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Pella’s Pipe-organ

by John Noack

My involvement with Pella’s Fuller pipe-organ began in 1969 when I assumed my duties as Lutheran pastor in the Rainbow parish, which included Hopetoun and Pella. Two items were then on Pella-s agenda for attention. One was the fast-approaching 60th anniversary of the dedication of the Pella church building, which took place on 14 May 1911 and at which my grandfather Pastor J.F. Noack from Natimuk took part. There was also the need for a church organ, to replace the one-keyboard harmonium which required pumping with the organist’s feet and legs. Pella’s previous two-keyboard reed organ, which required hand-pumping, had been donated to the Concordia College chapel and I often played it back in the 1950s and 1960s as accompaniment for hymn-singing during daily chapel sessions. Most of the manual pumpers performed their pumping duties with considerable reluctance.

At Pella, various replacement musical instruments were discussed, including electronic organs. However, a Fuller pipe organ entered the discussions after I read in a Victorian Pipe-organ Journal that such an organ was for sale. This organ was then situated in the Howe Crescent Congregational Church in South Melbourne, where it had been installed by Alfred Fuller in 1885 at a cost of £ 315 or $630. On a visit to Melbourne, I was able to inspect its two key-boards and pedal board, its floor dimensions of 9’4′ by 6’6″, its 10 ranks of speaking pipes, its 498 pipes and its four main tones or families of sounds of diapason, strings, flutes and reeds. In regard to its height, it was clear to me that this organ would fit very comfortably in the tall Pella church, even though the height of this pipe-organ was about 16 feet.

However, several issues soon arose when it was learned that the Geelong Lutheran Church was also interested in this pipe-organ. In addition, a member of the Pella Organ Committee expressed the view that it may be too large for the Pella church. However, the Committee decided to make an offer of about the same amount of money as the Geelong offer, with the assurance that this pipe-organ, with only slight improvements, would be preserved in its original 1885 condition and that it would not be drastically modified. The organ was purchased for about $1600. For a similar amount of money, it was dismantled by the organ builders Hill, Norman and Beard of Clifton Hill, Melbourne, loaded onto an open truck provided by Ross Heinrich and was safely transported on this truck to Pella, much to the relief of the organ company. During its re-assembly in the Pella church, the organ was overhauled, the bellows were re-leathered and a new blower was fitted.

This pipe-organ was dedicated on Sunday 6 December 1970 at 10am and Mr Don Wiadrowski from Unley in Adelaide showed the organ’s versatility during his recital on it in the afternoon.

The existence of this 1885 Alfred Fuller pipe-organ at Pella is now very widely known. The care taken by the Pella community in preserving this grand instrument is also greatly appreciated by pipe-organ lovers, recitalists and historians like John Maidment who are locating, describing and cataloguing Australia’s pipe-organ heritage.

Of concern is the decreasing number of young people learning to play keyboard instruments such as pipe-organs, preferring to play instruments suitable for playing in bands. In contrast, an organist does not need other band members but can accompany singing and can create the sounds of an orchestra single-handedly.
Organists can also create additional sounds and tones beyond the given stops. For example, a slight vibrato can be obtained when two notes at the same 8-foot pitch but with different tones are combined and played together. A deeper 32-foot sound can be created when two 16-foot sounds at the interval of a fifth apart (e.g. C+G; D+A; E+B etc) are played together.

Recitalists know that this Pella pipe-organ copes well with contra-puntal music, including the grand preludes and fugues of J.S. Bach. However, it is particularly suited to French music such as the “Chacone” by Louis Couperin and to English music such as the “Choral Song” by S.S. Wesley and “An Old English Melody” by Samuel Wesley. These and many other similar compositions alternate between the diapason and flute sound on the lower or Great key-board and the contrasting reedy, oboe-like sound on the upper or Swell keyboard. It is no surprise that this pipe-organ has in the past attracted some very competent and satisfied recitalists. Looking ahead, its varied tones, its melodies and its rich harmonies will certainly continue to add greatly to the Pella community’s spiritual and cultural life and experiences for many years to come.