Sat | Dec 7, 2019

Diverse concert for pipe organ's 100th birthday

Published:Sunday | May 24, 2015 | 12:00 AMDave Rodney
A partial view of the console of the 1915 J. W. Walker & Sons pipe organ at St George's Parish Church in Savanna-la-Mar, now celebrating 100 years.
Parishioners and visitors at St George's enjoying an evening of classical music at the church.

The pipe organ is the centerpiece of the musical ministry of many great churches and cathedrals around the world. One such organ in Jamaica, the J. W. Walker & Sons pipe, at the St George's Parish Church in Savanna-la-Mar is celebrating its 100th birthday this year.

To commemorate the milestone, a celebratory concert will be held at St George's this evening at 4:00. The very diverse featured talent will include distinguished organ performer Dwight McBean, an appearance by the riveting Musical Apostles Steel band from the Kingston Parish Church, saxophonist Seymour Heron, tenor Kiffa Davis, and Westmoreland's own four-time festival song winner, Roy Rayon.

The Savanna-la-Mar organ has a glittering history that is deserving of the celebration. Detailed records from Walker & Sons, organ builders in London, show that the instrument in Savanna-la-Mar may be one of the oldest in the English-speaking Caribbean. This treasure consists of two manuals with 58 notes each and a foot pedal.

The organ is encased in mahogany and cedar, beautifully varnished for protection against humidity, and all the screws an rivets are made of brass. It is probable that the new 1915 roof scraper would have replaced a much older pump organ that was eventually retired at the now-demolished church hall that was located in the churchyard adjacent to the belfry.

Over a century, this formidable parish pipe that cost £534 in 1915, and that was shipped to Jamaica during the challenging period of World War 1, has played for thousands of morning services, evening songs, feast days, weddings, funerals, baptisms, school services, concerts, an independence celebration and various other gatherings.

More recently, the organ was used for the performance of a visiting handbell choir from New York as well as for the standing room-only funeral of the late popular government minister, Roger Clarke.


parish legend


The organ was ordered in 1914 by the then rector, Rev Charles Henderson Davis, nearly a decade after the present church building on Great George's Street was consecrated and brought into use. But by the time the organ arrived, Henderson-Davis had died, and the new instrument fell into the custody of a priest who later became a parish legend, the late Canon Henry Cope, who served at St George's for 41 years, from 1915 to 1956.

The organ has been continuously upgraded and refurbished over the years, evolving from an instrument operated by billows to a fully modern, motorised electrical masterpiece, and its glistening pipes stand majestically atop the console. The upgrades have not been inexpensive, but thy have greatly enhanced the tonal quality, the dynamic range and the overall performance and integrity of this Walker & Sons pipe organ. It has survived the Frome Riots of 1938, the earthquake of 1957 and hurricanes Charlie, Flora, Gilbert and Ivan.

Surprisingly, in the period of 100 years, the church appears to have seen very few organists. Among them, the late Andrew Aguilar, who served for 35 years and who owned a book store in town; the late Lancelot Tucker, who was principal and owner of a commercial college; Mrs Palone Williams, who has already served over 50 years; Mrs Pet Smith, who migrated; and the newest addition, Mrs Melody Massey.

"We are proud of our musical heritage here at St George's as we continue to change with the times, and we want everyone from near and far to come out to enjoy this wonderfully diverse musical treat as we celebrate 100 years with our pipe organ," Mrs Massey told The Sunday Gleaner.