Episcopal Diocese of Rochester
Joy in Christ, as a way of life

Pipe organ being restored to its glory

Being in charge of a $1.2 million project to restore the massive, 84-year-old organ at St. Paul\'s Episcopal Church in Rochester has meant more to Matt Parsons than just hard work.

It has been a link to the past.

His great-great-grandfather, Gideon Parsons, helped build the organ, which was constructed in Boston by E.M. Skinner, America\'s foremost organ company in the early 1900s. His grandfather, Bryant Parsons Sr.; father, Richard; and uncle, Calvin, also have worked on maintaining the 4,474-pipe instrument over the years.

'My great-great-grandfather\'s signature is on some of the pipes,' said Matt Parsons, 31, who is the project manager, 'so that was pretty cool to see.'

St. Paul\'s parishioners will have to wait until late this fall to hear how splendid the organ sounds once again. That\'s when the 18-month task of tearing out, restoring and then re-installing the organ is scheduled for completion. 'Tonal finishing' and 'voicing,' to make sure the two-story organ sounds as it should, should be ready by this Christmas, and concerts will start in 2012, said Bob Frank, St. Paul\'s church warden.

'Obviously, music and tradition at St. Paul\'s is very important,' Frank said Tuesday, the second day of the re-installation process. '(Parishioners) are thrilled. They\'ve been very supportive.'

More than half of the funds for the project have come from their donations.


Despite usual maintenance on an organ this size — pipes are made from metal and wood and range in length from 8 inches to 32 feet — sound quality was deteriorating for decades as dirt accumulated in pipes. Frank said before this restoration, the first complete job ever performed on this organ, more than 200 of its pipes couldn\'t be tuned or had been silenced because the valves no longer worked.

For years, though, the skill of organists, particularly David Craighead — St. Paul\'s organist from 1955 to 2003 — masked some of the flaws. Talk of a complete restoration started about four years ago, Frank said.

Canandaigua-based Parsons Pipe Organ Builders was a perfect fit for the job because of its history with the instrument. 'We\'re happy to go with a local company, too,' Frank said.

Two Connecticut-based organ companies helped out as well.


Since the removal of the organ, a parishioner donated a 500-pipe organ he owned to be used at St. Paul\'s until the original is ready.

Parsons has, at times, used nearly all of its 12 employees on the St. Paul\'s project. Most of its work is done in the Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo areas and south of here into Pennsylvania, but it also has done jobs in Virginia, Texas and California.

He said there are only about 20 to 30 organ builders in the country that handle jobs the size of St. Paul\'s. An average-sized job for Parsons would be an organ with about 2,500 pipes. This organ is nearly double that.

'Around the period this organ was built, they used such quality material to build it. Organs then were used to imitate an orchestra,' said Justin Maxey, 23, assistant organist at St. Paul\'s.

'No one builds organs like this now, and if they did, they wouldn\'t use these types of materials, so you can\'t put a price tag on it.'


In addition to cleaning every pipe, each leather valve was removed, cleaned, repaired or replaced (if needed) and re-glued, Parsons said.

'We\'ve got 12,000 to 13,000 man hours in on this,' Parsons said.