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Glenshaw Presbyterian pipe organ restored to former glory

November 20, 2018

Nearly as long as congregants have filled Glenshaw Presbyterian Church’s pews, the same pipe organ has provided the music.

Over the summer, Hartford, Conn.-based Austin Organs Inc. restored the church’s 1928 organ in a project that will culminate with events on All Saints Sunday, Nov. 4. At 10:30 a.m., a formal dedication with festive music will occur, followed by a 4 p.m. dedicatory recital. A reception will close the day with pieces of the organ’s former components on display and photographs of the rebuild.

The total cost of the restorations was a little more than $250,000, all of which was paid for through the church’s trusts.

According to Justin Weilnau, church organist and director of music and education ministries, builders completed the church’s current Glenn Avenue property in 1927. Glenshaw Presbyterian purchased the Austin Organ in 1928 for about $14,000 ($206,400 today adjusted for inflation). Charles Heinroth, then the City of Pittsburgh’s municipal organist, performed at the organ’s dedication.

In 1967, Austin Organs rebuilt the organ, giving it a “tonal modernization.” Weilnau said the church spent $40,000 ($302,000, adjusted for today).

“We went from that orchestral and romantic-sounding pipe organ to more of a neo-baroque and bright-sounding pipe organ,” said Jake Dowgewicz, Austin Organs factory design and sales director.

Tonally, things have returned to the earlier style, he said. Church trusts financed the recent improvements.

“One of the reeds on the trumpet stops in the original organ was a tuba. In the ’60s that tuba was removed because no one is going to use a tuba, right? Come on. And as part of that rebuild, we put a tuba back into the organ. And it’s just falling back right into that flavor, if you will, that everyone is asking for right now.”

“I don’t know if the congregation is as cognizant in how they sing, but I, as the organist, can feel it in how I play the organ now. Words can’t describe how wonderful it really is,” Weilnau said of the more “warm-sounding” instrument.

In addition to updating the instrument’s tonal scope, Austin Organs upgraded the organ’s deteriorating interior leather components. Similarly, the organ’s pneumatic action, or system allowing the pipes to play, was starting to decompose giving the organ numerous unplayable notes, according to Dowgewicz.

He said his company replaced it with a solid key-switching system, in which a “key is pressed on the console (the organ’s exterior) and a signal is encoded a thousand times per second.” A signal then is sent through a fiber-optic cable that goes into the pipe chamber, where it is decoded, to make the pipe play.

Austin Organs also replaced all of the wire inside of the organ and cleaned and refinished the cherry console.

Glenshaw Presbyterian’s Tyson Fund will make a series of three recitals, including the dedication, possible.

Edward Alan Moore, East Liberty Presbyterian Church’s organist and music director, will present music by Johann Sebastian Bach, César Franck, Henri Mulet and George Shearing during the dedicatory recital. He said he also plans to play Easthope Martin’s “Evensong,” which was part of the organ’s 1928 dedication.

“The organ at Glenshaw is a wonderful instrument for leading worship services and as a stand-alone concert instrument,” he said.

“Every pipe organ is unique and designed specifically for the room where it sits. It is always cause for celebration when a congregation is dedicated to preserving an instrument like this and has taken the time and resources to ensure that it will sing for another 90 years and beyond.”

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