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Major organ restoration project at St. Matthew's almost complete

Casavant technician Steve Miller of Calgary works to install a new pipe organ in St. Matthew’s Cathedral Church on Tuesday afternoon. The organ comprises more than 2,200 individual lead alloy pipes.

COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN Enlarge Image

Casavant technician Steve Miller of Calgary works to install a new pipe organ in St. Matthew’s Cathedral Church on Tuesday afternoon. The organ comprises more than 2,200 individual lead alloy pipes.

This should be music to the ears of the parishioners of St. Matthew’s Cathedral Church — the long-awaited restoration of their beloved pipe organ is nearly complete.

Steve Miller is in the process of reassembling the console and pipes of the St. Matthew’s Cathedral Church organ as part of a restoration project that was launched about three years ago.

Enlarge Image

Steve Miller is in the process of reassembling the console and pipes of the St. Matthew’s Cathedral Church organ as part of a restoration project that was launched about three years ago. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)

It will take years for some of the members of St. Matthew’s Cathedral Church to pay off the pledges they made to ensure their organ plays on — but it sounds like it will be worth it.

"They wanted the organ to be restored, they think it’s an important part of our worship," said Chris Macdonald, the Rector’s Warden for St. Matthew’s.

The organ — manufactured by renowned Quebec-based organ-maker Casavant Frères — was purchased new in 1959 for about $39,000 and dedicated to the memory of those who died in the world wars.

But after years of church services, concerts and lessons for students, the organ showed signs of wear. Its keys were sticking, and damage to some pipes had changed their notes.

About three years ago, the church began fundraising toward the $180,000 needed to restore the instrument.

Parishioners made pledges, some of which will take up to five years to pay off. Two grants totalling about $25,000 were also secured from Manitoba foundations.

So far, $150,000 to $160,000 has been raised.

In May, 330 of the organ’s more than 2,200 pipes were sent to Casavant for repair.

Those included some eight-foot pipes that needed their collapsed "toes" replaced with stronger metal. Other pipes were sent to be "re-voiced," to have the quality of their note "softened."

In addition, the organ will receive an upgraded control system — that connects its keys to the pipes — that is completely electronic.

The new system will make the organist’s role easier by allowing the instrument to be pre-set to specific sounds that can be achieved with a push of a button.

The console has also been refurbished. The keyboard has been rebuilt, although its ivory keys remain, and the console’s mahogany has been refinished.

It’s now the task of Casavant technician Steve Miller, of Calgary, to restore the organ to its harmonious whole by reassembling its console and pipes. He will also install improved wiring.

As of Tuesday, that would appear to be a daunting task. The organ’s cables and pipes lay spread along church pews.

But the St. Matthew’s organ is in good hands.

Miller has spent 28 years with Casavant as a technician, and worked on organs in some of the most famed venues in Western Canada.

He designed the control system used in every major organ in the world, including those played in Westminster Abbey and the Sydney Opera House.

The St. Matthew’s organ represents a significant period in Casavant Frères history, Miller said. When it was made, it represented a transition to a more modern instrument in the neo-Baroque style marked by a "brighter" or "edgier" tone.

Following the restoration, listeners will notice a difference in the organ’s sound. It will be less "bright," or piercing, to better match changing general musical tastes. As a whole, its sound will be more "cohesive," Miller said.

"They should expect a sound that is more firm, warmer, more approachable," he said.

Miller arrived in Brandon on Monday and expects his work will be done by next Wednesday, after spending about 100 hours at his task.

Perhaps the most difficult part of his job will be climbing through the organ’s wood-framed chamber hundreds of times to put pipes back in place.

That includes scaling a ladder, climbing up through a trap door to a second level within the organ to reinstall some of the eight-foot pipes.

The organ will be played during services as soon as it’s ready. It will be rededicated and played for its first post-restoration public performance at 3 p.m. on Sept. 21.

» ihitchen@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @IanHitchen

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 13, 2014

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This should be music to the ears of the parishioners of St. Matthew’s Cathedral Church — the long-awaited restoration of their beloved pipe organ is nearly complete.

It will take years for some of the members of St. Matthew’s Cathedral Church to pay off the pledges they made to ensure their organ plays on — but it sounds like it will be worth it.

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This should be music to the ears of the parishioners of St. Matthew’s Cathedral Church — the long-awaited restoration of their beloved pipe organ is nearly complete.

It will take years for some of the members of St. Matthew’s Cathedral Church to pay off the pledges they made to ensure their organ plays on — but it sounds like it will be worth it.

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