When Leo Abbott moved to the South End’s Union Park neighborhood in 1984, he quickly took to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and petitioned repeatedly to become the Music Director at the church.
He would have no idea at the time, but that petition would lead him to a lifetime labor of love and fond association with the magnificent Hook & Hastings organ inside the Cathedral. It was an instrument he found in the 1980s when he first came on the job to be decrepit and run down, but one now that has come full-circle and likely sounds better than it ever has.
“I’ve spent the adult half of my life working on that organ and playing it,” said Abbott, Music Director Emeritus at the Cathedral. “I think the most fascinating part of the instrument is the unique colors of it. No two stops sound the same…I think Hook & Hastings was trying to make a name for themselves when they built it.”
To that end, the march goes on to help continue to restore and maintain the organ, and Abbott will lead the 31st annual Cathedral Organ Benefit Concert this Sunday, Oct. 25, at 3 p.m. – a concert this year that will be moved to a virtual format where spectators can watch online as an array of performers give the old organ a workout onsite at the Cathedral.
Performers this year include a world premiere by Lebanese-French organ-ist/composer Naji Hakim, performed by Abbott in honor of his 70th birthday. Other performers include:
•Rosalind Mohnsen Immaculate Conception, Malden
•Rodger Clinton Vine, Artist in-residence
Arlington Street Church, Back Bay
•Dr. Xuan He, Saint Cecilia Parish, Back Bay
•Richard J. Clark, Cathedral of the Holy Cross, South End.
While the concert will be played on what is now a fully restored organ in the ful-ly-remodeled Cathedral, there were days when such was not true – which was the genesis of the concert series.
“The organ was almost unplayable,” said Abbott. “It looked neglected, but it al-so hadn’t been played or kept up for years, at least since 1960. As electricity had become popular, the churches thought it was cheaper and would last longer to use electrical instruments.”
In fact, Abbott said, when he began investigating the condition of the organ, he found a dead pigeon that had flown into one of the larger pipes and died when it was trapped.
By 1986, he decided to do something and rallied volunteers, neighbors and oth-er musicians to come to the Cathedral basement and have “pipe cleaning parties.”
“I think we cleaned at least 2,000 of the 5,000 pipes and that took several months,” he said. “Of course, there was no water on the first floor of the Ca-thedral at that time, so we had to take them down to the back stairs and clean them in the basement. That’s where this effort really all began.”
Now, those days are a distant memory, and the renovation of the organ and Cathedral in the last few years have brought a sound to the instrument that probably didn’t exist when it was built in 1875.
“The marble tile they have now adds a lot of resonance to the building,” said Abbott. “It’s a different instrument entirely now. Hook & Hastings would have never heard this effect…It’s definitely an improvement. It’s quite magical.”
Even with COVID-19 spoiling that traditional party, that “magic” can be easily accessible from home this year, as the array of great performers will entertain through Sunday afternoon online.
The concert can be accessed at YouTube at:
•“RJC Cecilia Music”: https://www.youtube.com/c/RJCCeciliaMusic
•Cathedral of the Holy Cross ~ https://www.facebook.com/rcabcathedral/
•RJC Cecilia Music ~ https://www.facebook.com/RJCCeciliaMusic/
Participants are asked to kindly donate online to the Cathedral Organ Restora-tion Fund at https://holycrossboston.churchgiving.com/Organ.