The sound of music

Organist Helyn Dahle plays the refurbished organ at St. James Memorial Episcopal Church, which completed renovation work on Tuesday. A celebratory concert will be held on Sunday, during which multiple musicians will play on the organ.

In the musical world, there is perhaps no instrument larger than an organ. Such devices are so large, requiring a complex network of pipes, wires and other such contraptions, that whole rooms are needed to accommodate them.

For the past nine months, the leadership of St. James Memorial Episcopal Church have become intimately familiar with the inner workings of the church’s 110-year-old organ as they worked toward refurbishing the historic instrument. The restoration was finally complete on Tuesday, and the church plans to celebrate with an organ concert on Sunday that will feature three different performers filling the air with music from the restored music maker.

The road to recovery for the St. James organ began last year, when church leadership began to notice that several of the instrument’s functions had begun to fail. Wiring several decades old had ceased working, and several levers and knobs on the instrument simply weren’t functioning.

“You know, I think we were almost to the point where we weren’t using it anymore,” said Helyn Dahle, organist for the church.

As the cost of fixing such an instrument would run well over $100,000, church leaders figured there was no chance of getting the historic piece up and running again. As the church was running a capital campaign at the time, it was decided that some of that money would go toward buying a grand piano to replace the organ.

“We were prepared not to have an organ,” said Terry Kerr, who chaired the capital campaign.

Two factors would change that decision. The capital campaign ended up exceeding initially set goals, garnering more money than expected. This was joined by a donation of $100,000 from a descendent of one of the church’s reverends. James Sherwood Broadhurst gave the money for the purpose of bringing the organ back to its former glory in the name of Rev. Albert Broadhurst, who served at the church from 1912 to 1947.

According to Rev. Martha Ishman, Albert Broadhurst was very musically inclined, promoting the use of the organ and singing during services.

With these two fortuitous windfalls, work began on repairing the organ in January. A portion of the money raised through the capital campaign would be joined with the Broadhurst donation to pay for all expenses. It was an extensive project, which saw the instrument given new wiring, a replacement for one of its motors, repainted pipes and more.

One of the biggest aspects of the renovation is the new custom-built console which controls the entire organ. Unlike the previous console, the new controller is digital, utilizing fibre optic cables to control the many mechanisms that go into producing the music.

However, all of the pipes that actually make the sounds are original. So while the console may be new, the music is very much the same.

“The sounds are the same as they were back in 1909,” said Kerr.

Behind the scenes, the organ retains much of its vintage qualities. The same towering wooden and and metal pipes are still there, though with a fresh coat of paint and a thorough cleaning.

Much of the work was performed by the Allegheny Pipe Organ Company. The business’s employee, David Richards, was at the church almost every day for a period of time during the restoration, according to Dahle.

In perhaps an unexpected move, the local auto repair business Betts Brothers Collision Inc. would end up being the ones responsible for repainting the organ pipes.

The renovation came with some temporary sacrifices. From February to July, the organ was without a console, and thus couldn’t be played. However, it ended up being worth it when the new console was brought in, which allowed music to once again fill the halls of the church, though the project was still not fully finished.

“It was too much fun to play it, even though it wasn’t all hooked up,” Dahle said of her return to playing the instrument.

The vast majority of the work relating to the refurbishment was performed in July. Since then, some minor tweaks and fine tunings have been performed, with the last adjustment taking place Tuesday.

The final cost of the project came to $141,000, well beyond the $8,300 price tag the organ came with when it was purchased in 1909. Despite the cost, Ishman is glad to have the instrument back up and running at full capacity.

“Music is at the heart of worship, and the organ fills this space in a unique way, in a powerful way, in a way no other instruments are able to,” she said.

This is not the only time the organ has undergone a renovation. The instrument first saw renovation work in 1957, though the church lacks details on what exactly was done. The next refurbishment came in 2000, when several motors, wind chests, air-box reservoirs and other parts of the organ were replaced.

The most recent work was done with the intention of making it last, according to Kerr.

“This thing has got to last another 50 years,” he said. “People would have our heads (otherwise), because that was a major concern.”

However, the Allegheny Pipe Organ Company has reassured the church leaders that they wouldn’t have to worry about the instrument anymore “in their lifetimes,” according to Kerr. Aside from standard annual maintenance work, such as tuning the pipes from time to time, no other major repairs are expected for a long time.

Those interested in hearing the organ will get their chance Sunday, at 3 p.m. Dahle will perform a song, and local musician Carl Olson will also get his chance to use the organ.

The headliner for the event is Logan Hamilton, who was the organist for the church from 2011 to 2012. Hamilton later served as the organist at Grace United Methodist Church from 2013 to 2017, and has gone on to perform many services and recitals. He currently serves as the organist for a church in Seattle, but Ishman said he jumped at the opportunity to come back to Titusville and once more perform on the St. James organ. A dedication will also be performed honoring Rev. Broadhurst’s legacy, and a reception will follow the concert in the parish hall. This event is free and open to the public.

Ray can be reached, by email, at

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