Methodist Church Celebrates Pipe Organ Anniversary

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By Liz Premo

Hampton Union, November 8, 2013

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

David Kenney and the pipe organ
Organist David Kenney Sr. is pictured
here next to the Emmons Howard
pipe organ in the sanctuary of
the Hampton United Methodist Church.
The organ, which is almost 110 years old,
was installed at the church 25 years ago.
[Liz Premo photo]

HAMPTON — Oliphant Chuckerbutty would be proud.

The English organist (1884-1960) is among an illustrious coterie of his fellow composers whose work will be featured at an organ concert planned for 2 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 10 at the Hampton United Methodist Church, located at 525 Lafayette Road.

The concert, which is free and open to the public and includes a post-event reception below the sanctuary in Carter Hall, is being held in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the installation of the church's 109-year-old pipe organ.

"It's a very New England organ," according to David Kenney Sr., who has been the church organist for just over a year and — as organists often do — will be "pulling all the stops" at the keyboards during the recital.

Kenney, a speech pathologist who lives in Hampton with his wife Millie and son David Jr., wants the public to know it doesn't mean the concert will be composed of "a bunch of stuffy old junk" and "boring music" written by "stodgy old men who wore powdered wigs."

In fact, anyone who plans on attending Sunday's celebration can expect a satisfying assortment of organ music that embraces both the spiritual and the secular realms, with works ranging from classical to contemporary.

"We're going to do everything from J.S. Bach to George Gershwin," said Kenney. "There will be some music by John Williams of the Boston Pops, and some Armed Forces music in tribute to our veterans. We're going to be doing something for all ages" (including variations on "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" for the younger set). We'll sing a couple of hymns, and there will be a couple of surprises."

The repertoire will also feature music written by women, including Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, whose younger brother Felix may be somewhat better known but who was a talented (and in some ways more accomplished) composer in her own right.

"We'll let everyone hear every pipe and have a good time, and really truly celebrate," said Kenney, whose genuine affection for the instrument he plays every Sunday leads him to observe, "It's got its own personality, and I love it. It's my buddy."

The pipe organ was built in 1904 in Westfield, Mass., by Emmons Howard. It was first used in the old Methodist Meeting House in Lee (Mass.) until that church closed its doors.

From the Berkshires region the organ — by then in the possession of an auction house — passed through Harrisville to eventually take residence in Hampton a quarter century ago.

"The auctioneer saw that it had value," said Kenney, 44, who has been playing since he first took lessons at age 12. "He kept it in good shape."

It was also a perfect fit for the Hampton church, which needed to make just a few modifications for the complete installation of the instrument and its intricate behind-the-scenes network of metal pipes, movable palettes, wooden rods, hinges, and springs.

"It has 860 pipes, and has two keyboards for the hands and one for the feet," said Kenney, who while playing wears suede-soled shoes specially designed to enhance pedaling technique. All those features add up to a total of "30 pedals and 122 keys for the fingers, 61 notes apiece," he said.

Additionally, "one of the most prominent features is that the organ is all-mechanical action, so it does not necessarily require electricity to be played," Kenney said. "There is an electric blower that supplies air in the reservoir under the pipes, but like all organs it technically could be pumped by hand or foot. Some people call it a 'tracker' organ."

The advantage of tracker organs, Kenney explained, is "when the player presses a pedal or key there is absolute control of how the air goes into the pipes."

Those pipes range in size from eight feet tall and six inches in diameter, to others that "are smaller than a pencil. They're teeny-tiny," said Kenney. On the organ he plays at the church, the two largest pipes have names — "Big Bob" is fixed at "Low C" on the music scale, while "Big Bertha" chimes in as "C-Sharp."

The organ was tuned earlier this week in preparation for Sunday's concert, and Kenney said with such an instrument it is wise to "use all the keys and all the pipes as much as you can. It should be played on a regular basis."

The reason for this, Kenney added, is because dust can easily get into the open ends of the pipes, and "you'll end up with key actions that won't work well because they're sticky. You don't want that at all."

Maintenance aside, Kenney said the concert commemorating the pipe organ's 25th anniversary at his church "is part of a greater celebration for Hampton," which is observing its 375th year in 2013.

"The church has been such an integral part of Hampton for so many years," said Kenney, adding a short anecdote of how it is "known for its great ham-and-bean suppers — and its organ."

Admission to the concert is free, although "we will be accepting a freewill donation," said Kenney. Donations will go into the church's discretionary fund, which purchases groceries and helps pay utility bills for those facing difficult financial times.

"The fund takes care of our community in Hampton, and (funds are) distributed as need arises," said Kenney. "It's not going into an organ fund. We're not asking for more pipes and more keys. We want to invite the community (to) help the community. We want to be the hands and feet of Jesus."

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