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1895 Cole & Woodberry Organ

Notes from the Rededication of the Organ on  October 24, 2004
First Parish of Sudbury, Unitarian Universalist

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During the renovation of the sanctuary that was completed in August 1998, the organ needed to be protected from the extensive plaster dust and debris.  To do this, all the pipes were removed, wrapped and stored. However, now the front pipes would be a dingy white in contrast with the newly renovated sanctuary.  Andover Organ advised us against applying another coat of paint to the pipes.  The decision was made to strip the paint and use the natural color of the pipes.  One of the craftsmen at the Andover shop then painstakingly polished the archlike shape above the mouth of each pipe.

In 2000, Phase II was completed, again following a series of fund raising events including a concert series and wine tasting event. The second phase was the Restoration of the Pedal division and Reservoir. And finally, during the summer of 2004, Phase III was completed. This was the most extensive phase involving the restoration and rebuilding the Manual chests, cleaning, repairing, regulating of the Manual Pipes and adjusting the manual key action. This long awaited completion of the restoration will ensure that the organ continues to enrich the spiritual life at First Parish for another 50-75 years. While the organ at First Parish is certainly a valuable antique, its main value is as a beautifully crafted musical instrument. To celebrate, the organ will be rededicated during the morning service on October 24, 2004 followed by an organ recital at 3:00 given by First Parish’s Music Director and Organist, Debra Morris-Bennett.

Debra Morris-Bennett has been the Music Director and Organist at the First Parish of Sudbury for the past 15 years. She received a M.M. degree in Organ Performance from the New England Conservatory of Music, studying with Yuko Hayashi. During her tenure at First Parish she has enjoyed exploring the wide range of choral literature—both sacred and secular—that the Unitarian Universalist service embraces. Recent works have included Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and the moving Holocaust Cantata: Songs from the Camps by Donald McCullough. Some of the other diverse works performed with the First Parish Choir over past seasons include lesser known choral works of Johannes Brahms, selections of Aaron Copland, John Rutter’s Requiem, Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, Irish choral music, Gabriel Faure’s Requiem, and Dietrich Buxtehude’s Cantate Domini.

The first major reconditioning of the organ occurred 45 years after its installation.  That’s quite a testament to the quality of craftsmanship of its builder.  In November of 1960, the entire organ was disassembled on site for two weeks.  The organ was thoroughly cleaned, the pipes cleaned, leather parts treated or replaced and the action was cleaned and adjusted.  All this for only $250.00!  Fortunately, the builder, Nelson Barden, respected the original work of Cole & Woodberry and made no tonal changes in the organ.  It was also in the early 1960’s , as part of an overall sanctuary renovation, that the organ case and the front pipes were painted white.  The original color of the case was a natural golden oak and the pipes were covered with gold leaf with a small red band stenciled on each pipe.  The paint did not affect the sound of the pipes because the vibration which produces the sound is in the air column rather than the pipe material.  The pipe metal is tin or leaded tin, with the inside pipes usually 40% lead.

Another 25 years passed after 1960, before any major work needed to be done on the instrument.  In 1985, Andover Organ Company was asked to evaluate the organ’s condition and to draw up restoration plans for the organ that could be done in three phases.  Phase I of the restoration was completed in the summer of 1986 after a series of special fund raising events which included concerts, special donations and memorial gifts. Phase I, which was required immediately to avoid further deterioration, included those things of immediate urgency such as renovating the keyboard action.

In 1995, the Organ Advisory Committee of the Boston Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, was invited to First Parish to evaluate the organ and add their suggestions to the final phase of restoration work.  An Organ Event was held on May 7, 1995 where the congregation had the opportunity to meet with the committee and really learn about the First Parish organ.  The organ received very high marks from the committee for its craftsmanship, tonal beauty and also how well it is tonally balanced in the room.  The main recommendation was to consider replacing the original labial Oboe stop with a true Oboe stop. This true oboe stop would lend a real singing quality to pieces with a solo melody line.  It would also add depth to the overall tonal color scheme of the instrument.   Andover Organ has included this option as a proposed Phase IV.

HISTORY OF THE 1895 ORGAN AT FIRST PARISH OF SUDBURY

Minutes of the First Parish Trustee’s meetings dated August 1895 show that the Parish Committee was asked to gather information in regard to the cost of repairing the existing 1833 two manual William Goodrich organ or purchasing a new organ. On September 8, 1895 the Parish Committee made their report to the Trustees and they were granted the power to act in purchasing a new organ.

Quite amazingly, our current Cole & Woodberry organ was installed and dedicated a mere two months later in November of 1895!  An account of the “organ concert and exhibition” was found in the Sudbury town paper dated November 14, 1895.  The article refers to the “dedication of the costly and beautiful instrument”, and lists the program of the concert and the performers, including the choir from the Memorial Congregational church.

Other fascinating trivia uncovered from the same time period were the wages paid to both the Organist and to the “Blow-boy” (who pumped the organ to supply wind to the pipes!).  For the four months of July through October 1901, the Organist was paid $8.25 (about 50 cents a Sunday!) and the Blow-boy was paid about 17 cents a Sunday.

According to a letter dated May 31, 1928 from James Cole of Cole Church Organ Builders (the same Cole as in Cole & Woodberry), an electric motor and blower was installed in the room directly beneath the organ (in the Minister’s old office).

To quote Cole, “When this blower is placed you will find that the Organ will sound considerably better, all the annoyances of a Blow-boy will disappear, and be a great saving of expense.”  The records of the Women’s Alliance also indicate a payment on August 1, 1928 to James Cole for the purchase of the blower for $250.00.  I have been told that even though the organ now had a blower, that for special services (i.e. Memorial services for older members) the organ would still be hand pumped as late as 1950.

 Specifications of the Organ

GREAT
8’ Open Diapason         61 pipes
8’ Stop Diapson        61 pipes
8’ Dulciana                61 pipes
4’ Octave                61 pipes
2’ Fifteenth                61 pipes

SWELL
8’ Geigen Principal        61 pipes
8’ Salicional                61 pipes
8’ Voxangelica        61 pipes
8’ Melodia                61 pipes
8’ Labial Oboe        49 pipes
4’ Gemshorn                61 pipes

PEDAL
16’ Bourdon                27 pipes

COUPLERS
Swell to Great 4’
Swell to Great 8’
Swell to Pedal
Great to Pedal
Pedal Octaves

See Also: History of the Meetinghouse and our Music Program