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Organ pipes from closed churches join in one

Pieced together from the pipes of various closed parishes around the Albany Diocese, the new organ for St. James parish in Chatham brings hope, unity and a lush, traditional sound.

"I hope this will be a comfort in some way for those who struggle with the closing of their churches," said Rev. Gary Gelfenbien, pastor at St. James. "These treasures are gifts that continue on. These pipes will now sing out in the little town of Chatham, which could not afford a pipe organ."

The ranks of pipes, coming from parishes such as Sacred Heart in Cohoes, St. Casimir's in Amsterdam and Our Lady Help of Christians in Albany had to be packed up and moved from their various locations.

The pipes were then refinished, re-voiced and rescaled to become a part of the new, harmonious instrument now in St. James Church, explained Dave Vredenburg of the Diocesan Liturgical Commission, who is also an organ consultant for the Diocese.

A concert to reveal the sound of the organ is scheduled for Oct. 3 at St. James.

The idea of combining many instruments into one occurred to Mr. Vredenburg when the Chatham parish was in need of a new organ. He knew that in recently-closed parishes lay some usable pieces of church organs that could be recycled, but were gathering dust.

"It's an exciting experience," said Maria Lull, chair of St. James' building and grounds committee. "I've seen [the new organ] from its inception and already heard some of the beautiful music it can make. I know it will have a long-term educational and inspirational effect on the Mass."

Old parts, new sound
Because St. James parish has a strong musical program, parishioners worked hard to do more than simply piece together an organ. Psychologist and parishioner Harry Schmitz was recruited to advise Father Gelfenbien and Mr. Vredenburg on the sound and how it will affect the congregation in what he calls "the psychology of sound.

"Catholicism is a faith of the senses," Dr. Schmitz told The Evangelist. "We are so influenced by the sights, the sounds, the smells, the touch, and the movements of the sacraments. The music of this organ will enhance, aid and add another dimension to the worship here."

Joining legacies
The piecing together of this instrument can also be seen as an opportunity for Catholics of the community to come together, whether part of an active parish or a closed one.

"I'm excited for the congregation," said Mr. Vredenburg. "This is an example of good stewardship toward closed churches to use these pipes crafted by our forebears and not let them go to waste."

The new organ is also a metaphor for the parish consolidations that have occurred in recent years as part of the diocesan "Called to be Church" pastoral plan.

In addition to using the pipes of other churches, Father Gelfenbien hopes to encourage further unity by inviting members of surrounding parishes to future organ concerts and adult education courses on the importance of music and its history in the liturgy.

The first course offered will be on the history of the piece of music chosen for the Oct. 3 concert, a requiem by Maurice Duruflé, which Father Gelfenbien describes as "a sublime experience."

Dr. Schmitz looks forward to the concert as an opportunity to evangelize.

"This event shows that new life can be given to these churches that have been closed or merged together. We're all parishioners of the Diocese," he observed. "Pieces of their home parishes can still be used for worship, and their patrimony does live on."



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