Milwaukee church restores 19th century pipe organ

MILWAUKEE - The pipe organ has a sound synonymous with church. However, at St. Marcus Church on Palmer and Garfield, it's a sound more than a century in the making.

"We have some of the pipes that go all the way back to 1882," said Mark Jeske, Pastor at St. Marcus. 

There are only a few pipes from the 19th century but they still work well. The same can't be said for the rest of the setup. Water damage and normal wear have forced the congregation to come to a decision. 

Switch to a fully digital electronic pipe organ or restore the old pipe organ to make it sound like new. 

They chose the latter. 

"Digital electronic organs have progressed quite a bit," Jeske said. "Some people say they have a similar sound and are generally cheaper than pipes. But our committee resolved to stay all pipe. It's a historic thing." 

The restoration of the organ isn't the only thing the church has done. They've improved the acoustics in the building by removing some carpet and changing out some of the floors. So the sound is as pure as it was when Chester Arthur was president. 

"[The sound] is the difference between a craft beer and a cheap light beer," Jeske said. "People with a palate can really tell the difference and it completely delivers a much better sound."

Even those who may not have an ear for it can appreciate the depth of sound the organ brings. Joel Schwartz, Associate Organist for St. Marcus Church, played the restored organ in an empty church. The deep bass echoes heavily throughout the building. One person in the church said a neighbor even complained about the power of it while they were fixing it. 

They now shut the windows at night to try and prevent the powerful 19th century organ from disturbing residents. But the sound resonates throughout more than just the walls of the church. 

"People from my generation really appreciate the connection to the past," Schwartz said. "We're singing along with the same pipes on the organ from 1882 and with the same members of this congregation. It's something that's been a constant throughout generations. with the words, the music and this instrument all together in this space is a cool connection to have."

The church is having a dedication concert at 2215 N. Palmer Street in Milwaukee from 8:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday night. They will have a dedication worship festival Sunday as well from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and also 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

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