Restored organ in fine voice

6 June 2007 St Mary of the Angels welcomed home its restored pipe organ at the end of April with a concert that some in the audience have described as…

6 June 2007

Restored organ in fine voice Archdiocese of Wellington St Mary of the Angels welcomed home its restored pipe organ at the end of April with a concert that some in the audience have described as an ‘amazing thing’.

‘The church has its organ back and all of Wellington is the richer for it.’

The organ had been out of action for more than a year during a long and eventful restoration process, and the musical evening showed off the restored organ’s special qualities to the full.

The varied programme included contributions from the St Mary of the Angels’ Choir and the Korean Community Choir, along with the audience singing some favourite hymns in the wonderful atmosphere of St Mary of the Angels’ Church. In the course of the evening Archbishop John Dew blessed the restored organ.

The organ is named in honour of St Mary of the Angels’ long-serving director of music, Maxwell Fernie.

Under his leadership, St Mary of the Angels became renowned for its organ and choral music. Mr Fernie died in 1999 but his influence on New Zealand church music continues to this day.

The organ is the only one of its type in New Zealand and was at the heart of the organ revival movement in this country. It comprises three manuals and pedals with some 65 speaking stops and a great many coupling options that give the instrument a unique flexibility to interchange the stops or sounds available between the manuals.

It was built in 1958 by George Croft and Son Limited of Auckland to Maxwell Fernie’s tonal design and pipe-scaling. Max Fernie also supervised, both in England and New Zealand, the voicing of the pipes and the construction of the instrument. The total project cost six thousand pounds.

Since its last restoration in 1984, the organ had suffered quite serious water and some rodent damage. The damage affected the instrument to the extent that several ranks of pipes no longer functioned and other pipes were prone to malfunction. In addition, the original electrical system needed replacing. Work was also needed on the choir loft and church roof to prevent future water damage.

The South Island Organ Company of Timaru began the restoration shortly after Easter 2006 and the organ was due to be fully operational again in time for Christmas 2006. Unfortunately this planning went awry when the truck transporting the organ console back to Wellington was involved in a major accident and the fully restored console sustained significant damage, delaying its return by several months.

The full cost of the project – including refurbishment of the choir loft and installation of water protection measures – was approximately $232,000 and fundraising efforts involved the wider Wellington community. A large number of parishioners (current and past) have been extremely generous both financially and with their time. The parish particularly acknowledges the fantastic efforts of choir members who were responsible for two outstandingly successful events – the “Maxwell Fernie Memorial Organ Fundraising Dinner” at Parliament in April 2006 and a midwinter ‘Feast of Fools’ event held in the Wellington Town Hall.

The restoration appeal has also benefited from generous contributions received from a number of trusts and organisations including The Wellington Community Trust, The Society of Mary, The Catholic Foundation, Korean Catholic Community, Festival of Lunchtime Music Trust and The Pelorus Trust.