re­cy­cled parts breathe new life into vin­tage church or­gan

Parish­ioners help re­hab, ex­pand in­stru­ment at St. Martin’s

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO&STATE - By Joshunda san­ders

Charles Bergstrom, left, and Al­bert Holck, mem­bers of St. Martin’s Evan­gel­i­cal Lutheran Church, helped last week on a project to re­build and add to the church’s 1930s pipe or­gan.

Dur­ing the week, St. Martin’s Evan­gel­i­cal Lutheran Church, near the Uni­ver­sity of Texas cam­pus, is usu­ally still and cool in­side, with its un­du­lated walls and softly lighted stained glass win­dows. But last week, or­gan pieces lay scat­tered around the in­tri­cately de­signed wood­work on the al­tar, and the buzz of hand­held drills filled the air while church mem­bers worked to­ward re­fur­bish­ing the cen­ter­piece of their wor­ship ser­vices.

If there has been any up­side to the clos­ing of churches around the coun­try, it has been that old or­gans — in­stru­ments cen­tral to church mu­sic across de­nom­i­na­tions — some­times find new life. At St. Martin’s, on 15th Street, the head of the church’s mu­sic pro­gram, Thomas Pavlechko, has spent two years restor­ing the 1930s pipe or­gan. He has acquired two other or­gans that have helped ex­pand the range and ver­sa­til­ity of the first or­gan and col­lected pieces from

Vic­tor Mar­silio, who runs the Ohio-based Vic­tor Or­gan Co., shows how a piece will fit on a vin­tage pipe or­gan at St. Martin’s Evan­geli- cal Lutheran Church on Wed­nes­day. He is help­ing church mem­bers re­build the 1930s pipe or­gan.

Con­tin­ued from B1 other or­gans that he hopes to in­cor­po­rate into an or­gan en­sem­ble that can cre­ate the beauty of the Gospel in sur­round sound.

With pro­fes­sional guid­ance from Vic­tor Mar­silio, who runs the Ohio-based Vic­tor Or­gan Co., Pavlechko and about 40 of the church’s more than 1,500 mem­bers have been clean­ing or­gan pipes with Pine Sol, dis­man­tling wind­ch­ests (where the or­gan pipes stand) and cat­e­go­riz­ing parts from three or­gans, all of which need restora­tion. At the same time, they’re learn­ing more about how the mu­sic they love is cre­ated.

Orig­i­nally, the church or­gan’s sound was con­fined to the back of the church. When Pavlechko played the Visser Row­land — a three-key­board or­gan built in 1982 that has more than 1,700 pipes — he re­al­ized that it was suit­able for church mu­sic from Bach’s era but not for mu­sic from the 19th cen­tury and be­yond. To add more ranks, or sets of pipes, in 1999 Pavlechko pur­chased a used Kil­gen or­gan, an elec-trop­neu­matic or­gan that can add a larger ar­ray of voices to ex­ist­ing or­gans. That or­gan was used to bet­ter ac­com­pany the choir and soloists from the back of the church.

His goal was to in­crease the range of the orig­i­nal or­gan even more by even­tu­ally adding yet an­other or­gan.

Then he left the church for six years to work in Mem­phis. When he re­turned in 2006, Pavlechko said, church mem­bers kept ask­ing when he was go­ing to com­plete his vi­sion. So, the fol­low­ing year, he found an­other Kil­gen or­gan on eBay. He plans to use it to add sound to the front of the church.

His way of col­lect­ing or­gan parts has saved tens of thou­sands of dol­lars, Mar­silio said. New or­gans are typ­i­cally $15,000 per rank, and the larger or­gans have about 100 ranks, which would run $1.5 mil­lion, Pavlechko said.

“What makes this project unique is that the con­gre­ga­tion has not only shown its sup­port in terms of money, but they’ve been able to save 75 per­cent of what it would cost for a new or­gan,” Mar­silio said. And, he said, they’ve been able to re­cy­cle parts of or­gans from churches that have folded.

“I’m not good at the key­board,” said John Som­mer, 77, a mem­ber of the choir who was work­ing on or­gan parts with his wife, Bess, on Wed­nes­day morn­ing. “But I love to lis­ten to the mu­sic.” He was one of the vol­un­teers who have helped Pavlechko fetch or­gan parts from such places as St. Louis and West, north of Waco.

In tough eco­nomic times, sav­ing money has been a god­send for the church, which hosts well-known choirs like the Min­nesota-based St. Olaf Choir and Con­spir­are, an Austin-based Grammy-nom­i­nated choral en­sem­ble. And as Jo Oliver, a mem­ber of St. Martin’s Sym­phonic Winds En­sem­ble (she plays the French horn) puts it, “How many peo­ple get to say they helped build an or­gan?”

Prob­a­bly not that many. Pavlechko hopes the project will be com­pleted within the year.

“Peo­ple in those churches made an in­vest­ment in these or­gans,” Mar­silio said. “Giv­ing them new life and com­bin­ing them into one in­stru­ment is a won­der­ful tes­ta­ment.”

Jay Jan­ner

Vic­tor Mar­silio looks through var­i­ous or­gan pieces at St. Martin’s. ‘Giv­ing them new life and com­bin­ing them into one in­stru­ment is a won­der­ful tes­ta­ment,’ he said.

Charles Oertli, left, and Jo Oliver re­move sal­vage­able pieces from oth­er­wise un­us­able parts.

Thomas Pavlechko, head of the church’s mu­sic pro­gram, hopes the or­gan restora­tion project will be com­pleted within the year. See more pho­tos with this story on­line at states­man.com.

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