Music series celebrates restoration of Ashfield church’s 1903 organ

  • First Congregational Church of Ashfield Choir Director Margery Heins stands beside the completely restored and repainted 1903 George W. Reed pipe organ. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DELUCA

  • The hundreds of pipes of First Congregational Church of Ashfield's 1903 George W. Reed pipe organ as seen from above. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/GERARD MCGOVERN

  • Stein Feick paints the banding on First Congregational Church of Ashfield's newly restored 1903 George W. Reed pipe organ before it was reassembled. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/STEIN FEICK

  • Workers disassemble and label every part as they take apart the organ in the First Congregational Church of Ashfield in July 2018. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The stops are pulled from the organ at the First Congregational Church of Ashfield in July 2018. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • First Congregational Church of Ashfield’s completely restored and repainted 1903 George W. Reed pipe organ. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DELUCA

  • First Congregational Church of Ashfield’s completely restored and repainted 1903 George W. Reed pipe organ.

Staff Writer
Published: 9/15/2021 3:16:04 PM

To celebrate the now complete, years-long restoration of its 1903 George W. Reed pipe organ, the First Congregational Church of Ashfield will host an Organ Celebration Series starting this Sunday.

After being postponed for more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a recital by organist Grant Moss is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 19 at the church at 429 Main St.

“Now it looks as beautiful as it sounds,” said First Congregational Church’s Choir Director Margery Heins.

The journey to restore the organ began a few years ago, she explained. In January 2017, the church-launched capital campaign, dubbed ”Make a Joyful Noise,” received many volunteers, donations and grants from the Joseph Bradley Charitable Foundation to raise the necessary funds for restoration – which totaled more than $300,000.

“By June 2017, our goal had been reached,” Heins recalled.

The restoration of the George W. Reed tracker organ at Ashfield Congregational Church was then conducted between 2018 to 2020 by William Czelusniak, and Messrs Czelusniak et Dugal, Inc. Work on the organ took place at the firm’s Northampton workshop and on site in Ashfield.

Czelusniak has been servicing the organ for the church since 1979 and in 2015 he recommended a full restoration after telling church members the organ, which was almost entirely still made from orginal parts, was showing signs of stress. The main wind chests — which support all the pipes and valves for playing the pipes — were cracked and water-damaged. The original leather of the bellows of the wind reservoir. If this leather cracked, it would allow air to escape, and the organ would not be playable.

“The re-leathered bellows will be inflated by the electric blower. Or it can be hand-pumped,” Czelusniak explained as the organ was dismantled in 2018. “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.”

The organ, with it’s 33 exterior facade pipes and over 1,000 inner pipes, has since been fully reassembled on site in the Ashfield Church. According to a celebration booklet written by Heins and fellow volunteer Susannah Lee, “a simple summation of the pipe organ restoration is that the instrument was renovated and rebuilt from top-to-bottom, or actually bottom-to-top, as the order of business and reinstallation proceeded. If any two parts could come apart, they did come apart and were cleaned, repaired, refinished, renewed, re-bushed, re-regulated, and then reassembled.”

In addition the interior and mechanical work done by Czelusniak, Conway resident and friend of the church Stein Feick repainted the organ pipes. A formed Facade Pipe Study Group worked with Czelusniak and Feick to land on a final design.

“For years, the pipes were covered with a gold paint that had dulled,” Heins said.

Unfortunately, the group learend that if gold paint were to be used, it would eventually change to the same dull color of the pipes before restoration.

“While the restoration was going on, we researched what we could do instead of gold paint,” Heins said. “Back in the day, organ pipes were decorated with band and different colors. The new pipes are now painted with a lovely blue, green and contrasting red bandings that reflect the rose-colored stained glass windows in the church, and sky and trees in the lovely country side of Ashfield.”

The organ was originally built in 1903 for Holy Trinity Church, R.C. in Greenfield by George W. Reed (1851-1915) of West Boylston at a cost of roughly $2,500. In 1932, the Greenfield church decided to acquire a modern electro-pneumatic pipe organ and, acording to the campaign committee’s research, Ashfield resident Richard Field, along with his wife Winnie and the Ashfield Ladies’ Circle, led the charge to bring the George W. Reed pipe organ to Ashfield that fall.

Today, the number of Reed’s surviving pipe organs is estimated to be 11. Two of these remaining examples currently reside in Franklin County: at Our Lady of Czestochowa, R.C., Turners Falls; and in the Ashfield Congregational Church. In 2017, prior to the beginning of the restoration, the Ashfield organ was granted a “National Heritage Pipe Organ Award” from the Organ Historical Society in Villanova, Pennsylvania.

Organ Celebration Series

While the restoration was completed in June 2020, the church was closed to public gatherings for most of the year amid the lasting COVID-19 pandemic. Now the public will be able to hear the organ in its full, restored glory for the upcoming Organ Celebration Series.

On Sept. 19, Moss, who is a senior lecturer in music at Smith College and organist/choirmaster at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Northampton, will perform a selection of pieces he has chosen to show the many colors of the restored organ, “from the softest whispers of the beautiful string stops, to the full organ, which fills the room like a big hug from your favorite aunt,” the organist said.

The September program includes pieces spanning the 17th through the 20th centuries. Composers of the selected pieces include two women, Maria-Theresia von Paradis and Florence B. Price as well as J.S. Bach, Thomas Arne, A.P.F. Boëly, César Franck, Healey Willan, and Hermann Schroeder.

Masks may be required inside the sanctuary, and organizers welcome attendees to bring a folding chair or blanket for social distancing outdoors if they choose to listen from the lawn as they open the windows and doors to let the music spill from the church hall. Event information and last minute rain date scheduling will be available at www.ashfielducc.org.

Future Organ Celebration Series events are as follows:

■Saturday, Oct. 30, 2 p.m. (Rain date Sunday, Oct. 31) – Jerry Noble, organ and piano; Bob Sparkman, clarinet; Kara Noble, bass; and Tinky Weisblat, soprano.

■Sunday, Nov. 21,10 a.m. – Morning worship service with organ re-dedication.

■Sunday, April 24, 2022, 4 p.m. (Rain date, Saturday, April 23).

Admission is free and the public is encouraged to attend.

The Organ Celebration Series concerts are supported by the First Congregational Church of Ashfield and Cultural Councils of Ashfield, Buckland, Charlemont, Hawley, Conway, Plainfield and Shelburne.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.




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