Mon | Aug 19, 2019

Church organs on the decline

Published:Wednesday | March 21, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Dwight McBean shows a section of the organ's pipes at the Kingston Parish Church, South Parade, Kingston.
The console (foreground) and some of the pipes of the Kingston Parish Church's pipe organ.

Dwight McBean knows a lot about pipe organs, having been trained for five years in the United Kingdom to maintain and tune the instruments custom-built for the spaces - mostly churches - in which they are installed. As a certified tuner, McBean is responsible for organ maintenance across the Caribbean, but he relates a tale of woe about the state of many a pipe organ in downtown Kingston.

To an extent that includes the Henry Willis & Sons, pipe organ which has been at the Kingston Parish Church since 1910, replacing the instrument built by Samuel Green which was destroyed in the 1907 earthquake which devastated Kingston. However, although in dire need of repair, the 108-year-old organ's condition, is nowhere near as bad as some that McBean has laid eyes and hands on at other churches.

"There are about eight to nine pipe organs in Kingston. All of them in the vicinity and in downtown Kingston are in the same condition," McBean said, speaking to The Gleaner at the Kingston Parish Church recently. And that condition is not good, McBean naming the Presbyterian St Andrew Scots Kirk on Duke Street, Coke Methodist at East Parade, and St George's Anglican on East Street among those where the instruments are in need of attention.

With singing key to the worship rituals, the pipe organ serves a function which goes beyond musical accompaniment.

"The pipe organ, they say, is the closest instrument to the human voice. That is why it became the chosen instrument to accompany voices in the church. It uses air, like we do to speak and sing," McBean said.

He points out that many state-level functions are held at the Kingston Parish Church and "it would be very embarrassing if the organ stopped working during one of them." That apart, in its present condition, the instrument is functioning far below where it should and is at the point where repairs - including of damage to airways caused by motor vehicle exhaust - are urgent before further dramatic decline.

To assist in the process of raising 10,000 pounds sterling to repair the organ, McBean has arranged 'A Good Friday Evening of Sacred & Classical Music', at the Kingston Parish Church on March 30. It features The Ecumenical Chamber Chorale, Archie Dunkley (organ), Mickel Gordon (piano), the Mona Campus Male Chorus, Musical Apostles Steel Band, June Thompson-Lawson (soloist), Stephen Shaw-Naar (piano), Carole Reid (soloist) and Steven Woodham (violin).