A century ago, the 30-voice choir at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Hughestown was drowning out their organist, who had only a small reed organ to accompany them.
The Rev. Elmer Deibert, pastor of the church on the corner of Rock and Center streets, began a drive to raise money for a new pipe organ.
By April 1917, parishioners had donated $610 and pledged another $200. But $810 was not enough and the drive stalled, until Andrew Carnegie came to the rescue.
Yes, THE Andrew Carnegie. The world-renowned steel magnate and philanthropist sent Deibert $750, the equivalent of $15,000 in today’s dollars, toward the pipe organ drive.
Carnegie’s gift covered half the cost of the $1,500 instrument and Deibert immediately ordered a pipe organ from the M.P. Möller Company in Hagerstown, Maryland.
How did Deibert get Carnegie to donate the money?
He simply asked him in a letter sent months earlier.
The organ was delivered to St. Peter’s in September 1917, set up and ready to play for Christmas, and officially celebrated and dedicated with a week of special services in January 1918. Parishioners had an organ they could hear over the 30 voices of the choir.
Now it is time to celebrate the pipe organ’s 100th anniversary at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15, at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church.
Michael Sowa will play works by past and present composers of organ music on the 100-year-old instrument, which was rebuilt in 1994.
Contributions to the organ fund will be accepted, and a reception will follow the program.
Sowa, 28, started piano lessons in third grade.
“I always loved the sound of an organ,” he said.
He began playing church organs when he was in high school. He started with a Christmas service at the former Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Duryea, now part of Nativity of Our Lord Parish. Today, he is the music director at Our Lady of the Eucharist, formerly St. Mary Help of Christians in Pittston; a music minister at his alma mater, Marywood; an assistant organist at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Scranton and a private piano and organ teacher.
Sowa is a former music director and organist at St. Peter’s, so he’s familiar with the century old organ. Rita Pahl showed him around the organ and the Lutheran service when he first played there.
Sowa explained the organ has nine ranks of pipes totaling more than 500 in all. If 500 sounds like a lot, it’s not. For example, the organ in St. John the Evangelist has more than 1,500 pipes.
“It’s one of the smallest and oldest pipe organs in the area,” Sowa said.
He explained how the organ produces sound.
“There’s a blower below it that generates air. The organist chooses stops. Those are the pipes that will sound. The stops turn on the pipes to allow them to speak. Based on length and diameter, the pipes make different sounds —wide, like a flute; narrow, strings. The visible pipes, the diapason, produce a pure organ tone.”
The organ is played with two keyboards and a 30-note pedal board that produces low bass sounds.
Though Sowa loves pipe organ music, he has wide musical tastes.
“I’m not picky. I like little bit of everything. I’m a Beatles fan,” he said.