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St. Paul’s Church Plays Historic Organ in Memory of Its Biggest Fan

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St. Paul's Church
(Credit: Cherri Gregg)

St. Paul’s Church
(Credit: Cherri Gregg)

Gregg_Cherrie--NEW Cherri Gregg
Cherri Gregg is the community affairs reporter for KYW Newsr...
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By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS)– A historic organ at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill will be played this Sunday in memory of one of the instrument’s most enthusiastic and generous fans.

At more than half-century old, the Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ was the last instrument to be personally “voiced” by the legendary G. Donald Harrison before his death in 1957. He finished the instrument at St. Paul’s Church then went to work on an instrument at a church in New York City, but died before that organ was complete.

“The organ has a very, very unique character,” says Zach Hemenway, director of music and organist at St. Paul’s. He says the massive pipe organ occupies the walls surrounding the altar and throughout the church, offering a unique sound because of its origin.

“There are over 6,000 pipes and 110 ranks and a 140 something stops,” he says pointing to the pedals, keys and levers it takes to operate the one-of-a-kind instrument.

“It may be one of the most experimental instruments by Aeolian-Skinner because G. Donald Harrison was really a pioneer in American organ building at the time,” says Hemenway, noting that the pipe organ was 20 years ahead of its time.

Given its distinctive history and superb craftsmanship, Hemenway says it’s no surprise that long-time parishioner and choir member Ann Stookey loved the instrument.

“Anne had taste that was exquisite and not just in music– in all things,” he says, “everything about her…everything she touched became beautiful and she really appreciated beauty.”

Stookey, wife of retired Comcast Corporation executive Joe Waz, was known for her bubbly personality and bright, creative flower arrangements, which Hemenway says won awards at flower shows. Following her death, the family established the Ann Stookey Fund for Music at St. Paul’s to maintain the historic organ she loved so much.

“The fund’s initial gift was a matching grant of $250,000, which makes it $500,000 total,” says Hemenway, “it’s a very, very generous gift.”

Maintaining, tuning and cleaning an organ with thousands of pipes is pretty pricey, so the fund will ensure that the dollar instrument, valued at $3 million, is kept in top shape for many years.

“I think this is a good way to memorialize her and I think it would make her proud,” says Hemenway.

Zack Hemenway playing historic organ. (credit: Cherri Gregg)

Zack Hemenway playing historic organ.
(credit: Cherri Gregg)

St. Paul’s is holding an organ recital this Sunday at 5pm at St. Paul’s, 22 East Chestnut Hill Avenue, to honor Ann’s memory. For more info, go to www.stpaulschestnuthill.org.

For more community and public affairs stories that impact your neighborhood, follow KYW Community Affairs reporter Cherri Gregg on Twitter; you can also “Like” her on Facebook.

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