Historic cathedral pipe organ being restored, resurrected

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By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff

FALL RIVER, Mass. — Faithful attending Mass celebrations at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in Fall River will soon be enjoying the rich, rumbling sounds of an authentic Hook pipe organ, thanks to the meticulous restoration efforts of the Peragallo Organ Company of Paterson, N.J.

According to Father John C. Ozug, rector of the Mother Church for the Diocese of Fall River, the long-awaited plan to resurrect a pipe organ for the cathedral is finally coming to fruition. With the blessing and approval of Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., work began in January to repurpose the pipe organ previously housed inside the former Sacred Heart Church in the city — an original 1883 model built by E. and G.G. Hook and Hastings — along with components from the former St. Louis Parish Chadwick pipe organ and the defunct Kilgen model inside the cathedral into a new instrument for St. Mary’s.

“The Pipe Organ Fund begun by Father Edward Healey more than 14 years ago made good progress due to the great generosity of many cathedral parishioners, friends, business associates and grants,” Father Ozug noted in a recent bulletin announcement. “Those funds are the foundation for undertaking this project now.”

The newly-refurbished, Frankenstein-like creation will offer a “tone quality and sound that will be unparalleled,” according to John Peragallo IV, who is overseeing the design and implementation of the organ restoration project for his family’s company.

“The majority of the organ will be the Sacred Heart pipe work, but there will be a number of ranks that will be used from the previous instrument that was (in the cathedral) and had been stored at the school,” Peragallo added. “We’re going to utilize the best of everything so we can have a top-notch instrument. But in all ways, it will be considered a new instrument once it’s done.”

Noting that it’s a “common thing” these days to restore pipe organs from spare parts, Peragallo said it also makes sense from a parish’s stewardship perspective and it allows the Church to preserve a piece of history.

“The opportunity for a church to be able to put in a pipe organ is becoming ever more rare,” he said. “That you’re able to use such an historic instrument is very unique; and from a company standpoint, we’d rather see this historic Hook organ be used and restored rather than trying to sell new pipes to the cathedral.”

As someone very familiar with this particular organ — he would personally come to Sacred Heart Church once or twice a year to fine-tune the instrument and make adjustments for special celebrations — Peragallo said he’s excited to hear it within the confines of its new home.

“The organ has a tone quality that is really unique and we want to utilize that tone quality as much as we can within the new acoustic (setting),” he said.

But such an undertaking may be easier said than done.

Crew members from the Peragallo Company began work January 20 by packing up the Hook organ at Sacred Heart Church and delivering it, piecemeal, to St. Mary’s Cathedral. Then they removed the existing pipe work from the cathedral to be transported back to the company’s factory in New Jersey.

“We’re going to be revoicing the entire instrument to work as one,” Peragallo said. “What I mean by revoicing is we’re going to spend time listening to each pipe and changing the tonal characteristics of each pipe so that they cohesively fit from rank to rank. If you were to think about a chorus — you have an alto, soprano, tenor and bass — each member of that chorus can produce 61 independent pipe sounds.”

Those individual sounds — or notes — are triggered by the keyboard on the organ console.

“Each keyboard has 61 keys on it, so when you pull a knob on the organ, it activates 61 independent pipes that will play on an assigned keyboard,” he said. “So in this particular organ, there’s going to be four divisions of stops in the back; and there will be four rooms that will produce pipe sounds within the church proper. So you pull on a draw knob, and 61 wind-blown pipes are going to be played from the left side of the keyboard all the way to the right side of the keyboard. As you go up the keyboard and the notes get higher and higher, the pipes get shorter and shorter.”

The longest pipes, measuring 16 feet in length, produce the deeper bass tones that Peragallo described as “warm, wide sounds powerful enough to shake the floor.” Shorter eight-foot pipes provide the alto, or midrange, sound; while pipes that are four feet or smaller produce the “higher-pitched sounds that are brighter in texture.”

“With this organ, you’re going to have a number of different unique tonal colors,” Peragallo said. “You have your typical organ sound — in this instrument there are about five or six diapasons that produce the very typical, recognizable organ sound. Those diapasons are going to be scaled and redesigned to fit properly within this acoustic. Once we finish cleaning the pipe work, we’re going to be putting them on our machine here in the factory (to tune them). We want to really make sure that once we’re done, the organ really fills the space properly.”

While the majority of the pipes are made of metal — typically a tin, zinc or lead composite — Peragallo said others are made entirely of wood. It varies depending on the tone they are designed to produce.

“In this particular organ, the open wood stocks are of tremendous quality,” he said. “I’m looking forward to hearing them because they are really going to rumble the building. All the reeds function much like the clarinets or saxophones in an orchestra, with actual moving reed tongues inside the pipes. All of those will be taken apart and we’ll be burnishing the reeds and reassembling them so they speak properly.”

Once the painstaking process of cleaning and fine-tuning the pipes is complete, Peragallo said they will be transported back to Fall River and the delicate task of reassembling the various components will begin. These include a series of mechanical “slider windchests,” the blower and bellows that channel the air up into the pipes, and an electronic digital switching system that “allows the keyboard to talk to the mechanics underneath each of the pipes.”

“We’re going to be moving back onsite to put these wind pipes back in place, along with all the mechanics behind it and all the electrical equipment as well,” he said. “The console — or key desk — of the instrument is going to be completely redesigned for this new scheme, too, so it’s not going to be as simple as just plugging in the old organ from Sacred Heart Church, or even the one currently in the cathedral. It’s going to be something completely new in terms of look and function. There are components of the (existing) console that we’re going to reuse, but it’s going to be custom-built of red oak stain to match the cathedral finish.”

“The Peragallo Company has been very helpful in proposing a specification that will allow us to get the best instrument possible for a limited budget,” Father Ozug wrote in his parish bulletin. “The Pipe Organ Funds on hand will cover just more than half the cost of the project, (so) we will soon renew fund-raising efforts trusting that the goodwill of all who appreciate the role that music plays in our parish and diocesan worship will support us with donations and pledges.”

“We didn’t want to spend money on anything that wasn’t necessary, because the organ at Sacred Heart was in good shape and we didn’t see any reason not to reuse it,” Peragallo concurred. “But in most ways, it’s going to be a new (instrument).”

As work proceeds on the restoration project, Peragallo said he anticipates being back onsite in Fall River just after Easter to, appropriately enough, reassemble the resurrected pipe organ inside the cathedral.

“Once the mechanics of the instrument are finished being installed, the Peragallo family will revoice each pipe in the organ over a period of a few weeks to properly fill the new acoustic of the cathedral,” he said.

And Father Ozug expects to have a formal unveiling and dedication recital shortly thereafter.

“All donations, large and small, will be recognized in the program booklet for the dedication recital,” Father Ozug noted. “We look forward with great anticipation to the completion of the organ, and the public acknowledgement of gratitude to all donors who will have made our ‘pipe dream’ come true.”

“The movement to incorporate a pipe organ into St. Mary’s Cathedral has been many years in the making now,” Peragallo added. “We are very proud to have been entrusted with this work and look forward to bringing the sounds of such a unique pipe organ to serve the Fall River Diocese once more.”

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