2014-12-11 / Front Page

No Pipe Dream: St. John’s Plans to Restore Organ

By James Merolla


Musical historian, organist and director Peter Stoltzfus Berton and Vicar Nathan J.A. Humphrey of St. John the Evangelist Church stand below the pipes of the impressive Hook & Hastings organ, built in 1894. Musical historian, organist and director Peter Stoltzfus Berton and Vicar Nathan J.A. Humphrey of St. John the Evangelist Church stand below the pipes of the impressive Hook & Hastings organ, built in 1894. Being an organ donor has taken on a more musical meaning at St. John the Evangelist Church on the Point.

Under the guidance of organist and musical historian Peter Stoltzfus Berton and Vicar Nathan J.A. Humphrey, St. John's is in the midst of an ambitious fundraising effort with the heavenly dream of lifting a quarter of a million dollars to the rafters, in order to completely restore their historic Hook & Hastings organ to its original angelic sound.

This is no pipe dream.

Berton, who came to St. John the Evangelist in June from another St. John’s in West Hartford, Conn., is a musician with an impeccable pedigree – educated at both the Yale and University of Michigan schools of music – and a complete devotion to God’s will.


Peter Berton and Vicar Humphrey inside the pipe chamber with huge maple supports, part of the internal workings of the impressive instrument. Peter Berton and Vicar Humphrey inside the pipe chamber with huge maple supports, part of the internal workings of the impressive instrument. In a letter announcing his arrival to the congregation in May, Berton wrote, “I am under no false impressions of the challenges ahead, financially and otherwise. [Yet] I can write without hesitation that I feel positively called by God to be with you…As I know from experience, when I have answered God’s call it has made all the difference.”

This summer, Berton played a series of mini organ concerts in the church for 11 weeks, asking attendees for donations of even a quarter if they liked what they heard.

Concert-goers were asked to drop two bits into an organ pipe set up at the church’s gothic entrance to help raise most of the $25,000 needed to restore the trumpet stops of the organ, which has been done with great, well, fanfare.

“I did 110 concerts over 11 weeks, 10 each weekend, to raise over $11,000. It was a lot of music, but with a different audience each time,” said Berton, after performing a one-hour concert to raise more funds in November.

“Even the music seemed to change with each playing. But the whole idea is coming together and we were successful. Not too bad when you consider that this place, this magnificent place, was going to close two years ago.”

The November concert, in front of about 50 very enthusiastic listeners, was devoted to Christ the King Sunday. The program presented selections from the masters of organ music, such as Bach, Charpentier, Franck, Gigout, Tournemire, and Vierne, as well as from modern composers Gerre Hancock and Grayston Ives. Berton also presented his own piece, “Hereford Variations”. Many of the works showcased the restored trumpet pipes, repaired with the money raised this summer.

A large video screen was set up to show Berton’s hands and feet moving across the organ consoles.

Berton’s mini-concerts (including an anonymous donation of $5,000) helped restore 20 pipes in September that haven’t been heard since 1934 when part of the organ was “electrified.”

“We just celebrated our 120th anniversary and we are looking to our 125th,” said The Rev. Humphrey to the audience. “We are looking for people who love history and this church to help us with the ongoing restoration. A great job was done this month and we hope you’ll sign up to help us until the work is completed.”

Berton played Bach as a winter taste of what is to come. “You can’t have an organ concert in this church without Bach,” he said. “This is but one variation. I will be playing all 15 variations in May, when it’s a bit warmer and the Point comes back to full life again.”

Berton’s musical dexterity and skill with both hands on the twotiered keyboard and both feet over the wooden foot pedals was no less than astonishing. Seasoned musicians in attendance shook their heads, smiling in admiration at the dedicated organist.

At one point, Berton, despite his mastery, had to reset the instrument. “Sometimes, there are gremlins in the organ,” he laughed. “Today is no exception. This just started this afternoon.”

He sighed, knowing much more restoration is needed. He will play and play until the money is raised.

“That’s what you get with an instrument and a church both built in 1894,” The Rev. Humphrey said.

TO GO

Christmas on the Point

WHEN: Dec. 17, 7 p.m.

WHERE: St. John the Evangelist Church, Willow and Washington streets

MORE INFO: 401-848-2561, saintjohns-newport.org

COST: Suggested donation $15, seniors/students $10, children 5-12 free

Return to top