Towering above the newly renovated Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End is one of the most historic pipe organs in a region dotted with notably historic instruments, and next month, the newly restored organ in the newly restored Cathedral will provide a sound as historic as it will be melodic.
The 1875 E&GG Hook and Hastings Pipe Organ was the largest of its kind when installed in the Cathedral, and remains one of the most grand organs of its type in the world. It is, for those who know, one of the most impressive instruments in existence.
It has 5,300 pipes, a restored partially-electric console, special reed pipes made by Zimmerman in Paris, and a number of other intricacies – as well as being the largest extant pipe organ in the world.
However, it fell on really bad times over the years and became decrepit and non-working until Leo Abbott rescued it one piece at a time over his tenure of 33 years as the Cathedral’s director of music. Now, with a further renovation of the organ by Andover Organ Company that started after the massive renovation of the Cathedral itself (which ended this past April), the music is ready to fill up the space like it hasn’t in more than a generation.
That will happen in grand fashion during a concert by Abbot and current director of music for the Archdiocese, Richard J. Clark, on Sept. 15 at 3 p.m.
“In one sense, you can blend the music with the history of the place,” said Clark this week from the choir loft of the Cathedral, where the restoration of the organ continues daily and is about 80 percent done. “With the renovation of the Cathedral, when you change the materials inside, you change the sound. Any pipe organ, the building is wedded to the instrument. When you have stone and wood and other materials like you do now, it creates a whole new sound. What’s really remarkable is the instrument is going to be played in a way that nobody alive has heard in their lifetime.”
Many of the sounds that the amazing organ is capable of making have largely been unable to resonate for decades, Clark said. In addition to the new surroundings, there will also be an instrument once again at full capacity.
“No one in living memory has heard some of these sounds in tune,” he said. “You couldn’t do it until the dust blowing out had been done.”
John Morlock of Andover Organ said it is one of the pre-eminent examples of its kind, and having it restored is a great achievement.
“This is the E&GG Hook Co. and they were the pre-eminent organ company in the country during the middle 19th Century,” he said. “They made the most and I think the finest organs in many ways. This is the largest organ they made in their long history…The renovation makes a huge difference for the instrument. So many American churches have spoiled their architecture by putting down too much carpet.”
Added his wife Fay, “It’s extremely historic in its own right – never mind it’s a glorious instrument that makes you want to stand up and clap.”
This past Monday, Clark gave the organ a test run with most of it operable.
The sounds are ethereal, as they are meant to be, and do the job of transcending one from everyday life into the majesty of a sacred worship space. It was what was intended, and still is, for those coming to experience spiritual life through prayer, worship and music.
As Clark finished one of the hymns on Monday, he stopped playing, held up his harms, and motioned down towards the altar as the sound filled and resonated off of every corner of the church for a few seconds.
“We haven’t heard that resonance that comes from the ground up and then fills the entire space,” he said. “In the past we had a lot of carpet and it muffled the sound. It was okay in the back one-third of the church. If you knew to sit there, it sounded great. But there is a lot more church out there than just the back third.”
For Clark, he said he cannot emphasize how important Abbott was to making sure the organ wasn’t destroyed decades ago. Having pipe cleaning parties at night with friends, and raising money dollar by dollar to do little things here and there, Abbott kept it going. Now, it is very poignant to have Abbott return to play the restored instrument for its premiere to the public in a concert that the Cathedral hopes will attract many from the neighborhood.
“Leo Abbott is the real reason we are here today, that’s it,” he said. “He drove a gradual renovation, like taking a house that’s unlivable and working on it until it’s the best on the block. Now, we’re going to show it off to everyone.”