By Travis Gettys
NEWPORT - The most embarrassing moment, the organist said, came several years ago during a funeral.
Katie Barton, organist for Holy Spirit at the newly refurbished pipe organ.
(Photo by Gary Landers/The Cincinnati Enquirer)
An awful sound emanated from the Holy Spirit Church's venerable pipe organ as an out-of-tune note got stuck. The organ had been improperly repaired with duct tape and rags.
"I could see everybody turn around in their seats and look at me like, 'What is she doing up there?'" said Katie Barton, the organist at Holy Spirit.
Awkward moments like that are just a memory now. During Easter Sunday services, the parish will rededicate the organ, which received a 16-month, $200,000 restoration as part of a $4 million renovation of the worship space and parish school, which is across the street.
Holy Spirit was formed in 1997 when four Newport parishes with dwindling populations merged, and proceeds from the sale of the unused church buildings and community donations helped pay for the renovations.
"The organ was probably the most major thing we did," said the Rev. Rick Bolte, the pastor. "At least, it was the most expensive."
Although no one is sure of the instrument's exact age, Bolte said it likely dates to the 1854 founding of the first St. Stephen Church, which was a block away on Saratoga Street.
The organ was moved in 1938 to its current location, in the choir loft of the church on Washington Avenue, and its age showed badly.
"A lot of it didn't even work," Barton said. "There were certain sounds I had to avoid."
The organ was disassembled and taken to Schaedle Pipe Organ Services in Cincinnati, where its pipes and leather air pumps were repaired or replaced.
Technicians also installed a MIDI synthesizer to complement the organ with piano, harpsichord and violin sounds.
"It's wonderful," Barton said. "You would never know it's in the same church, that it's the same instrument. It's totally different."
Barton demonstrates its new sound, pounding out a choppy bass rhythm with one hand while the other supplies a baroque melody, her shoulders dipping and her body sliding back and forth on the bench as she works the pedals.
As she plays, wooden shutters that enclose the pipes open and shut, controlling the organ's dynamics, Barton said.
"With a piano, the harder you hit a key the louder the sound," she said. "With an organ, it sounds the same no matter what."
A pedal allows her to muffle the sound when the shutters are closed and open them to flood the sanctuary with sonorous notes.
"We'll open it up Sunday," Barton said.
"We'll probably break a few windows," Bolte said, laughing.
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