Rejoice to the pipes

Baltimore's Emmanuel Episcopal to celebrate Easter with new organ

April 12, 2009|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,

When the rector of a downtown congregation asked his flock to be generous, it took only two weeks to raise nearly $2.5 million for his 1854 church.

Along with a new roof, heating plant and state-of-the-art plumbing, Emmanuel Episcopal Church got a splendid pipe organ.

The Right Rev. Eugene Sutton, bishop of Maryland, will bless the church's new $850,000 Letourneau pipe organ at Sunday's 10:30 a.m. service. Built in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, the organ's myriad of flute, trumpet, viola and oboe pipes were lifted into a chamber overlooking the church's high altar in late winter.

"They felt we are an anchor in this neighborhood and they wanted to keep their church a vibrant center of the highest-caliber worship," said the Rev. Joseph S. Pagano, whose congregation will celebrate this Easter Sunday singing a passage from Scripture about rejoicing "to the sound of the pipes."

The congregation of 500 endorsed the new instrument, which replaces one installed in 1927.

"I think it sounds glorious," said Pagano, who praised his congregation's generosity. "It is a real commitment on this parish to their city."

He added that the church has spent nearly $3 million to date - much of that amount for a new slate roof designed to last another 100 years. Sunday school and meeting rooms within the church's sprawling physical plant at Cathedral and Read streets were also upgraded. The congregation also replaced an antiquated, "clanking" steam-heat system and addressed outdated plumbing, Pagano said.

He said the women at Emmanuel said their bathrooms were inadequate. The new ones, which he displayed on an informal tour, would be at home in a first-class hotel.

Pagano said his membership wanted to protect the Mount Vernon landmark, which has a rich collection of stained-glass windows by American artists John LaFarge and Louis Comfort Tiffany, as well as English craftsman Charles E. Kempe. Its baptismal font is the work of Daniel Chester French, the sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial. An older font was used for the christening of Wallis Warfield, later the Duchess of Windsor.

But all the congregation's eyes and ears seemed to focus on the new organ, which was introduced in three stages during the past three weeks.

"People were overwhelmed by the presence. It is what I expected - and more," said John Bowen, Emmanuel's organist and choirmaster, who characterized its sound as "large, rich and full."

His 18-member choir, whose members are all professional singers and perform with area opera companies, will perform three movements of Handel's Messiah at the Easter service.

"The organ has a big sound," Bowen said. "I was amazed at how it spoke into the space."

As part of the organ's blessing, the choir will sing the words of Job: "They sing to the tambourine and the lyre, and rejoice to the sound of the pipes."

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