The Restoration of Our Historic Hook & Hastings Organ
Bill Webber, Choirmaster/Organist
When I agreed to accept the position of Organist/Choirmaster of this historic parish of The Episcopal Church, I had not spent a great deal of time playing older tracker instruments. This beautiful 2-manual, 13-rank Hook & Hastings (Opus 1742, 1897) has a classic organ sound, but needed some serious refurbishment. After struggling along with cracked ivory keys that occasionally came off during Sunday services, dealing with a lack of color due to the “prepared for” or missing reed, and a lack of other worship-enhancing extras, I decided it was time to raise money to give one of the last remaining examples of this builder in Kentucky some much-needed upgrades.
The organ firm that serviced this instrument when I arrived at St. John’s was Webber & Borne Organ Company from Louisville, Kentucky, just an hour away from the parish. I was intrigued by the knowledgeable Mr. Pete Webber who shared my last name, but is not related to my family. With the members of his firm, things that needed repair, refurbishment, and additions came into focus. Given this information, the parishioners of St. John’s stepped forward and raised the funds needed in order to give new life to their historic instrument in a short amount of time.
The work began, and took nearly a year to accomplish. After checking into the history of this instrument, it became obvious that the builder intended for there to be one reed, an oboe, which was prepared for, but for some reason was never installed. After searching for some time, a lovely period oboe was found and installed. Nearly half of the ivory keys were sent away to be refurbished, and some of the ivory disks within the draw knobs were also restored to their earlier luster. The speaking façade, with its classic stencil work, was carefully taken down, cleaned, and a couple of pipes repaired. This brought out the breathtaking gold leafing that the Hook & Hastings craftsmen so carefully added to their work. The flat pedalboard was adjusted, as were the levels of the manual keys so that things were balanced and even. The two treadles, the foot-activated forerunners of more modern pistons, were reset to my specifications in order to achieve a quicker transition from forte to fortissimo. This helps when moving from offertory to Doxology.
Finally, the extras were added. In order not to diminish the integrity of the instrument, a new set of Mayland tubular chimes was installed just outside the chamber, connected to its own 21-note keyboard which was attached perpendicular to the lower manual. A new Zimbelstern utilizing Schulmerich bells was added activated by a toe stud mounted on a matching wood block to the right of the swell shoe. These enhancements have been blessing our liturgies, and will continue to do so for many years to come.
**An article concerning the restoration of this instrument appears on page 80 of the March, 2016 edition of The American Organist Magazine.