Historic organ finds new home in Ashburn

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An organ that played for 40 years in the "church of the presidents" has found a new home in a suburban Virginia church.

Installed in St. John's Church in Lafayette Square Park in Washington in 1969, the Gress-Miles organ was a gift from Claire Gardner to honor her husband, Arthur. In 2008, it was removed and stored in Leesburg awaiting restoration.

Father Richard Guest, pastor of St. Theresa Church in Ashburn, said he heard about the availability of the organ from a friend who knew they were replacing the organ at St. John's.

"I really wanted to bring a great instrument into the space, to be able to enhance the liturgy in the parish," he said. "The idea of refurbishing a previously used organ seemed to be a way to do so in a more cost effective manner.

The diocesan Office of Planning, Construction and Facilities provided guidance and assistance with the purchase as well as the oversight of the refurbishment, according to Father Guest.

"It took a long time to accomplish, but it has certainly been worth the wait," he said. "I was blown away by the difference in sound quality.

"I don't think there's anything that compares to a pipe organ in Catholic worship. The organ provides a real sense of profound dignity to the liturgy."

Father Guest blessed the organ Oct. 4 by sprinkling holy water and reciting a prayer specific to organs.

For the parish organist, Matthew Ho, "tickling" the ivory keys on the new organ doesn't compare to today's organ keys made from bone or plastic.

All of the 3,530 speaking pipes are original, as well as the wind chest shells and tremulants. Some other parts have been replaced or reconstructed, coming from as far away as Norway.

The organ's new home is a larger space than its former one, so new additions and adjustments were made. The installation team worked to redefine the overall sound from a more dominant, shriller tone to a softer, more romantic one, said Ho.

With a historic past in a church that dates back to 1815 and is registered as a national historic landmark, the organ debuts just in time for the Ashburn parish to mark its 25th jubilee.

Gilbert is a freelance writer from Ashburn.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015