Reed organ revived

Herbert-based organ builder Dr Ron Newton inspects the Estey reed organ at Pukehiki Church during...
Herbert-based organ builder Dr Ron Newton inspects the Estey reed organ at Pukehiki Church during the restoration process. Photo: supplied
After a 10-year journey to restore the 155-year-old Pukehiki Church, high atop Otago Peninsula, was completed last year, one special feature remained to be restored — the church’s original 1887 Estey reed pedal organ.

After a detailed restoration project by organist and organ builder Dr Ron Newton, a celebration service for the restored organ will be held this Sunday afternoon, from 3pm, at the church.

The service will be led by Rev David Crooke and will include a talk about the process by Dr Newton, who will also play the organ.

Pukehiki Church Trust member Derrick Railton said the story of the project would be both amusing and interesting, as Dr Newton has stripped down the organ completely, "checking every individual reed and replacing where necessary".

In 1887, the Estey reed organ was bought for Pukehiki Church, despite strong opposition by church elders, who felt "God would prefer the sound of human voices" to a newfangled "a kist o’ whistles".

The problem arose when Walter Riddell, who originally built the church in 1867-68 and led the singing and responses at services, threatened to resign unless the church deacons supported him by singing louder.

When they did not, he was as good as his word, and the organ was bought for £33 and 10 shillings ($8440.70), and organ chair (also now restored) for £1, 2 shillings and 6 pence ($289.76).

Initially it was only used for choir practise, before later being introduced into public worship.

Walter’s elder daughter Elizabeth was appointed organist.

Dr Newton, of Herbert, has been working as an independent organ builder since 1999, and travels the country tuning, repairing and restoring pipe and reed organs.

He was delighted to receive a request to inspect the reed organ in the Pukehiki church.

The Estey organ at Pukehiki church was a remarkable story of survival, as it had been in the church since new, had no borer and was missing only the candle holders on each side.

"It was very special for me to work on this instrument, as it has a place in the history of music in the Presbyterian Church south of the Waitaki River," he said.

"If it were not already in such a perfect home, it would be worthy of inclusion in the Organ Museum collection."

 - The Pukehiki Community Church Service, with celebrant Rev David Crooke and organist/builder Dr Ron Newton talking and playing the newly restored 1887 Estey reed organ will be held this Sunday, June 23, from 3pm, 1055 Highcliff Rd, Otago Peninsula. All are welcome.