Spruce-up for venerable organ

2018-03-27 13:30
Organ builders from the Jan Zielman Orrelbouers firm in Pretoria, Archie Devere (left) and Ananias Teane, have their hands full with servicing one of Pietermaritzburg’s oldest and most treasured pipe organs, installed in 1904, at the St George’s Garrison Anglican Church. Devere reckoned dissembling and cleaning the ancient musical instrument was not that time-consuming, but the re-tuning was what they expected to take longer.

Organ builders from the Jan Zielman Orrelbouers firm in Pretoria, Archie Devere (left) and Ananias Teane, have their hands full with servicing one of Pietermaritzburg’s oldest and most treasured pipe organs, installed in 1904, at the St George’s Garrison Anglican Church. Devere reckoned dissembling and cleaning the ancient musical instrument was not that time-consuming, but the re-tuning was what they expected to take longer. (Ian Carbutt)

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One of Pietermaritzburg’s oldest and most treasured pipe organs, located at the St George’s Garrison Anglican Church, was taken to pieces last week for its first service since 1926.

The organ was built in 1904 by local organ builder William Kemp. He  also installed the first organ in the Pietermaritzburg City Hall in 1893, but had to replace it in 1901 after the first one was destroyed in the great fire of 1898.

When The Witness visited the church last week, most of the 678 pipes had been taken out to be cleaned and fixed, amid “10 000 bits scattered around the church”, as Jack Frost, the St George’s organist, put it.

He said the organ would be ready for the Sunday after the Easter weekend and in the meantime, the church would be using a piano. Frost estimated the cost of servicing the ancient musical instrument to be about R45 000.

Archie Devere, organ builder from the Jan Zielman Orrelbouers firm in Pretoria, who is tasked with servicing the organ with his colleague Ananias Teane, said they had started dissembling the organ on Thursday last week and expected to have it back together again in no time.

“We still need to tune it and ensure that every note is precisely as it should be and that might take some time to complete,” said Devere.

Frost said what made the St George’s organ so special was that fact that the organ has not been changed or rebuilt.

“To this day, the organ is still playing exceptionally well. Some notes had stopped working but everything will be working well after the servicing of the organ,” said Frost.

Detailing the history of the St George’s organ and the church built in 1898, Frost said the space to the right of the chancel, which is now occupied by the organ, was once reserved for the military band.

Frost said the organ was described as “the first order for a grand organ to be built completely in the colony” and it was dedicated by the bishop (together with new memorial windows) on December 15, 1903.

“The then chaplain, Newman, wrote to Kemp that ‘we are all much pleased with the organ you have built for us’,” while Bishop Baines recorded that “the organ built by Mr William Kemp for St George’s Garrison Church is, in my opinion, a beautiful instrument, thoroughly good throughout’. It was heard for the first time in combination with the band of the West Yorkshire Regiment at the Parade service on Easter Day of 1904,” said Frost.

According to Frost, who has been the organist at the church for four years, the first organist to serve any length of time was a Mr Walden, who occupied the organ bench from 1905 to 1913.

In September 1927 Willie Poole was appointed to the office of organist and choirmaster.

When Willie Poole celebrated his seventieth anniversary as organist, Dr Harry Bramma, director of the Royal School of Church Music, noted that “there have been some very long-serving organists during the course of history. Thomas Tomkins was organist at Worcester Cathedral for 60 years and Sir George Thalben-Ball organist of the Temple Church for 62. These fade into insignificance when set against your 70.”

A Natal Witness editorial commented that “according to the Royal School of Church Music this [anniversary] makes [Poole] the longest serving organist of whom they have record.

“It is an astonishing feat of quiet loyalty and devotion which is unlikely to be equalled, let alone surpassed.

“As the country’s oldest newspaper The Natal Witness congratulates the world’s most enduring organist who has brought to Pietermaritzburg a most unusual record.”

“Willie Poole’s long service as organist finally came to an end when he played his last service on December 19, 1999. He died in February, 2000. His tenure of 72 years and three months will surely never be equalled, let alone surpassed — anywhere,” said Frost.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  history

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