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March 25, 2008

 

Homer organ being restored

Church raises $40,000 for repair of its 80-year-old pipe organ

Organ

Bob Ellis/staff photographer      
Graham Sleeman of Parsons Pipe Organ Builders in Canandaigua removes a pouch board Monday morning from a cramped space beneath the pipes of the Homer First United Methodist Church organ. The company has been hired to refurbish the pipe organ.

By CHRISTINE LAUBENSTEIN
Staff Reporter
claubenstein@cortlandstandard.net

HOMER — Homer resident Florence Bundy believed music is one of the best means to connect people with God, according to one of her daughters.
“She was always interested in every aspect of the church, and more recently she saw the music as being a way for drawing in new members, or people who were disjointed from churches,” Cincinnatus resident Mary Anne Diaz said. “It might be an avenue for them to regain interest.”
Bundy, who died at age 87 in September, decided at the end of her life to match donations for a $40,000 repair job of the Homer First United Methodist Church’s organ, which is about 80 years old.
With her $20,000 donation and the other $20,000 now raised, the organ is being dismantled this week for repair.
Members of the church community say they are grateful for Bundy’s initiative.
It will be nice for the church to have a fully functioning organ again, they said, something it has not had the last few decades.
Each of the organ’s 700 pipes is connected to a valve that lets in air. The organ was built in 1929, and the leather and felt covering on each valve has not been replaced.
As a result, often unwanted air gets through to the pipes, producing sounds that are not intended.
Also, some of the valves get stuck and don’t open when organ keys are played.
The main job of Canandaigua-based Parsons Pipe Organ Builders, the company undertaking the $40,000 repair job, is replacing the valve coverings.
“These all need to be airtight,” Cal Parsons, one of the company’s owners, said Monday, pointing to valves in a wooden board he was holding.
The company, which is also touching up other parts of the organ, is dismantling parts this week, and shipping them to Canandaigua for repair. It expects to finish the work within the next couple of months.
To celebrate the renovated organ, on July 13 the congregation plans to rededicate it. Church organist Valorie Xenakis, as well as several former organists, will play music at the celebration and donors such as the late Florence Bundy will be honored.
“We’re hoping to have a very big celebration,” said Allan Ferguson, pastor of the Homer First United Methodist Church.
Ferguson said getting the old organ repaired is important for the church, whose operating budget is about $160,000 annually. Parishioners really came through with their donations, he said.
“It’s just a coincidence it’s falling on our 175th anniversary,” Ferguson said.

Organ history

The church’s organ is believed to be the third owned by the church.
Allan Ferguson, pastor of the Homer First United Methodist Church, said he thinks the congregation has had an organ since its inception 175 years ago. Its original building on the same site likely had a reed organ from the start.
“It made a tone similar to a clarinet,” Ferguson said.
It’s believed the congregation got a tracker action organ at some point before it built its new building in 1912.
The organ had pipes, but the linkage between the keys or pedals pressed by the organist and the valves that allows air to flow into the pipe or pipes of the corresponding note, were mechanical, as opposed to the current organ’s electric links.
The second organ could not always handle notes from more than one of the organ’s manuals, or keyboards, and had to be hand pumped by assistants.
Things were made easier when the church bought an electrically controlled organ in 1929, which it continues to use.
“The organ doesn’t go on strike, and it doesn’t need a lunch break either,” said Dale Bell, a member of the Homer First United Methodist Church, and organ aficionado.
The organ, which likely cost about $1,200, was made by Father W.S. Stevens, also known as “Father Steve,” the then-rector of St. Matthew’s Church in Moravia. He also made the organ at the Grace Episcopal Church, Ferguson said.
It is bigger than the previous organ, with 10 ranks, or sets of pipes that are physically organized together and produce a certain pitch.
“This organ was the answer to making a bigger and better sound,” Ferguson said.