German builder of St. Bede's organ returns to restore the instrument | December 5, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Community - December 5, 2012

German builder of St. Bede's organ returns to restore the instrument

by Paul Bendix

The German visitor, eyeing the pipe organ at St. Bede's Episcopal Church in Menlo Park after services on a recent Sunday, was no tourist. Hans-Ulrich Erbsloh had helped build the instrument in Hamburg more than 40 years before. Now retired, he was touring America, inspecting his life's work. For St. Bede's, his visit was perfectly timed.

The congregation on Sand Hill Road long knew that its treasured pipe organ, installed in 1970, was due for a major overhaul. After discussions with church officials, Mr. Erbsloh agreed to return in the fall of 2012 to restore the organ to its original beauty.

St. Bede's organ was built in the early 1960s and was designed to be pleasing acoustically. The choice of organ was an important one for the congregation. After much deliberation, a tracker pipe organ was commissioned from the Rudolf von Beckerath workshops in Hamburg.

Beloved by musicians, the action of Beckerath organs is mechanical, rather than electronic. Organists love the responsiveness of the touch. These instruments are ideally suited to German and French Baroque, as well as Classical repertoire.

Working in Hamburg in the late 1960s, Mr. Erbsloh originally had worked on the "voicing" of the organ. In the Beckerath workshops, this meant discovering the potential tone in each of 1,731 pipes, complete with ringing overtones.

Apart from addressing the wear and tear of 40 years of playing, he also was commissioned to restore the timbre of the organ. Past adjustments had distorted the original intent of Rudolf von Beckerath. Mr. Erbsloh was determined to bring the instrument back to its original tones.

After a well-received organ-restoration appeal, Mr. Erbsloh and assistant Bernd Becker completed five weeks of work on the organ this fall. They removed, cleaned and restored every part.

St. Bede's celebrates the restoration of its Beckerath organ throughout the holiday season. On Sunday, Dec. 16, at 4 p.m., a candlelit Christmas Lessons and Carols program features the organ with harp, and choir. Music includes Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols.

Organ, trumpet and choir accompany Choral Christmas Eucharist on Christmas Eve, Monday, Dec. 24, at 8 p.m. Carol Sing is at 7:30 p.m.

On Christmas Day at 9 a.m., St. Bede's celebrates Eucharist with carols, organ and trumpet.

St. Bede's Episcopal Church is at 2650 Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park.