Thirty years have now passed since Christmas Day, 1990, when ten of us hopped into cars and UHAUL rental trucks and traveled to the Munn Avenue Presbyterian Church in East Orange, New Jersey to remove the Skinner Organ that had come up for sale only two months before. That was the beginning of what would be an extraordinary adventure in many and unexpected ways.
We brought that organ back on December 31, and placed it in its home for the next few years—first at Hilltop Plaza and then, Frank Joy’s. (What a Saturday that was when that organ came out of there!) Over the next two decades, those pipes and components, along with many other homeless and astoundingly beautiful pipes, chests and consoles, found their way to what would be affectionately and simply known as “organ storage”. That building, just off Swamp Road in Brewster, had only recently come open for rent at exactly the time we needed such a place as that. Given that it was the location in which plastic syringes were invented and produced for hospitals, there was a great deal of space and more than enough electrical power. (Amazing how God led us to such a spot just at the time that business had to move for having become so large!) We were able to move out of that building in Summer 2019, grateful that it had served such a purpose so well and so long.
And, until November of last year, the console from The Munn Avenue Skinner served as the nerve center for our organ. Even tonight, we are still seeing parts of the Munn Avenue organ Console which were incorporated into the new console as well as looking at a crafted wood Console shell meticulously retaining the spatial dimensions and aesthetics of that original console from 1929. We are also hearing some of her pipes still singing.
Nelson Barden joined on in the Spring of 1995 (though he had graciously taught us how to make pipe trays before we traveled to East Orange!). The Basilican form for our church required an entirely new approach to the placement of the organ and Nelson cottoned onto that very quickly. In no time, the concept of a surround sound instrument was born. With that, Nelson and his shop swung into action. (Over these years, that shop has included many of us on both a long- and short term basis including many happy days of pipe “move-ins” to the church!)
How exciting those early days were—bidding on Pedal Trombones longer than many of the Rock Harbor Fishing Fleet boats, trophy ivory from tusks off of game room walls to make new manuals, not to mention various organs that had been removed, placed into storage and then were subsequently replaced with electronic organs rather than being restored. Nelson knew exactly where to find these lost and silenced treasures.
Throughout this entire journey, the retrieval and restoration of organs whose voices were once alive and singing, remained paramount —for these voices needed to sing again. We now have an organ that represents sounds from synagogues, Catholic cathedrals and parishes, and many Protestant denominations. All told, the pipes and many other components of seventy organs now create the sounds of the organ at the Church of the Transfiguration. In keeping with the choir and community she is meant to support, she has come to life through a maxim we often use in choir—“one voice, many colors.”