gunning said. Grace’s organ should have been updated. But that didn’t happen, except for minor patches, until last fall, when the church decided to start a project to update and revamp the instrument.

Mark Steiner, of the Steiner-Murphy Pipe Organ Co., will handle the restoration of the organ’s roughly 600 pipes and various parts and mechanisms at his shop in Cumberland. Many parts and mechanisms are still made from the same materials used 90 years ago — for instance, the leather pouches that control air through the pipes that typically wear out in about 40 years, he said.

The worn console, however, will be replaced with one from a 1950s-era Moller organ, Steiner said. The mechanical switching of the organ will also be replaced with solid-state technology.

The organ will still use the same pipes and sound the same, but the organist will have more options, he said.
Gunning said the project will cost the church about $110,000, less than half of which has been raised. The project is expected to be completed this fall.

The church also has a blog on its website, gracebrunswick.org, that will keep parishioners informed about the latest developments in the restoration.

“To have a church that’s going to support this project is an amazing thing,” Gunning said.
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Something old, something new

Grace’s pipe organ is an example of what Gunning called the “English style,” meaning the instrument has a more broad, subdued and gritty sound than other types of pipe organs known for their distinctive, grand brightness.

“That will change a bit when Mark is finished,” he said.

All the organ’s original parts will be restored, and several ranks will be added.

“It will brighten the sound, make it more lively,” Gunning said.

A separate, smaller organ has been donated to Grace that will bring more sound into the nave of the church, he said.

Gunning said playing his last service with the original organ last Thursday left him feeling a bit bittersweet.

The first time he played it, with all of its oddly arranged pedal boards, was something of an experience, he said.

“It’s fascinating to play an instrument with all of the original pieces,” Gunning said. “That’s something you see in a cathedral in Europe, but not in small churches in Maryland.”

But despite the new sounds that he’ll be able to coax from the refurbished organ, he’ll still be able to make the organ sound as it always did, he said.

“It’s an honor to be a part of it,” Gunning said.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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