Just over a century ago, Boston craftsmen at the renowned Hook and Hastings Co. transformed rough-cut oak and an assemblage of metal alloys into a stunning 432-pipe organ, custom built for Missoula's St. Francis Xavier Church.
One hundred years ago this month, the massive instrument survived its westward journey and was installed on the church's second-story balcony.
It was placed under the benevolent gaze of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music, as envisioned and painted by Brother Joseph Carignano on the church's south wall, where it remains today.
With its robin-egg blue pipes and layered keyboard, the historic organ is a commanding presence, which fills up about 225 square feet of the choir loft. Despite the decades, it continues to kick out a stunning range of notes with nearly infinite combinations of sounds.
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"It's such a gorgeous instrument," said Dave Thomas, a former Loyola Sacred Heart High School teacher who led the organ's last major refurbishing project in the 1960s.
The organ's musical range is so wide, nearly everything from Brahms to Bach sounds magnificent, Thomas said.
However, at the hands of accomplished musicians, its truth rings loud and clear: This centenarian needs a boost from its loved ones. Because of its age and seemingly endless moving parts, the organ needs a full overhaul in order to produce all of the sounds it is capable of.
To restore the organ to its full glory will cost $104,000 the church doesn't have. So a campaign is under way to restore, protect and preserve the historic piece for future generations.
Nothing can replace the richness, the depth and vibrancy of sounds that come from an old-world organ, said Gina Lapka, music director for St. Francis. But the upkeep for such a complicated instrument is difficult in the modern world. There are few experts who know how to care for a historic organ - the closes lives in Portland, Ore. - and replacing parts is spendy.
When the church's children's choir held its first practice with the organ, the youngsters' eyes lit up and Lapka said she experienced a deep hope and deeper sense of purpose for tending to the organ.
"It does bind the generations together," Lapka said. "The children were thrilled to hear it, and hopefully the more they hear it and appreciate it, it will impact a whole new generation."
"What I love about it is that the sounds of an organ are so close to the human voice," she said. "The sounds resonate so much it sinks into your body. I love it that it does."
Said Thomas: "People need to hear it more. To really hear it, I don't think you could ever tire of it."
St. Francis Xavier Church is holding a concert to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its historic Hook and Hastings organ. Featured musicians are Dale Fleck, organist at the St. Helena Cathedral; Nita Hamilton, Missoula organist; Gina Lapka and Roni Turner, sopranos; and the St. Francis Xavier Choir.
The celebration is at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14. Admission is free.