By Lucy Robinson
Josh Van Konkelenberg, now Principal Organist at St Peter’s Cathedral, vividly remembers the first time he accompanied a senior musician on the Cathedral Organ.
“The sound of the choir floated up and mingled with the organ and I thought ‘this is what Heaven is like’,” Josh says.
“It was exquisite.”
That was in 2002, when Josh was still an organ scholar.
Sadly the rich melodies of the Hill, Norman and Beard organ – which has played for Synod services, ordinations and consecrations, royal visits and state funerals over its 86 years – no longer come so easily.
“The instrument simply can’t speak like it used to,” Josh says.
“In the last few years its sound and tuning has dulled significantly.
“Some of the stops simply don’t work and it has needed frequent and serious attention in order to remain playable.”
The organ was built in 1929 and, apart from the addition of some ranks in 1989, has remained essentially unchanged to date.
“Our organ has played through the Depression and dark years of the second World War,” Dean of Adelaide, the Very Reverend Frank Nelson, told the Synod assembly in October.
“It continued sounding through the Baby Boomer years, the Vietnam era and the days of flower power and free love.
“In its time it has thrilled worshippers and visitors alike – accompanying school and community carol services, and memorial services for world greats of the like of Princess Diana and Nelson Mandela.
“But now, for a while at least, it is time for it to rest.”
Although it currently remains in its Cathedral home, the organ is no longer being played.
The Cathedral Council will eventually engage organ builders Harrison & Harrison to restore the instrument but must first raise the estimated $2 million needed to cover the work.
Its restoration is the first phase of the Cathedral 150 program which looks to have several major renovations completed by the Cathedral’s 150thbirthday celebrations in 2019.
A substitute digital organ, donated in October 2015 by the St Peter’s Cathedral Music Foundation and its supporters, has been installed as a temporary measure.
“This buys time to get on with the serious task of finding the estimated two million,” Rev’d Nelson says.
“Adopting the motion before Synod gave an important signal of encouragement to the Cathedral and Diocesan community as the mammoth task of raising the money for the work gets underway.”
With four manuals and 52 ranks, including the largest organ pipes in South Australia, the Cathedral Organ is undeniably impressive in a technical sense.
Still, Rev’d Nelson says the true measure of its worth is the joy it has brought to those who have listened to and played it since 1930.
“It has provided accompaniment through the lives of generations of children who began their musical life as Cathedral Choristers and organ scholars,” Rev’d Nelson says.
“Some going on to lead the musical world of their day have played their first chords on St Peter’s Cathedral Organ.”
As one whose musical development flourished at the Cathedral Organ’s bench, Josh will be relieved to see it restored to its former glory.
“The organ is the emotional backbone of the liturgy,” he says.
“To me music is an emanation of the Spirit and the organ does no less than put people in touch with God.”
Tax-deductable donations to the Organ Restoration Fund can be made at any time:
· By cheque to the St Peter’s Cathedral Music Foundation Inc.
· By EFTPOS to the St Peter’s Cathedral Music Foundation Inc. (BSB 305-122, Account No. 0256077)