South Church's Historic Restored 1896 Casavant Organ

posted Mar 8, 2013, 6:17 AM by Amherst South Church Office   [ updated Jun 12, 2013, 9:13 AM ]
In January, 2011, the South Church Trustees appointed an Organ Subcommittee to “evaluate the current and anticipated future status of the organ and the grand piano, to develop options for their repair, replacement, or removal, and to report back to Trustees their recommendations.” The committee engaged Grant Moss and Jonathan Ambrosino as consultants to provide evaluations of the existing Berkshire organ. When the consultants agreed that the estimated cost to repair the existing Berkshire organ ($145,000 to $150,000) exceeded the value of the instrument, the Committee considered the possibilities of replacing the Berkshire organ with a new organ or a rebuilt high-quality older organ. After listening to a demonstration of an electronic organ, the only affordable new organ available, the committee decided to investigate the availability of a Casavant organ that had originally been installed at Saint Ann’s Church in Woonsocket, RI, the oldest Casavant organ in the United States.

Earlier, when the Casavant organ was offered for sale, Mr. Parkman S. Shaw, Jr., of Brookline, Mass, purchased it and made arrangements with Messrs. Czelusniak et Dugal, Inc. of Northampton to remove the instrument so that it could be restored and installed in a church in the greater Boston area. Two Boston sites were considered, but neither proved to be acceptable. The Casavant organ was then put in storage, and Mr. Czelusniak was commissioned to find a new home for it. Fortunately, the size of the Casavant organ was very close to the size of our Berkshire organ, and learning of South Church’s interest in the instrument, Mr. Shaw offered to sell it to our church for $1, with the understanding that Mr. Czelusniak would rebuild and restore it. In September 2011, the Organ Committee recommended to the Trustees that they contract with Messrs. Czelusniak et Dugal, Inc. to rebuild and install the 1896 Casavant organ. The Trustees endorsed this recommendation and the Congregation approved it in January 2012.

In order to support the weight of the new instrument (1 and 1/3 tons), and to accommodate its size, David Cody redesigned and rebuilt portions of the front of our sanctuary. He also crafted a new lectern that was both functional and attractive. During the summer of 2012, William Czelusniak and his crew removed the Berkshire organ and installed the rebuilt Casavant organ. On October 14, 2012, Grant Moss (Smith College Organist and Senior Lecturer) gave the dedicatory recital to a standing-room only audience of more than 300 people, including organists, choir directors, and organ builders from the area and Boston. Mr. Shaw also attended the concert. Critical reaction to the instrument was uniformly positive, and South Church was congratulated for having saved a remarkable, historically important organ. Marilyn Brayne, our Director of Music, is delighted that the Casavant organ allows her to further enhance our worship. 

The Organ Committee: 
Greg Brooks (2011), David Cody, Alice Morse, Nancy Torrey, Marilyn Brayne (ex officio), Will Bridegam, Chair
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