Amazing Pipe organ of St. John's Baptist church, Secunderabad

 pipe organ St. John's  Baptist church, Secunderabad,

St. John's  Babtist church, Seconderabad, Telengana

Above image:  A historical and heritage church in India, presently, under the CSI, it is the twin city of  Secunderabd, Telengana   More than 208 years old St. John’s Church is  the oldest church in the capital. it was in February 2013 the thanksgiving celebrations and special service programs took place to  mark the occasion, themed ‘Crossing the Centuries with Christ’, is being conducted from 5.30 p.m. on 8 Feb Saturday.    

Part of CSI, belonging to  the  Medak Diocese., it was consecrated and dedicated in 1813. Built in in cruciform of Tuscan architecture architecture, the church apart from being home to one of a rare old pipe organ and  a stained glass depicting John The Baptist, located above the altar, it initially served the spiritual needs of the British Forces stationed at Lancer’s line, Secunderabad.  Rev. J. Brackenbury was the first Presbyter of this church in 1813. The rare16-foot  tall pipe organ  occupies the space of a small bedroom in here.   Presently, the church is serving a large community in the city.  An awardee of   the Heritage Award in 1998 by Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage,  the church  boasts of  aesthetically patterned Minton tiles, a rare feature in churches.........

During the mass in the historical churches playing pipe organs  was an integral  part of it.  As a matter of fact organ music  is the soul of mass in any church, be it historical or a new one.  Particularly, singing of  classic  Christmas  Carols is the attraction of many churches. The mellowed voice of the choir accompanied by pipe organ in a divine ambiance  is quite soul-stirring and exhilarating, keeping   our attention focused  on the mass  prayer.  

In the last several decades the old organs in the churches  are being replaced by modern sole less  electronic instruments,  part of the reason is there  are no expert technicians to fix the faulty organs and secondly,  their  mechanical and delicate parts that are subject to wear and tear.  Not withstanding such fundamental difficulties, the worn out spares  are neither  available in India nor in Europe.  The foreign firms  that made them may be out of business or not in a position to make the spares. Yet another hitch is if  the needed spares  can be remade, the cost is prohibitive. As for the quality of sound, from modern organs.  frankly speaking,  in places of divinity,  it  does not match the  vibrant sound  of old pipe organs. 

Pipe organ (left), St. John's Babtist church, Secunderabad,

pipe organ St. John's  Babtist church, Secunderabad,

In India there about 200  pipe organs or a  few more in the churches. Considering as the legacy of the British, it is sad that many of them  either lie unused or set aside in the corner of the church  for want of repair,   spares  and of, course funds. Many of the vintage churches in the cities  do have pipe organs, but they face the similar fate.  There is no factory in India catering exclusively to the old pipe organs and replacement of spares.  

The pipe organ in the historical  St John's  Baptist Church, East Marredpally,  Secunderabad   is one of the few churches  that is still functional and has been a pride of this place of  worship. This  115 year pipe organ  has  a total of 590 pipes in it.

The structure being a complicated one, the organist has  to play it with dexterity using both hands and leg at the same time to control the sound. Playing it effortlessly comes with experience.  The  English made organ has three manuals or layers, two of which rest on the top, to be played by hand, while one  at bottom is a pedal  manual  operated with the feet. The complex structure that enables the instrument to  produce difficult  notes effortlessly like reaching the crescendo before beginning vocal music.

Yet another interesting and essential  features are the three  keys  of the  manuals  attached to numerous wooden  and metallic pipes, which blow air in and out, creating musical vibrations. To help the pitch of the sound  change there is  a set of ‘stops’ or levers to regulate the  “sweetness’ of the music. To play  before  a solemn gathering or a silent prayer subdued or  soft music has to be played. This is achieved by  pulling the stop. On important festive occasions like   Christmas,  to create vibrant  and grand music all the stops are pulled to make  'loud & bright” sound. 

The parishioners who were accustomed  to listening to the vibrant sound of the organ  in 1994  were quite sad as all the four pipes  went silent.   Disappointed as they were,  church keepers, with no funds had tried to fix the problem  by  attaching  an electronic piano, but it  ended in fiasco;  the sound  did not yield the desired quality.

It was one  Commodore TMJ Champion, a Navy engineer who studied the  technical aspect of the old organ sough the help of  Timothy Valecott, an engineer from England, who took up the ingenious job with care, procured the needed spares from England  and finally, he along with  Com. Champion, set the old pipe organ back in form in 2003. The English man made a few trips here on his own and met the expenses from his own. Indeed a good gesture on his part. According to the Pastor, the maintenance of the instrument is done thrice in a year by Dr Timothy Velacott.  Commodore Champion, the chief organist, has been playing the instrument for the past 42 years, 

Quite surprising that other organs at the  old churches in this city  have fallen midway and are not functional.  To the church officials of St. John's  the pipe organ is part of every  sacred mass and its periodic up-keep is a must.  Further,  coming under the control of CSI - Church of South India, the  church  has made no compromise on its church prayer protocols and has stuck to  its 200-year-old Anglican roots by following the sermon  patterns and music of the age-old Church of England.  This means  the  masses will  have  more singing  of hymns and  playing organ is part of  it.  

It was in December 2017, the pipe organ got ready for the 110 th Christmas, a gala function here. Despite the time factor and the onslaught of so many matching electronic organs with modern technology, there is no surpassing of the quality of sound produced by pipe organs  that enhances the ambiance in the prayer hall. 

A passerby cannot escape from the lure of the grand sound of the Pipe organ which  is part of their regular mass. The  will of the small community of Parishioners, unmindful of hardship being faced by them to stick with the old instrument, is quite amazing and it shows  their steadfast commitment to keep up the legacy of the old church.  

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