19th century pipe organ finds new home in local church
By Leslie Moore, Central Kentucky News-Journal.
Reprinted with permission.
Organ restorer Brad Rule plays the 19th century Pomplitz organ now housed in Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church as his assistant Andrew Symington hand pumps. Photo by Leslie Moore.
When Campbellsville University officials first learned Dr. Lloyd and Doris Ferrar were planning to donate a 19th century pipe organ from their large collection, they were delighted that their student might get to practice on a piece of musical history. But they soon realized that there was no place on CU's campus to put it.
The original plan was to house the instrument in the Gosser Fine Arts Center, but professor of music Dr. Wesley Roberts soon realized the center can't accommodate the depth of the instrument, which requires a minimum of 10 feet.
"It's important that the organ matches the room it goes in," Roberts said. "You can overshoot or undershoot, you might say. And if it's too big, not only from a physical side, the sound is going to be too overwhelming."
After working on the Opus 185 pipe organ built by August Pomplitz in 1875 for nearly a year, Brad Rule, of B. Rule & Co. Pipe Organs, had already reserved a rental truck and was planning to deliver it in a couple of weeks.
Then Roberts remembered a large space in nearby Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church.
He called Father James "Jim" Reinhart on May 4 and asked if the church would be interested in housing the organ. After talking with volunteer music director Doug Tucker, the idea was brought before the parish council and unanimously approved.
"The donor was just delighted with the idea, so I think everyone's very happy about it," Roberts said of the Ferrars, who have already donated five musical instruments to CU.
Less than two weeks later, the instrument was delivered to the church.
According to Reinhart, the church has a longstanding relationship with CU's administration, and the two also share a parking lot.
"The other factor which played in with this is the convenience of the location, because from our perspective, the primary use for our students will be for practice," Roberts said.
By working around the church's calendar, Roberts said the organ will be played nearly every day.
The church has an electric organ, but it is rarely used in favor of the piano, guitars and saxophones. After hearing the richness of sound that comes from the pipe organ, church members say they are excited to use it during traditional hymns.
Church pianist Carla Farias only recently began taking organ lessons, but after practicing for just an hour, she said she was excited to play the organ for Sunday Mass on May 26.
"I think it's more conducive to a prayerful atmosphere," Reinhart said.
Rule said the organ was built in Baltimore, and he is pretty sure it was then sent to Harrisonburg, Va.
"All we know is that there are black letters painted from the railroad shipping," Rule said. "The label says 'DMS Harrisonburg Va.' And we don't know what or who DMS was."
Rule said the organ was moved to an African Methodist Episcopal Zion church in Cumberland, Md., around 1910.
In the 1980s, it was taken out of that church and eventually made its way into the Farrars' collection, where it remained in storage for more than 30 years.
"Lloyd is fond of Pomplitz, and there aren't many of them left, so he wanted to restore this Pomplitz organ," Rule said.
Because the donors requested that the organ be restored to 19th century standards, there are a couple features this organ has that most modern organs do not.
"The organ can still be hand pumped, so if the power goes out, they can still sing hymns with the organ," Rule said. "It gives students an idea of what organ playing was like before electric blowers 'cause it is different. You've got to have a second person back there pumping it."
According to Rule, it is unusual there was no graffiti found inside the organ.
"They usually hired 11- or 12-year-old boys in the church to pump the organ for the service back then. Eleven or 12 years old because they were getting strong enough to pump, but they weren't old enough to be extremely rambunctious and get in trouble, hiding in the organ. We've seen a lot of graffiti in organs where boys took their pocket knives out and carved their name."
Rule said he believes this organ remains unscathed because a water motor was placed on it around 1900, which took the place of blower boys.
"So the blower boys would have only had 20 years or so to carve their initials," Rule said. "They must have been well-behaved."
Another feature that sets the organ apart from the rest can't be seen, only heard.
"Dr. Farrar was adamant that this organ be tuned according to 19th century standards," Tucker said. "So the 'C' on here is not a true 'C.' Brad says it runs sharp."
Rule said restoring the organ was a challenge because he had never seen it assembled, and, therefore, did not know what it was supposed to look like.
"We just had a bunch of parts, and they were mixed up with a bunch of parts from a different organ from the 19th century," Rule said. "It was very much like working on a puzzle, but missing pieces, so that made it even harder to figure out."
Though Rule has restored several 19th century organs, every builder had their own way of assembling organs, and this was his first time restoring a Pomplitz.
"There were some odd things about the way he builds organs that I'd never seen in American organs, and so it took a while to figure out," Rule said.
Once the walnut organ case is refinished and the fa�ade pipes are replaced, the restoration will be complete. Rule said he had to dedicate a week just to repairing the badly smashed fa�ade pipes.
"What you're seeing is the guts of the thing, which is quite ugly to look at," Rule said of the organ's interior components.
Rule said he expects the case to be ready sometime this month, and is looking forward to seeing the final product.
"It'll start looking like an organ instead of like a weird collection of non-matching mechanical parts, which it sort of does now," Rule said.
Reinhart said organs are traditional instruments in churches, and he believes this pipe organ finding its way to the church, founded in 1879, is no coincidence.
"This organ was built for the founding of this church," Reinhart said. "They just weren't able to get together right away."