Listen to the new organ at Christ Church on Christmas Eve

Christ Church’s new organ consists of 1,300 pipes and originates from the United Kingdom. (Photo Grace Billups Arnold)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – The installation of the new organ in Church of Christ on N. Washington is almost finished. This process took 3 years, 2 continents, and a lot of patience, but on Christmas Eve it will have been worth it.

In each of the four Christmas Eve services-at 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. – everyone is invited to join in and listen to the perfectly tuned pipes of the new Harrison and Harrison organ. If you’re new to Christ Church, you might even think the instrument has always been there, with its gilded frame reflecting the gilded details of the pulpit and columns, and its height that blends in perfectly with the voices of the choir.

Jason Abel with the new organ. (Photo Grace Billups Arnold)

“I hope this [instrument] will last a very long time, ”says Jason Abel, director of Music Christ Church. Abel has been in the Church since 2005 and has familiarized himself with the old chapel organ.

“We weren’t really satisfied with the previous organ,” he explains. “It was a pipe organ from the 1970s; it was a product of its time. It didn’t match the colonial look of the room or support our singing the way we needed it to. We wanted something that looked like we had always been here.

The previous organ was split into four sections along the back wall and was both physically and audibly bulky, blowing music awkwardly across the room. The new room is consolidated into one piece, centered on the rear balcony, and is smaller with fewer pipes.

This is the sixth organ in the almost 250 years of Christ Church in Alexandria. If you do this math, Abel says, “They can last a long time if properly maintained. There are organs in Europe containing parts played by Bach. With the carefully curated details of this new organ, maintenance is imperative.

It only took a month to put the pieces back together. (Photo courtesy of Jason Abel)

The organ was designed by Harrison & Harrison Organ builders in the UK, who came to Alexandria, studied the previous body, drafted a proposal and got to work. The original organ has been dismantled piece by piece; while the new piece was built entirely in the UK, before being dissected for transport.

As these are complex and imminent instruments, removal and installation took some time, with COVID-19 only extending this process. “The last Sunday in 2019 was the last time we used the old organ,” says Abel. “We had cleaned everything up in early 2020, and since October 2020 the job was done and we were waiting for the instrument, but COVID struck.”

The organ frame is in place. (Photo courtesy of Jason Abel)

During the remainder of 2020, Christ Church would cease its in-person services altogether, bringing them back in the spring of 2021, outdoors. Then in November of this year, the new organ came in, 1,300 pipes and everything; it only took a month to install it. “There were five workers from Harrison and Harrison who came in and did this job. It was a pretty quick turnaround. “

Inside the organ. (Photo Grace Billups Arnold)

Now, with just a few final pipe tweaks to make, Abel was able to tinker with the keys and evaluate his Christmas Eve lineup.

Abel plays the new organ inside the chapel. (Photo Grace Billups Arnold)

“You only have one chance to make your debut. So what’s the perfect piece I can play that shows the organ,” Abel wondered. He settled down. Come all, faithful. “It’s jovial, it’s loud, it’s an anthem that everyone knows.” Imagine the power of the organ combined with the joyful sound of the choir. If you can’t imagine it, you can come and listen for yourself on Christmas Eve. Their services operate at 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. the choir will sing at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., and the organ will be played at all services.

This instrument will be used every Sunday from Christmas Eve, with a dedication performance on January 30, 2022 at 7 p.m., with guest organist Nathan Laube, who will create a new piece commissioned for that evening.

“I hope we have a good foundation and a solid instrument that will withstand various fads as tastes change,” says Abel. “That he will hold up and continue to be admired and appreciated and will support a congregation that truly values ​​music.”

With its timeless look and sound, this magnificent instrument opens a new chapter in the long history of this space.

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