Skip to main content

Bergen Evangelical Presbyterian Church highlights $90K organ restoration project with series of free concerts

By Virginia Kropf
bergen presbyterian organ
Alden Snell, standing, organist of the Bergen Evangelical Presbyterian Church, watches David Carmer as he tries out the newly restored organ at the church. Carmer is the organist at Trinity Lutheran Church in Medina. The two became friends when Carmer was organist of the church where Snell’s father was pastor.
Submitted photo.

The Bergen Evangelical Presbyterian Church has just completed a huge organ renovation project, and to thank the community for its support, the church is holding a series of free musical concerts.

“The renovation of the church pipe organ was a huge undertaking for our church,” said Gregg McAllister of Batavia, a longstanding member of the church who volunteered his time to promote the renovation and fundraising. “Church members wanted to offer something special to the community to celebrate, so they planned this concert series.”

Two concerts have already been held in the series, with two more to go, including one on April 27 and an organ concert in May featuring Eastman School of Music musicians.

The church invested $90,000 in the restoration project.

According to McAllister, a member of the Bergen Evangelical Presbyterian Church since 1960, the organ is a historic treasure.

McAllister shared some of the organ’s history, dating back to its installation in the church in 1907, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the church’s founding. The organ was built by Viner and Son in Buffalo in 1901 and installed in a theater there. For some reason, it became available for purchase in 1907 and was acquired by the Bergen church.

McAllister described the instrument as a full pipe organ that had to be pumped by hand to create air. Youth in the church, called “tweens,” did the pumping from under the sanctuary.

The organ previously underwent renovations in the 1960s and 1980s, when church members, including longtime member Fred Ely, volunteered to physically redo the leathers and felts that held the keys together.

Ely was an active member of the Renovation Committee, and his family’s involvement with the church and its organ goes back to its arrival at the church. He first became a member when he married Eunice “Eunie” on June 8, 1957, at the church where she is a lifelong member. He explained that a church member arranged to buy and install the organ in the church in 1907, and a relative of Eunie’s transported it to Bergen. Her father also hand-pumped the bellows to make the organ play.

Alden Snell, a professor at the Eastman School of Music, began playing the Bergen church’s organ during his junior year at Robers Wesleyan College in 1999. After moving to Delaware with his wife, Christin, Alden returned to Bergen in 2018 and resumed his duties as the Bergen Evangelical Presbyterian Church organist.

“This organ is small by some standards, yet it has a lot of character,” Snell said. “Before the renovations, you sat down and wondered, ‘What is it going to do now.’”

 It became evident the congregation had a big decision to make – let the organ die a slow death or bring it back to life.

Snell said talk of renovation and fundraising began just before the pandemic. The congregation then met in July 2021 and agreed to embark on a $90,000 fundraising campaign.

“This was a big project and needed congregational support,” he said. 

A Renovation Committee was formed under the leadership of Pastor Brandt Hammack and was led by Rob Willhoft, Snell, Tom Jones, and Ely.

Parsons Pipe Organ Builders in Canandaigua was contacted, and renovations began in June 2023 and were completed in November. 

Some of the problems that had to be addressed were pieces that opened the pipes had weathered and needed cleaning. All the pipes had to be removed and cleaned, as did two keyboards, which were warped, and a pedal board. The renovation involved organ pipe voicing, woodworkers and designers who crafted a custom wind system.

The final step was providing clean air and creating a “clean room” for the blower. 

McAllister said the renovation process was very intricate. Every key had to be adjusted, and the sound had to be balanced with the building's acoustics. 

Snell said an organ is fit for its space, and the sound of this organ fills the sanctuary but doesn’t overpower it.

“By the end of the fund drive, the church only had to pay the initial 10 percent down payment and the rest all came in donations from the congregation and community,” he said. “We are really happy with the results.”

As for the concert series, the first concert was on Feb. 4 and featured church organist Alden Snell and David Carmer, organist of Trinity Lutheran Church in Medina.

The second this past Sunday featured Jaclyn Breeze of North Chili, composer and flutist, as well as Snell.

The next concert will feature guitarist George Collichio at 6 p.m. on April 27 in a Door of Hope Coffeehouse event at the church. 

The final concert at 6 p.m. May 5 will be an organ recital featuring Eastman School of Music students.

While there is no admission for any of the concerts, a free-will offering is accepted at each.

organ bergen
Submitted photo.

Authentically Local