Church Organ Replacements

A man playing an organ in a church


Have you ever experienced the feeling where you know your church’s organ isn’t meeting your needs, or just plain isn’t working, and you know that you need a new instrument? In two of our recent projects, we’ve been able to help out clients in this situation.


At the Cathedral of St Michael and St John in Bathurst, NSW, the arrival of a new Bishop was the catalyst for a long-awaited renovation of the property. For a long time there had been problems with the building’s drainage, which resulted in rising damp in the sandstone walls. More than $8 million was spent to bring the building up to scratch, and the Cathedral was formally reopened in March 2021.
Little did anyone realize that the organ would soon be causing trouble. Bathurst Cathedral had a second-hand Rodgers organ which was first commissioned in 1989, first in the Catholic church in Dubbo, who then gave it to St John’s College in that town.
Dianne O’Sullivan, Music Ministry Director at the Cathedral, explains that after the renovated Cathedral was reopened, there was an enormous storm. ‘The organ took a hit from a rather nasty bit of lightning. When we went to turn it on, it had no power: it just wouldn’t hold it. So we wondered what to do.’ In the interim, they brought an old Yamaha instrument into the church, but this could only be a temporary solution.
Meanwhile, at St Andrew’s Lutheran Church, within the Glynde Lutheran Homes Incorporated retirement village in South Australia, the congregation was faced with an organ which didn’t suit the space and failed to properly encourage worship with its sound. Robert Thiele, a member of the congregation and sometime organist, details some of the limitations. ‘It had a limited pedal board. The keyboard was somewhat short, and the sound of the thing was dreadful. It would have been meant, in its day, for a very small congregation. I had descriptions from people who spontaneously mentioned to me that they thought that it was very difficult to sing with.’



Both Robert Thiele in Glynde and Dianne O’Sullivan in Bathurst had to convince stake-holders that money needed to be spent on high-quality instruments which would suit their churches. They were each put in touch with Kerry Morenos at Principal Organs.
Before coming to Bathurst, Kerry insisted that the Dean of the Cathedral, Fr Paul Devitt, should be at the meeting. ‘He said to me that he knows nothing about music, and that he didn’t see why he needed to be there,’ Dianne tells us. ‘I don’t have the power to make any decision, which is why I told him that he needed to be there, to hear what was wrong with the organ, and to find out whether it was fixable or not.’
It quickly transpired that the organ in Bathurst was beyond repair, and that a new instrument would be required. Kerry worked with Fr Paul and Dianne, and was able to provide some financial assistance from Principal Organs, to ensure that the cost would come in at the budget point where the project could happen quickly without appeal to the Diocesan Trustees.
‘Kerry organized the installation a week before Christmas: it was very full-on at the end of last year trying to get us a decent organ; then she came back at the end of January and spent two days voicing it, to make sure that the sounds were absolutely perfect. It’s a gorgeous instrument, and the sound is amazing.
‘The day that the organ was delivered and Kerry set it up, she spoke to Fr Paul, and said “Come, and I’ll get you to play something.” She put it on the automatic hymn player where you pick the tune and press play, and it started playing the Old Hundredth. He said, “Oh, I’ve just upped my musical abilities!” He could say that he played the new organ!’ Rodgers organs have 350 hymn tunes built in, together with functionality for recording and playback.
‘This is the first time that I’ve actually had somebody come and voice an organ for the space, and that made all the difference. It’s got the most beautiful sound, and the parishioners are very impressed with it: it’s gone down very well. Even the Bishop is rather impressed with the organ!
‘I was very impressed with the service we got from Kerry: she was amazing. She brought David Molloy up with her, and together they voiced our new Rodgers organ, and then he gave a small recital: it was amazing just to sit and watch and listen to. It was a wonderful experience, and now we have an organ that’s a Cathedral organ, and which will last for another forty years.’



Robert Thiele had a bit more convincing to do about why they needed a new organ in Glynde. ‘I suppose it’s like the drop of water falling on a rock: after a while, there’s a little bit of an indentation. The Pastor at the time caught that image very quickly, that a proper instrument would enhance the worship. He was very positive, and therefore suggested that I might make a deposition, sketching the needs for the congregation, and then bringing in what an adequate organ would do. I had actually been in touch with Rodgers Organs in America. I had no idea of whether there was an agent within our cooey, and they referred me to Kerry.’
As members of the congregation, and the organist, gradually began to agree that investing in a new organ might be a valuable addition to the church, Kerry came to speak to the congregation. ‘After her talk, it was only a matter of weeks before the congregation made a decision. She had actually put forward a prospective price on the Classic Inspire series. This was just at the outbreak of Covid.’
It had been hoped to install and consecrate the organ in July 2021, but the logistics difficulties of the pandemic delayed things. The speakers were delivered to the installer and kept in storage, but the main organ took longer to arrive. ‘The congregation was on tenterhooks!’ Robert tells us. The installation and consecration finally went ahead earlier this year.‘
The obvious reason for an organ in a Lutheran church is to lead and enhance the worship of the gathered congregation,’ Robert says. ‘If you have a sound like that old organ, it discourages the congregation, and you get diffidence in the singing. Therefore the sound needs to be conducive to invite and encourage eager participation in the worship. When the Rodgers was installed and consecrated, the congregation members spontaneously expressed joy with the new Rodgers installation. The organist herself was delighted with the raised volume and dynamic of the singing. They had been led to expect a near-natural pipe-organ sound, and everyone was very happy with what they have heard.’


Both Dianne and Robert are delighted with their new Rodgers organs. The lower maintenance cost of a digital instrument over a pipe organ is a big win with stake-holders. ‘I knew that a pipe organ would need to be maintained, but Fr Paul found it a bit of a shock,’ Dianne recalls. ‘When he realized that this organ could do the job perfectly, and still sound the same as having a pipe organ, he found it much more palatable.’
Robert recalls another church where a pipe organ was being renovated at a cost of $18,000. While this was going on, he was talking to the organ installers doing the work. ‘They happened to mention that they had been in Queensland, and in the church there was a Rodgers installation, and they said that that was the closest of the electronic instruments that they had heard to the sound of a pipe organ. And that’s what stimulated my interest.’
One aspect which has really impressed Robert, and the entire Glynde congregation, is the quality of the sound from their new Rodgers Inspire organ. ‘There are six speakers, four on the wall, and two substantial subwoofers. Together with the treble and upper-register speakers, they provide a very pleasing sound in the ambience of our church, which is consistent across the whole area of the building: you don’t get pockets. The trebles and the mid-range are true, and the pedal bass sounds pure and really convincing.’


AUTHOR – Richard Flynn


If your church is interested in upgrading its organ to improve engagement with the congregation’s worship, get in touch with Principal Organs today to discuss how we can help.


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