L ast Sunday, the strains of organ music floated in the warm summer air down South Summer street in Edgartown.
The stately 1830 pipe organ is back in the Federated Church, and for church organist Peter M. Boak it was a welcome return. “It was like having an old friend back at home,” Mr. Boak said after church services were over.
The pipe organ has been away for nearly 22 months for a complete restoration. The organ was rebuilt by Jeremy Adams, one of the region’s top organ builders, in his workshop in Danvers, The cost of the project was about $85,000. And now the old organ is ready for another century of music.
“I watched the congregation on Sunday morning as the choir was singing and Peter was playing the organ. That organ feeds the spirit of the congregation,” said the Rev. Gerald R. Fritz, church pastor. “You could feel the spirit in the place, ministered by that music,” he said.
A project to raise money for the restoration began five years ago. At the time, Mr. Boak could hold in his hand a pile of keyboard ivories that had broken off through the years. The big wind chest that sat in the 1830 case in front of him, the heart and soul of the instrument, would often wheeze from air leaks, especially in the dead of winter when the air was dry and the delicate wood parts to the instrument would shrink. The organ needed tuning and had lost its reliability. Mr. Boak was not always certain when he pushed a key what sound would come out. He might play a single note and other notes would join in, whispering.
Built in 1830 by Ebenezer Goodrich, in 1895 the organ was rebuilt and expanded by Hook and Hastings with a new wind chest.
The organ was last restored in 1980; at the time it had not been played for 32 years. But apparently the work done at that time compromised the instrument’s integrity, and Mr. Adams said he was taken aback when he got his first look deep inside the instrument.
The restoration fund-raising project was started by Jim and Pam Butterick of Oak Bluffs, members of the church and the choir, who donated a substantial amount of money to the church in 2006. At the time, the estimated cost of the work was $50,000. “We wanted to challenge our friends to support the effort. People got inspired,” Mr. Butterick said.
And while the church went without its organ for almost two years, Mr. Boak played the piano on the ground floor of the church hall. Oftentimes the choir, which has more than 30 members, would sing without accompaniment. Sometimes a cellist would play.
Mr. Adams, who is 71, restores organs, builds harpsichords and designs and makes wood furniture. He said the pipe organ was enormously challenging to restore and repair. He removed the organ from the church and reassembled it in his workshop, a former church in Danvers. During the restoration project, he worked on nothing else.
Two weeks ago Mr. Adams arrived on the Vineyard with a large truck and a crew of two, Dan Murphy and his 18-year-old son, Patrick, both also from Danvers. The installation of the organ (the wind chest alone weighs 500 pounds) in the organ loft took a full week and involved much lifting and block and tackle. Islanders Myles Thurlow and David Stanwood assisted with the work.
Mr. Stanwood, a specialist who restores pianos and is a piano inventor, was with Mr. Adams at the start of the project and again at the installation. “I thought my work with pianos was complex and required lots of patience,” Mr. Stanwood said. “But seeing what Jeremy did to that organ is mind-boggling. Just the scale and the number of parts involved. With a piano, everything is within reach. But an organ is large and it is spread out. For me, it was great to be involved,” he added.
On Sunday, Mr. Boak and his choir performed Henry Purcell’s 17th century bell anthem: Rejoice in the Lord always. The three soloists were Julie Williamson Moffet, Glenn Carpenter and Benjamin Hall.
The congregation was spellbound. Mr. Boak said he had been saving the Purcell piece for the occasion.
Later, he said: “It took me only 10 minutes to feel right at ease with the organ.”
Fund-raising continues to pay for the restoration of the church organ. Contributions may be sent to the Federated Church, P.O. Box 249, Edgartown, MA. 02539.