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St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Port Washington has embarked on a major fund-raising campaign to install a new pipe organ, replacing the existing instrument that dates back to the late 19th century. The new organ is expected to provide a tonal quality on a par with any in the area.

The present pipe organ, which was acquired from out-of-state, is more than 100-years-old and must be replaced. Some of the pipes are older than the church itself and the composite instrument - a collection of pipes and ranks that have been added over a span of 70 years - no longer provides the quality of music expected by the parish and community.

According to St. Stephen's organist and Music Director Mark van Schenkhof, "Some ranks of pipes can no longer be played at all and the 1935 console is at the end of its useful life. The wind pressure is uneven and the vital "leathering" - the control mechanism that keeps air from entering the pipes when it shouldn't - is worn and cracked. The result can be, as choir members and parishioners have noticed, a note that refuses to end!"

Over the past year, a committee headed by van Schenkhof and choir member William Fish reviewed more than 30 organ companies and selected the Peragallo Pipe Organ Company of Paterson, NJ, to build and install the new organ. Peragallo, dating from 1918, has three generations of experience, including reconstruction of the organs at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan and Gloria Dei Lutheran in Huntington.

The new high quality instrument will include 46 ranks of pipe work - 29 new and 17 from the existing organ - with the old pipes completely overhauled and "revoiced" to blend with the ensemble. The new pipe work in the great division will be 70 percent tin, a proportion that can provide excellent quality for years to come. This is the same ratio that can be found in 300-year-old organs in Europe. A new MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) system will provide over 300 digitally sampled voices, including piano, strings, orchestral reeds, percussion, and many others, but two of the oldest ranks in the existing organ, the gambe and the celeste, will be preserved because of their excellent quality.

The Peragallo Company will maintain the existing organ until its scheduled removal in September, so the pipes to be reused can be refurbished. Peragallo will also provide an electronic organ for use until the new organ is installed in December.

The story of how St. Stephen's got the old organ goes back to 1895, when the church was established as a satellite chapel of what is now Christ Episcopal Church in Manhasset. A wealthy Philadelphian, Stephan DuPuy, died accidentally that year. He had been born on St. Stephen's Day, was a lifelong member of St. Stephen Church in Philadelphia and had an organ in his home. His sister, upon hearing of the fledging mission church in Port Washington, arranged to have her brother's personal instrument sent here. That original gift formed the core of the organ that has evolved to this day. At the same time the congregation was asked if they thought it proper to rename the then Christ Church Chapel in Port Washington to St. Stephen's Chapel, in thanks for the gift, which they did, providing St. Stephen's with its first organ, and its name.

St. Stephen's also has a history rooted in music. When its services began in 1895, "boys and girls from the valley who loved to sing hymns" gathered to sing, pray and hear Bible stories at the home of Preston Wysong on Carlton Avenue.

"Music has continued to define the church's worship and outreach to this day," remarked Rev. Kurt von Roeschlaub, rector of St. Stephen's. "Under the direction of gifted and creative directors over the years, and with an enthusiastic choir leading the congregation, Sunday services and special holy days are filled with musical offerings," Rev. von Roeschlaub added.

St. Stephen's has also presented superb concerts for the community at large - garnering praise for its professional productions. Most recently the choir performed Handel's Messiah last December and John Rutter's Requiem in April - both to high acclaim - but without accompaniment by the organ.

The total cost of the new organ project is over $450,000, with more than half already raised. St. Stephen's hopes to enlist wide support for this major financial undertaking. All donations of $100 or more will be acknowledged in a special 2002 Organ Memorial Book, and contributors will receive a certificate showing the donor's name, pipe or rank purchased, and the names of those they wish to memorialize. Major contributors of over $10,000 will be recognized on a special plaque.

Contributions can be mailed to St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, 9 Carlton Avenue, Port Washington, NY 11050. Information about donating appreciated securities or other tax-advantaged means of giving can be obtained by calling the church at 767-0363.


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