Ashfield has the pipes for a joyful noise

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    Choir Director Margery Heins stands in front of a real organ pipe that has been temporaily turned into a fundraising "thermometer." It shows how close the Ashfield Congregational Church campaign is to reaching its goal for renovations of the chancel and the church's 1903 George W. Reed organ. Recorder photo/Diane Broncaccio—

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    Choir Director Margery Heins stands in front of a real organ pipe that has been temporarily turned into a fundraising "thermometer," showing how close members of the Ashfield Congregational Church is to reaching its goal for renovations of the chancel and the church's 1903 George W. Reed organ. Recorder photo/Diane Broncaccio—

  • Choir Director Marjorie Heins demonstrates the powerful sound of the 1903 organ, which was recently received a National Heritage Pipe Organ Award from the Organ Historical Society. Recorder photo/Diane Broncaccio—

  • The organ pipes of the 1903 organ in the Ashfield Congregational Church. Contributed photo—

Recorder Staff
Published: 6/4/2017 11:10:02 PM

ASHFIELD — A $300,000 capital campaign to refurbish Ashfield Congregational Church’s 1903 George W. Reed tracker organ and renovate the chancel was planned as a three-year fundraiser.

But after four months, the campaign has already gathered at least $273,000 in gifts and pledges.

The “Make a Joyful Noise” campaign has plenty to cheer about as it readies for one more benefit concert on Saturday, June 17, at 7:30 p.m. — a Broadway-themed program featuring Amy Roberts-Crawford and Friends. Roberts-Crawford is the church’s organist, a local musician and music teacher. Requested donation is $10.

Besides having the money and pledges to move forward with renovations, the pipe organ was recently recognized by the Organ Historical Society as a “National Heritage Pipe Organ.”

Choir Director Margery Heins and Capital Campaign co-chairman Ted Murray credit an organ study committee and a consultant with helping to steer fundraisers in the right direction. But also, they point out, donations came in from the overall community, whether or not they attend church service.

“Originally, we were urged to create a (donors) list as expansive as we could make it,” Murray said. “The consultant said there must be more who might have an interest. While it seemed like a reach, in my mind, there were a lot of people in this community who appreciate what we do here.”

“They recognize we have the food pantry — a service for the whole community,” Murray said. “We host concerts and plays, and people appreciate that this is a real spiritual part of the community.”

Besides church services and a preschool-to-high school Sunday School program, the church hosts the Hilltown Churches Food Pantry; Share the Warmth, which provides warm clothing at the pantry during winter; Council on Aging meetings, Franklin County Justice for Palestine, and the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Messrs. Czelusniak et Dugal, Inc. of Northhampton, who have maintained the organ since 1979, were hired to restore it. This will include rebuilding the bellows, so it can be played the way it was in 1903.

According to Margery Heins, the organ is a “tracker organ,” which means it is a completely mechanical instrument, except for an electric blower.

“It can be completely mechanical if there is someone willing to pump the bellows,” she adds. “A tracker is all mechanical action; it’s what Bach had in the 1700s.”

The organ was originally built for Holy Trinity Church in Greenfield by organ builder George W. Reed, from West Boylston. But in 1932, “for reasons unknown,” according to Heins and Susannah Lee, the organ was sold or given away to the First Congregational Church of Ashfield.

The instrument was dismantled and moved 20 miles and up two mountains. The challenge was to fit the large organ into the smaller, country church. As a result, the back of the Congregational Church had to be expanded to fit the organ in.

About $225,000 of the money raised will go for the organ restoration, which includes replacing brittle 114-year-old leather pads, rattling parts and parts that suffered water damage. Also, the keys are worn down, there is an unevenness of sound and it is becoming more difficult to play.

Heins said the organ will be taken apart sometime this fall and the restoration work will take from 12 to 16 months.

“We basically inherited this instrument, and it’s our turn to invest so future generations can play this,” said Murray. “Once we restore it, will be good for 100 years.”

About $45,000 of the money raised will go for modifications to the chancel, the raised, stage-like part of the church, near the altar. The work will include replacing the 100-year-old velvet on the pew cushions, removing lecturns that obscure the audience’s view and providing a moveable lecturn with portable microphones. There will also be stairs around the stage area and more visibility of the organ’s pipes.

About $15,000 raised will go for local mission work, and $15,000 for campaign administration.

Donations may be sent to:

Capital Campaign, First Congregational Church, PO Box 519, Ashfield, MA 01330.


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