Roxborough church sets sights on restoring its historic pipes

In most cases, money talks. But at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Roxborough, it sings.

The church hosted a “Hymn Sing” on Saturday night in an effort to raise money for its “Miles for Pennies” fund, which will be used to restore and maintain the church’s historic organ.

“We wanted to praise God, that was part of it. The other was to raise money to keep it running,” said Rev. Kyle Thomlin. “We also want to show off the organ!”

The fund goes specifically to the upkeep of the organ and has been in tact for about 30 years, Thomlin said.

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“This was the first time we hosted this type of event in at least two years. It’s something we’ll definitely be continuing to do,” Thomlin said, adding that while he didn’t set a goal, the evening raised $136.50 for the fund.

Members of St. Alban’s have been enjoying the organ’s strong tones since it was first installed in the church around 1880, about two decades after the church was built.

“It’s got a beautiful tone,” said Jeff Mayer, the church’s organist who also teaches music at local high schools. “You can’t make it like this anymore.” And that means, added Thomlin, you can’t buy some of the pieces for it anymore, too. But, to most churches, music is priceless.

“Music is so important to the church simply because God calls us to the scriptures to praise him at all times,” Thomlin explained. “The Psalms in the Old Testaments are actually songs that were set to music, originally, so it’s a tradition that we carry it on throughout the church.”

The organ remains a tradition of the church, and at St. Alban’s, its tall silver pipes that stretch more than 15 feet, long off-white keyboard and deep-brown wooden frame make it a centerpiece.

“The organ is certainly a gem here,” Mayer said. “My favorite part about playing the organ is the power of the sound.”

While Mayer said it could improve, the thick sounds from the organ feel intimate from wherever one is standing in the church. The organ sounds so robust and full that it seems like a chorus is singing even when the music is only accompanied by a soloist.

Due to the digital age, however, organ manufacturers no longer make these kinds of traditional pipe organs. So finding parts to it is either difficult or impossible, and usually, very costly.

“It’s pretty tough to play, the action is just very stiff,” Mayer said. “It takes a lot of work, a lot of effort to get into the keys.”

The church has been continuously restoring the organ since it was first installed, and Thomlin said he’s not sure exactly how much money is needed to completely fix it. But, he added, the church depends on it. 

“We have to maintain this instrument,” Mayer said. “It’s really a treasure for the community and for the church.”

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