Funding sought for organ rebuild


The historic 19th century Halmshaw organ was successfully retrieved from the earthquake-damaged Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Christchurch late last year, but the instrument in not in great shape.

CBS Music Charitable Trust was the principal sponsor of the retrieval, which took place during demolition work on the building.

CBS trust spokesman Don Whelan said he was “delighted and relieved”, at the retrieval of the organ.

But “it is in seriously deteriorated and damaged condition, and stored in containers, as dismantled by the South Island Organ Company in Timaru”, Mr Whelan told NZ Catholic.

“It is quite unplayable, and will be until substantially rebuilt,” he added.

An article on the Stuff website just before Christmas noted that the roof above the 10-metre high Halmshaw organ stayed intact, so this prevented rain getting into the historic instrument, which was first restored in 1978, when features were added to increase its power.

No restoration plan for the instrument in its current damaged state has been started as yet, Mr Whelan said, “as that depends largely on the future location of the instrument”.

Mr Whelan, who has worked as director of music at Christchurch Catholic Cathedral, a community he has served for more than 50 years, said he hopes “that those planning a future Catholic cathedral will make the pipe organ a top priority”.

He quoted the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), saying the council fathers were “emphatic”:

“In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendour to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things.” (SC120)

Asked about the need for assistance for the restoration, Mr Whelan said that, as a registered charity, “the CBS Music Trust is actively seeking financial assistance for the restoration, and tax-deductible donations may be made to Bank a/c 03-0823-04781520-00”.

(In response to NZ Catholic questions after this article was published, Mr Whelan made the following comments: “In terms of cost, much depends on the size, shape and acoustics of a new building, and space provided for both organ and musicians. That will determine whether the Halmshaw organ should be reinstated as it was, or adapted to a new environment. It is a modest instrument, built for a smaller pro-cathedral, but it worked well in the cathedral because of its placement and the superb acoustics. A new pipe organ would be expensive, and re-using the Halmshaw would be substantially cheaper, certainly less than the 3 million Australian dollars required for the new organ presently being built for St James Church, Sydney. The South Island Organ Company broadly estimates that the cost of full restoration and reconstruction of the Halmshaw organ to its pre-earthquake status will be in the region of $750,000 + GST which, in their view, is still good value, compared to the cost of an equivalent new organ. The organ’s current replacement value for insurance purposes would be $1,443,255 + GST. CBS Music Trust has taken the initiative to rescue and store the Halmshaw organ because of its musical and historic value. Because of that action, it may now be rebuilt or incorporated in a replacement instrument. All donations to the trust for that purpose will be acknowledged with the appropriate tax receipts. If this particular project cannot progress, funds will be put into another organ-related project.”)

He added that two smaller pipe organs were also salvaged from the cathedral, “both of immense historical value”.

“They are also in storage in Timaru,” he said. One is severely damaged, the other is ready for re-use.”

Other musical items were also able to be retrieved.

“A large harpsichord was salvaged, and is presently stored in the CBS Music Centre. The original cathedral Steinway piano was badly damaged, and has been replaced with a similar concert grand piano, used most Wednesdays in our lunchtime recital series.

“The remainder of our musical assets, including all our sheet music and orchestral instruments, have been safely transferred to the music centre, where we continue to base our liturgical and concert activity.”

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Michael Otto

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