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A Rochester Church Organ is Featured in The New York Times

January 1st, 2010

“The organ [at Christ Church, Rochester NY] is a unique instrument, not only because of its lovely sound, but also because it is a nearly exact copy of a late Baroque organ built by Adam Gottlob Casparini of East Prussia in 1776. The original stands in the Holy Ghost Church in Vilnius, Lithuania. There is no other contemporary organ quite like the one at Christ Church.” These were the remarks of Guy Gugliotta, writer for the New York Times in a recent editorial entitled New Pipe Organ Sounds Echo of Age of Bach.

My brother-in-law who lives in Delaware spotted the article in the NY Times and immediately sent an email to tell me he found another reason to come and visit us in Rochester—to which I wittily replied, “Like you need another reason?” But he was truly impressed—as was I. Having walked past the Christ Church on East Avenue a zillion times before, I’m embarrassed to say I had no idea there was such a local treasure inside. So last week, my family and I decided to break tradition and attend a 10 o’clock Christmas Eve service just so we could witness the Craighead-Saunders Pipe Organ first hand. My brother-in-law was so jealous…

Story of the Craighead-Saunders Organ

Christ Church, in Rochester, New York, is a parish in the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester. This Greek Revival church was built in 1894 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Located at 141 East Avenue, services at Christ Church are always open to the public.The Eastman School of Music external link had long wanted a new instrument for Christ Church external link. In 1998, David Higgs, head of the Eastman organ department, met Dr. Davidsson, the founder of the Goteborg Organ Art Center external link in Sweden. The center specializes in reconstructing historic organs. In 2000, Dr. Davidsson joined the Eastman faculty, and he and Mr. Higgs decided to expand the school’s organ collection. They formed a partnership with Goteborg and enlisted expertise from several American organ builders.

Stephen Kennedy, of the Eastman School of Music, pumps the bellows for the organ at Christ Church, Episcopal, in Rochester. The NY Times article describes the inside of the replica organ... 'Behind the soaring facade, the interior is roomy and airy like a three-story, walk-in pine closet. Pipes of all sizes leap toward the rafters, but virtually all the moving parts — stop throttles, key action, air valves and trackers — are made of wood and driven mechanically by the power of human hands and feet.'The team wanted to make a replica of an organ from the high Baroque, like one that Bach himself might have played. The instrument from Vilnius, Lithuania external link was chosen as the model for several reasons. First, although it was modified during the 19th century, it had never been restored and had seldom been repaired, so it was easy to see exactly how the original was built. Second, it was in virtually pristine condition so the team could understand how it looked when it was brand-new. And third, the instrument they built would have to fit into the west end of Christ Church. When the replica was finally installed, it was perfect — 25 feet across and 24 feet tall, stopping just short of the rose window at the church’s west end. From the altar, sunshine appears to burst from the organ’s central pinnacle. “It was meant to be,” Dr. Davidsson said.

It took four years to make the parts in Goteborg. Meanwhile, back in Rochester, specialty cabinet-makers built a new organ balcony using lumber salvaged from a 19th-century South Carolina factory. Digital scans would enable the team to reproduce the carvings of the Vilnius cabinet, including the statue of King David above the console. And German specialists painted the exterior wood surfaces with 18th-century-style gesso. The organ arrived in Rochester in 2007 and took a year to assemble.

Making its debut in October 2008, today the organ is used for Mass, choral accompaniment, and as a teaching instrument for Eastman students — the only opportunity they have in the United States to play an organ that is, in all respects, a Bach-era instrument.

Inside the beautiful Christ Church, in Rochester, New York. The Craighead-Saunders Organ at the rear of the church towers over the pews.
The instrument would be named after the Eastman organ teachers David Craighead, now retired, and Russell Saunders, who died in 1992, and whose family left the school $500,000 to begin the project at Christ Church. In all, the replica would cost $3 million. Upon feeling the sensation of its awesome sound ripple through me on Christmas Eve, I’d say it was worth every penny.

A Treasure for all of Rochester

Even if you’ve never stepped foot inside of a church before in your life, I’d strongly suggest making an exception in this case. All services at Christ Church are open to the public and one of our readers, Carlos, recommended paying a visit on January 10 at 7pm for the “Twelfth Night Celebration” external link. Billed as the official closing of the Christmas season, the sights and sounds are certain to warm your soul.

Read the Full NY Times article:
New Pipe Organ Sounds Echo of Age of Bach external link

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This entry was posted on Friday, January 1st, 2010 at 12:00 am and is filed under Rochester Destinations, Rochester News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 Responses to “A Rochester Church Organ is Featured in The New York Times”

  1. Carlos Mercado says:

    What you see and hear is the culmination of 25 years of study, searching, and research, ending in this incredible partnership between a parish church and one of the worlds greatest music conservatories. I’ve been involved from the early 80’s, and never expected to be singing next to the only organ of its kind outside of Central Europe. There are many opportunities to hear it, so, if you appreciate music and great objects of beauty, you have to hear and see this!

  2. admin says:

    Carlos, I wholeheartedly agree! This is a MUST SEE for anyone visiting Downtown Rochester. It was such an awesome experience listening to the Christmas Eve choir, bells, and harp all backed by the enormous, spine-tingling sound of that organ. The video here simply does not do it justice. For a complete listing of events at Christ Church please click here.

  3. admin says:

    Was that a harp I heard in there, or am I just imagining that?

  4. Carlos Mercado says:

    That was one of our Eastman students, Alexandra Haile Calvert. She is first-rate. A few weeks ago, she and two other harpists played the postlude from the main floor of the nave. Spectacular. I am not sure if she’s playing again for our annual 12th Night celebration this Sunday at 7pm.

  5. admin says:

    Ooh, I hope she is playing on Sunday. Organs, harps, and bells… it was like a taste of heaven right here in Rochester.

  6. Kristina says:

    Oh my gosh, I’m Lithuanian and I had no clue we had such a treasure here in Rochester! I will HAVE to go visit this Lithuanian replica soon. I’m also a wedding photographer and I must say I’m sad that none of my couples have gotten married in this church yet. It would make for some gorgeous pictures.

  7. admin says:

    @Kristina, nice photos and site! So tell me, where would you say is the best place to take wedding photos in Rochester?

  8. Kristina says:

    I really enjoy Highland Park, the Monroe Co Building, anything outside especially in the spring time.


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