2018-08-23 / Faith Community

Quarter Concerts to Fund Organ Restoration

By Mark Gorman

There is something satisfying about seeing vintage musical instruments still in use. Many local musicians own at least one old axe, which they use on special occasions and about which they enjoy talking. The Hook and Hastings organ at St. John The Evangelist Church was installed in 1894 and is currently being played each week while being restored.

Maintaining a beautiful mechanical organ takes time, talent and lots of money. To help fund their organ restoration and maintenance project, St. John’s music director Peter Berton has come up with an ingenious concept: 20-minute organ recitals that cost the listener 25 cents! You can enjoy these special concerts on Sundays through Sept. 2 at 2:45, 5:45 and 7:45 p.m. at St. John’s.

“When I arrived in Newport to build a choir program, there was only one adult singer. I was looking for a way to start engaging the public immediately and the organ was something that needed a lot of work,” he said. “Because one person can play a recital, it was a practical solution to offering something to the public after my third week on the job.”

Berton’s idea is simple yet creative. He gives 20-minute recitals on the organ and he asks for a donation of at least one quarter. “We call the series ‘Bach and Friends at Quarter Till’ in hopes that people will put a quarter in the till,” he said. (Of course, more is greatly appreciated.)

Another added feature of these mini concerts is the visual effect. Berton places video cameras in the organ so people can actually see how the large piped instrument functions. “I got the idea of putting cameras in the organ from other places I had worked where it was well-received. You can easily walk inside [the organ] so the public can see the mechanism,” he said.

In summer of 2014, he gave 110 mini concerts and raised $11,000. “I played 10 [concerts] per weekend for 11 weeks, every three hours on Saturdays and Sundays,” he said.

For the past three summers, Berton has played another 150 concerts to raise money and restore the smashed organ pipes and to make the playing mechanism more reliable.

What is it like to play a 124-year old organ? “I love the warm tone of the original pipes from 1894 and how well tailored they are to our building,” Berton said. “Nothing screeches. It’s beautiful and inspiring, a very musical sound. Once the organ is restored, it will be a jewel again. And I’m looking forward to that a lot.”

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