Ashfield historic organ departs for restoration

  • George Reed built the organ that is in the First Congregational Church in Ashfield. July 3, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—

  • Workers disassemble and label every part as they take apart the organ that is in the First Congregational Church in Ashfield. July 3, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—

  • Helen Boyle, the GG Granddaughter of Organ builder George Reed, and William Czelusniak, who is restoring the organ, talk in the sanctuary of the First Congregational Church in Ashfield. July 3, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • The stops are pulled out of the organ at the First Congregational Church in Ashfield. July 3, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Pipes and other parts are spread out in the sanctuary of the First Congregational Church in Ashfield. July 3, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 7/5/2018 5:00:19 PM

ASHFIELD — The sanctuary of the First Congregational Church may look a little barren without its 1903 George W. Reed tracker organ. But when the organ returns in 18 months, it will sound all the richer with new key coverings, supple leather valves, restored bellows, and repaired and cleaned pipes.

And if possible, the front-facing facade pipes will be decorated in a similar way to original pipes — instead of with the gold paint that has covered them since the 1930s.

The organ is being dismantled this week, to be taken to Northampton for restoration by Czelusniak et Dugal Inc.

“The Ashfield organ will have a top-to-bottom restoration,” said William F. Czelusniak, who has serviced the organ for almost 40 years and is in charge of the restoration.

“When it’s finished in about 18 months’ time, it will be as though it’s just come from the factory,” he said. “And we expect it’s going to work for the next 100 years without any trouble.”

“This process of watching it come out has been very exciting and interesting,” said church choir master Margery Heins. “People from the church have been dropping by with their cameras.”

One of the church members, Gerard McGovern, has been creating a photo documentary of the entire dismantling process, which Czelusniak says will be helpful to the restorers as well as being of historic interest to the town.

Last year, a capital campaign raised $300,000 to refurbish the organ and renovate the chancel. About $225,000 of that is to be spent for the organ restoration.

Tracker organs, popular in the heyday of Bach, can be operated without electricity if someone pumps the bellows. But the manual hand pump was disconnected and an electric blower was installed many years ago. Once the bellows are rebuilt, the organ can again be played the way it was back in 1903. The goal, said Heins, is to bring the organ back to original condition.

The organ was originally built for Holy Trinity Church in Greenfield by organ builder George W. Reed of West Boylston at a cost of $1,900, according to a history written by Heins and Campaign Committee member Susannah Lee.

But in 1932, “for reasons unknown,” the organ was either sold or given to the First Congregational Church of Ashfield, they wrote.

The instrument was taken apart and moved 20 miles, up two mountains. Once in Ashfield, the challenge was how to fit such a large organ into the small country church. To make it fit, the Congregational Church was expanded.

Heins and Lee say the organ’s 33 front-facing pipes appear to have been covered with gold paint since the 1930s. But when the organ was built, the pipes were decorated in the fashion of the times — with bands of colors and decorative motifs. Heins and Lee say some of the original decoration can still be seen on the reverse sides of the pipes. They are hoping to find photographs of the 115-year-old organ from when it was still at Trinity Church in Greenfield. Anyone with information or historic photos is asked to call the Ashfield Congregational Church and leave a message at 413-628-4470.

The organ is considered to be historically significant by organists and restoration experts, said Heins. And, while a skilled organist can make it sound good, mechanical parts rattle and some pipes buzz. The action is difficult for the organist. The key coverings are uneven — with worn spots like those on a well-used stairwell. Also, there is potential failure of the wind system.

“The bellows of the organ, which provide the wind pressure for all its music, will be stripped (of 115-year-old leather) and completely re-leathered,” Czelusniak said.

“The re-leathered bellows will be inflated by the electric blower. Or it can be hand-pumped,” he said. “That’s the resolution for any wind system failure.

“The keyboards will all have their playing surfaces recovered, so that the keys will be all fresh, smooth and easy to play,” said Czelusniak.

He said the main wind chests — which support all the pipes and valves for playing the pipes — are cracked and water-damaged. “But they will all be thoroughly rebuilt,” Czelusniak said.

Besides the 33 facade pipes, the George Reed organ contains at least 1,000 inner pipes that all produce sound.

“Each of these will be treated individually,” said Czelusniak, “which is why these jobs are not fast and not inexpensive.

“What is going on in this church is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to refresh everything inside and to allow the organ to work reliably and economically for generations to come,” he added.

Heins said concerts to celebrate the restoration and return of the instrument will be planned.


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