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Published: Saturday, 6/6/2009

West Toledo church organ resurrected - again

Steve Emery, of Allentown, Pa., said the damage to the 1927 Aolian pipe organ from the 2005 fire at Augsburg Lutheran Church was the worst he d ever seen. Steve Emery, of Allentown, Pa., said the damage to the 1927 Aolian pipe organ from the 2005 fire at Augsburg Lutheran Church was the worst he d ever seen.
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In 30 years of restoring and repairing pipe organs, Steve Emery had never seen a case as bad as the one at Augsburg Lutheran Church.

"This was the worst," he said flatly.

An early-morning fire in December, 2005, caused a total of $2.5 million in damages to the historic West Toledo church. Among the casualties was the church's magnificent 1927 Aolian pipe organ.

The fire, believed to have been caused by an electrical problem, filled the sanctuary with smoke and produced such intense heat that plaster split apart, stained-glass windows cracked, and many of the organ's metal pipes melted into the floor.

Augsburg, which was founded in 1914 and moved into its Gothic stone building in 1922, was able to reopen 19 months after the blaze. The restoration project won an award from the Landmarks Preservation Council of Northwestern Ohio.

Tomorrow, nearly 3 1/2 years after the fire, Augsburg's pipe organ will be rededicated in a concert featuring renowned organist Charles Callahan.

For Mr. Emery, co-owner of Emery Brothers, Inc., in Allentown, Pa., the resurrection of Augsburg's pipe organ was not only a labor of love but a personal mission.

He lived briefly in Toledo as an infant, he said, was baptized at Augsburg, and used to practice on the organ while in town to visit relatives.

Some of the 3,837 pipes that had to be individually cleaned, repaired, or rebuilt and then properly voiced for pitch, volume, and timbre. Some of the 3,837 pipes that had to be individually cleaned, repaired, or rebuilt and then properly voiced for pitch, volume, and timbre.
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In 1993, his grandmother, Ruth Herman, an Augsburg matriarch, asked Mr. Emery to take a look at the pipe organ that had fallen into disrepair.

The firm he was with at the time, Petty-Madden Organ Builders, of Hopewell, N.J., took the organ apart and shipped some of the pieces back to its workshop in New Jersey, where the leather components were replaced, the pipes cleaned and refurbished, and wind chests rebuilt.

The restoration was completed in 1995 at a cost $208,000, a project that should have kept the organ in great shape for decades.

Everything changed after the 2005 fire.

The organ's wooden console was a complete loss, Mr. Emery said. Some of the metal pipes had melted, others were split along their seams. All the leather components were unusable because of heat damage.

The Rev. Chris Matthy, pastor, said even the parts that could be salvaged required a lot of work.

"All components - reservoirs, chests, wood pipes, support structures - were covered with black soot and reeked of the acrid smell caused by the smoke and fire," said Mr. Matthy.

"The volunteers who helped carry out pieces of the organ were covered with so much black soot they looked like coal miners," he said.

The pieces were shipped to the Emery Brothers' workshop in Allentown, where the metal pipes - made of zinc or a combination of tin and lead - were cleansed with a lye solution, sorted, repaired, and re-soldered.

The wooden pieces, including some of the larger pipes, were cleaned and then stored in an ozone tent for a year to remove the smell, then refinished with as many as eight layers of shellac, Mr. Emery said.

Mr. Callahan, the organist who played at the 1995 rededication of the Aolian, donated a new console at cost and Augsburg's restoration committee opted to expand the organ.

More pipes were added and load-bearing rooms were added above the sacristy to provide space for the Great and Swell chambers, which are specific arrays of organ pipes.

Emery Brothers bought a 1965 Moller pipe organ and used some of its components in restoring the Aolian.

During the restoration, some electronic digital voices were added on a temporary basis to fill in for the missing pipes. When sections of the pipes were returned to Augsburg, the corresponding digital voices were disconnected.

"The organ has not only been restored but updated, expanded, and modernized in all kinds of ways," Mr. Matthy said.

Emery Brothers which has six full-time and four part-time employees, has been voicing each of the 3,837 pipes to ensure the right pitch, volume, timbre, and tone.

The Aolian organ was originally built for the Detroit residence of William Murphy and was purchased by Augsburg in 1948 for $80,000.

Mr. Matthy said the insurance settlement from the fire did not cover all the expenses of the organ restoration, but Mr. Emery donated some of the labor and materials to do the job right.

Mr. Emery, 56, is a graduate of the Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J., where he majored in church music with an organ emphasis.

He played organ in churches and helped pay his way through college by working as a car mechanic. When the organ at a church where he played needed repair, he was asked by the church to be the liaison with the organ-building company.

"I was tired of pushing wrenches," Mr. Emery said, "and they offered me a position."

That started him in a career building and restoring organs. He worked for Petty-Madden for about nine years before venturing out on his own.

Mr. Callahan, who returns tomorrow for his second rededication of Augsburg's organ, is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and Catholic University of America in Washington.

An organist, composer, conductor, and teacher, Mr. Callahan is organist and choir director at St. Stephen's Church in Middlebury, Vt., and director of the Vermont Conservatory of Music.

The program tomorrow will include works by Johannes Sebastian Bach, Marcel Dupre, and Billy Strayhorn, concluding with Mr. Callahan's original rondo "The Rejoicing."

The rededication of the Aeolian organ will be at 7 p.m. tomorrow at Augsburg Lutheran Church, 1342 West Sylvania Ave. Admission is free.

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com or


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