Keys to the heart of a parish

Coventry parish welcomes New England’s first Kegg organ

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COVENTRY — Parishioners of Our Lady of Czestochowa Church were excited at the idea of installing a new organ for the parish, but many asked if they would hear a difference with the new instrument.

“Imagine you were color blind and from birth you could only see orange, yellow and green. And then, at 45 years-old you woke up and you could see all of the colors that were available,” said Brian Mattias, parish organist and director of music. That’s the impact the sound of the new Kegg organ that now sings out in the Coventry parish.

Much like Dorothy in Oz as her world was transformed to full color before her eyes, that’s how dramatic the difference is between the new and old instruments, said Charles Kegg, president and artistic director of Kegg Pipe Organ Builders.

“There are so many sounds this church has never heard,” explained Kegg. “The kind of grandeur that you’d expect at the end of a wedding. They’ve never been able to create that kind of sound. This organ will be able to do it.”

The first ever Kegg organ in New England, Opus 61, is a beautiful new addition to the religious experience for parishioners. The Kegg organ replaces the 1927 M.P. Möller organ that served the parish dutifully for more than 90 years — “That’s the glory of a pipe organ,” said Kegg.

Even with the excitement of the new instrument, the change has been bittersweet for Mattias who began playing the organ at First Friday Mass when he was 10 years old.

“There’s a huge emotional attachment to this little box over here,” he said. “It was tough to say goodbye to my friend of 31 years. As pipe organ guys we just love what we do.”

Mattias, a lifelong parishioner of OLC, is also owner of Potter-Rathbun Organ Company, Inc., of Cranston. He has been building, maintaining and restoring organs for 31 years. Knowing that the old organ had become very limited tonally, with 125 dead notes that he would often work around, Mattias knew the time had come. Fortunately, he said, the parish was in a very strong position to move forward with the purchase of a new organ.

Both longtime friends and members of the American Institute of Organ Builders, Mattias knew Kegg and his crew were the people for the job.

“The quality of the work is totally top-notch, it’s excellent,” said Mattias. “Everything you look at is just flawless. There are many reasons why we went with a Kegg organ: the sound of the instrument, I love his voicing style and it’s that good marriage between having that brightness and what our organ was missing, but still having some foundation. It’s a wonderful, well-rounded instrument.”

Kegg shared that it’s unusual for an organ builder to build for another organ builder.

“To have somebody that knows every organ company around the world and have him choose us is pretty nice,” Kegg said.

The new organ was constructed in the Kegg shop in Hartville, Ohio, for four to five months. There are 1,421 pipes in the finished instrument, some of which were pipes out of the old organ.

Installation at the church began in early-September with more than 30 volunteers from the parish helping to carefully unload the truck in under an hour.

“Those people that helped us unload have taken some amount of possession of this organ,” said Kegg. “And that’s exactly the way we like it to be.”

The parishioners were not the only one’s invested in this once in a lifetime experience. For Mattias’ family, being a part of the historic building of the organ was very personal and important.

“I took my girls, who are now 8 and 10 years old, to Ohio a couple of times this summer to deliver parts and spent few days at Charlie’s shop with his crew. He was gracious enough to allow us to visit the shop for a few days,” Mattias shared. “So we actually worked on the organ and helped build some of it. My 8-year-old daughter helped build the access ladder, drilling out the holes and putting in glue. And there are hundreds of screws that my other daughter assembled with washers and screw springs. She sat on a bench for a couple of days very carefully and faithfully.”

Kegg explained that the choice to go with a pipe organ over an electronic organ is a lifelong decision that is also very economical for a parish.

“An electronic organ will last 15-20 years at best and then you start over again. It’s a very temporary solution,” said Kegg. “And electronic organs have gotten really expensive. I’ve done the math and for an organ like this, at about year 41, you will have bought 3 electronic organs. You are now money ahead to buy the pipe organ even with maintenance added in. It costs much less to have a real instrument and you can attract a better musician. Any good musician, if they’ve got two nice parishes and two similar salaries, they’re going to go to the pipe organ, every time.”

Mattias explained the difference between the quality of sound between an electronic organ and a pipe organ.

“If you have a recording of Bill Evans and Tony Bennett on the best stereo, you can sit there with a glass of wine and relax and enjoy that and it’s going to be wonderful, but if you had Bill Evans and Tony Bennett on an acoustic grand piano singing in the same room as you, you would notice a difference.”

Mattias received incredible feedback from parishioners and visitors about the new organ.

“When I finished playing the closing hymn, there were people gathering at the front of the church staring up at the loft and they erupted in applause. Then, I looked around at the few choir members that were there, and all of them were wiping tears from their eyes.”

This is literally a once in a lifetime project for all of us. This will play at all of our funerals. For my daughters, when they get married, this will play at their wedding. I’m an emotional sap, my wife and my girls will tell you. The last hymn we played on the old organ before we disconnected it, I let go of the keys and my wife was next to me on the bench and I just lost it and cried like a baby. Because it’s a friend of so many years. Now, we are saying hello to a new friend.”