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The Last Songs of an Old Friend -- Pipe Organ Removal

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The Last Songs of an Old Friend -- Pipe Organ Removal

The Last Songs of an Old Friend -- Pipe Organ Removal

By Brian Ebie

It's all too often the way of things these days.  Congregations age, worship styles change, members move away and churches find themselves struggling to adapt, retain membership, and attract new members.  Such is the case at a local church I service, a congregation who has served their community for nearly 190 years.  I was once part of their membership and served as music director and organist, and I have serviced their pipe organ for the past 26 years.  And so it was with great sadness I watched their decline, and although no longer a member of that faith community, nonetheless felt a spiritual kinship with their people and history. 

The church was a pioneer in small town Ohio.  Founded in 1827 by the founders of its faith, the early members first met in a home, then a barn, and finally erected their first building in 1832, followed by a second building in 1850, and their present edifice in 1925.  By the 1950’s the church was filled to capacity each Sunday and active in the community. 

Music was always important to this congregation.  The early singing school met there and singing hymns by lining out was part of their early practice.  There’s an oral tradition that a small pipe organ from “out east” was installed in the 1860’s in the second church building, and a reed organ from that building (“pump organ”) built locally, survived and was finally sold in the 1980’s at a church rummage sale.  In the new 1925 building a space was made for a pipe organ and one was installed in 1929.  A WurliTzer Theatre Organ.  Purchased from a movie theatre in a town many miles away, the organ became available when both “talking pictures” and the Great Depression hit the local theatre with significant financial troubles.  The mighty WurliTzer was installed, complete with the toy counter (sleigh bells, drum, car horn, harp, and castanets) in the space made available.  How exciting it must have been to have that sort of organ power in the new building.  This instrument served reliably until 1977.  More on the 1977 organ in the next post.

Sadly, the pipe organ must come out of the building now before the church closes.

In the coming days I'll be blogging the process of removing this wonderful pipe organ through pictures and video, and sharing a bit of history along the way.  I hope you enjoy. 

Below is a short video I made on the day we began removing the instrument.  This is the last time the organ would play. 

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All in the Family: Uncle Christoph Built an Organ

The Aebi Organ in St. Georg, Switzerland

 Aebi Organ in Ernen-Schweiz

Aebi Organ in Ernen-Schweiz

It's hard to imagine a 335 year old mechanical music instrument.  Harder still is imagining that this music instrument still works.  But that's exactly the case with the historic Christoph Aebi organ in the church of St. Georg in Ernen, Switzerland.  First built in 1680 and repaired only minimally, and with very few modifications over the years, Aebi's pipe organ looks and sounds much as it did when he built and installed it in the beautiful town church.
 

 Pfarrkirche, St. George, Ernen

Pfarrkirche, St. George, Ernen

 Aebi Organ Keydesk

Aebi Organ Keydesk

Christoph Aebi, organbuilder from Solothurn, was contracted to build an instrument for the church in 1680, with the first delivery of parts occurring that year. The table or tablet of the organ where the pipes would eventually stand was delivered first.  We might today call that the windchest.  Eventually an instrument of one manual and pedal with 11 ranks, and in a beautifully painted gothic case would take shape.

The organ plays regularly for church services and programs.  A seminal 2011 recording by Hungarian composer Zsigmond Szathmáry on the Ars Musici label, entitled Die Historische Aebi-Orgel in Ernen-Schweiz, highlights the beautiful sound of theChristoph Aebi pipe organ.  Featuring works by Buxtehude, Pachelbel, Sweelinck, and Frescobaldi, the instrument beautifully renders each piece with a sweet sound, from the softest 8' Coppel flute; but with enough power to support even the largest passages.

The organ has mechanical slider chests and a mechanical stop action, with one pull-down manual to pedal coupler. 

The organ stoplist as it is today:    

Manual I, C - d''' 
Prinzipal 8 ' 
Coppel 8 '
Oktave 4 '       
Flöte 4 '       
Quintflöte 2 2/3 ' (addition)
Superoktave 2 '      
Hörnli   2 ' + 1 3/5 ' (addition)
MixturIII 2 ' 
Quinte 1 1/2 ' 
CymbelII 1/2 '

Pedal, C - d'      
Subbass 16 '     (addition)
Flötbass 8 '  
Posaune 8  

 
I hope someday to play this organ built by my great, great, great, great, great, great, great uncle, Christoph Aebi.  I own the recording and have studied as much history on the instrument as I can find, and know this to be a beautiful example of his work. 

This page will give, in German, a fantastic history of some of the modifications over the years.

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