When it rains, it pours. For years, Merrimack College’s Director of Campus Music Activities Hugh Hinton has searched for an authentic, all-analog pipe organ for the Collegiate Church of Christ the Teacher. This year, his search ended with not one, but two organs.
As part of the renovation work at the Collegiate Church and Student Union that was completed earlier this year, in the church’s gallery now sits a mammoth tracker-action organ that was built more than 100 years ago in 1907. Additionally, on the church floor near where the altar is set up sits a more compact, baroque-style organ built in 1965.
Both instruments will be officially dedicated during a concert at the Collegiate Church on Monday, Nov. 20, at 7:30 p.m. The event will feature performances by four local organists, including Hinton, and a blessing by Fr. Raymond Dlugos, O.S.A., vice president for mission and ministry.
Authentic tracker-action organs, as Hinton explained, are not easy to come by. It wasn’t until former student Nick Olszewski ’19 M’21 offered the College a chance of a lifetime in 2019.
“I knew Nick through Campus Ministry and it was a chance meeting we had,” recalled Hinton. “He asked if Merrimack needed an organ. The church his father attended, South Deerfield Congregational Church in western Massachusetts, was closing down and the future of their organ was uncertain.”
It took a few years, but Merrimack finally was able to recover the organ. Before it was installed this past May, it was painstakingly refurbished by Andover Organ Company of Lawrence.
“All restoration was done on the original model,” Hinton said. “When we first went to the church to get it, it was about 35 degrees outside. Half of the notes played, but the bones were all good. (Andover Organ Company) re-leathered the insides and put in new parts.”
Also during this past spring, Hinton located the 1965 organ from a Congregational church in Durham, New Hampshire. It was refurbished and installed by Noack Organ Company of Georgetown.
Hinton said the 1907 organ will be used for more formal events while the 1965 organ will be played weekly during Sunday services.
“It’s a blessing to find two instruments in the same year,” he continued. “It’s really unheard of. They will help build up the College’s Catholic identity for years to come. With proper upkeep, these instruments will last for decades. I’ll only be their steward for a short time in their lifespan.”
Fred MacArthur, one of the performers for the dedication concert, has played the church’s previous electric organ for weddings and other special events over the past 30 years.
“It’s really exciting,” he said as he was wrapping up a practice session with the 1907 organ. “It’s quite a gem, and it’s a nice marriage with this space.”