Zion Lutheran Church Baltimore, Maryland Patrick J. Murphy & Associates Inc. Stowe, Pennsylvania

By Bahr, Fredrick; Murphy, Patrick J. | The American Organist, January 2015 | Go to article overview

Zion Lutheran Church Baltimore, Maryland Patrick J. Murphy & Associates Inc. Stowe, Pennsylvania


Bahr, Fredrick, Murphy, Patrick J., The American Organist


Zion Lutheran Church of the City of Baltimore is located direcdy across the square from City Hall, just a short walk from the celebrated Inner Harbor. This historic German congregation was founded in 1755 and obtained its first instrument from the celebrated Pennsylvania organbuilder David Tannenberg, who was paid £375, or $600 in "Pennsylvanisch money"- roughly three times the pastor's annual salary. The original receipt survives today. Regrettably, the Tannenberg instrument was lost to a fire in March 1840 and was replaced with a Henry Knauff instrument of two manuals and 30 stops, which was rebuilt in 1924 by M.P. Möller.

In 1959, a new Möller of three manuals and 29 ranks was installed in the newly built west gallery chambers. Organist-choirmaster John Heizer writes,

By 2005, the instrument had become almost unplayable after years of failing leather, the result of water damage from roof leaks. There were several attempts to get an organ project under way, but a stumbling block always reared its head. Nevertheless, I continued discussions with several builders and finally found Patrick J. Murphy & Associates, a small company where everyone was involved in the process of building the instrument, from the start of the project to the final installation. After a group of parish members and I visited the workshop and some of Murphy's local instruments, we were impressed with the workmanship and quality of sound. As one committee member said, "The entire staff showed such concern and love about the quality of their work."

Finally, in 2009, the church council requested that its organ restoration task force review options for the repair or replacement of Zion's 1959 Möller organ. They recognized that the dollar amounts for an organ of any kind were likely to produce a "stickershock" reaction. The committee considered several objective factors other than price alone, including worship and music requirements, maintenance requirements, legacy for the future, investment value, and vendor reliability. However, it wasn't until 2012 that the organ contract was signed, after a lengthy funding process that had started in the early 2000s. Heizer noted,"This may have been one of the longest organ projects in history, but Murphy & Associates were most patient with Zion as the church continued to research and raise funds for the project."

The ten years of fundraising for this instrument fell within a period of drastic and extremely rapid change in the organbuilding marketplace. Well into the final decade of the 20th century, it was assumed that almost every worship space would house an organ of some sort, and a completely new pipe organ was the norm. Even those builders who incorporated some tonal material from a previous instrument did so mainly as a sentimental gesture rather than for artistic merit.

By the time Zion signed a contract with our firm in 2012, the organ world looked out at a far different landscape. Faith communities now use a huge variety of worship styles, only some of which find organ music suitable. Historic awareness, economic realities, and a deeper understanding of the connection between natural resources and sustainability of the planet, have taught us to listen carefully and think twice before routinely filling up our landfills with quality pipework that through imaginative and skillful repurposing can continue to serve with artistic integrity.

Turning that idealism into pragmatic reality, however, involves far more than simply collecting random sets of pipes from some defunct organ and reinstalling them in another location. There are many projects where reusing any existing pipework is clearly not an appropriate choice. Some of you reading this article may find yourselves in a similar situation of considering options of replacing, rebuilding, or repairing an ailing instrument. So, it may be a helpful exercise to present a rather candid view of how we go about deciding what to keep, what to replace, and what to reuse but in a totally different guise. …

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