Historical Society’s Antique Organ Concert Plays to Standing Room Audience

April 15, 2016


by Lynne Ober

For decades the historic Mason & Hamlin Parlor Organ was used at the Hudson Baptist Church, but in the 1960s it was given to Mr. Leighton Drown who restored the exterior finish.  This pump organ was donated to the Hudson Historical Society in 2007 by Mrs. Drown and the society invested several thousand dollars in having the interior restored by Bruce Stevens.

Sunday the Hudson Historical Society hosted an organ recital that showed the capabilities of the organ to its fullest.  Have you ever heard a toe-tapping Scott Joplin ragtime song vigorously played on an organ?  The standing room audience at Hills House was treated to not one, but two of these songs plus a wide variety of music.

Bruce Stevens, who is the organist at Wells River Congregational Church, prepared a wide selection of music that was enjoyed by all.  At the age of nine, Stevens started studying piano and when he attended UNH to get a degree in Agriculture Education so he could teach, he also took harpsichord and organ classes.

The thorough restoration included replacing all the leather.  The bellows were recovered, reeds carefully cleaned and tuned; all the mechanisms were polished, adjusted and brought back to factory condition.  This was done by 1001 Keys & Co., of Wells River, Vt., which is owned and operated by Stevens who has a lifelong love of organs.

The concert was held in the Great Room at Hills House and the audience was close enough to the organ to watch Stevens pump the air into the organ, work the stops as well as play the keyboard.  The dozen stops operate via a push-pull and allow the organ to emulate other instruments and will play certain keys in response to the keys played by the organist.

Stevens is an entertaining speaker with an engaging smile who wanted his audience to love organs as much as he does.  He began by explaining how all the pieces function and how he operates them.  There are two pumps plus two knee presses as well as the dozen stops and the keyboard.  When playing a piece with a fast tempo such as the rag time pieces, Stevens gets a full workout just to keep the organ functioning at the needed pace.

The music consisted of a well-known hymn, “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies,” that Stevens encouraged the audience to sing-along with him to Mozart, Straus and Handel.  The hymn wasn’t the only well-known piece and several times audience members sang along with the music.  Stevens said he loved it when the audience would “belt out a good tune and sing along with the music.”

The audience ranged in ages from very young to elderly and everyone had a great time.  Abigail, 8, brought her doll, Ella, and the two of them danced together during the rag time pieces.  “I liked the music,” Abigail said.

One of the audience favorites was a medley of Gershwin tunes, which were seamlessly woven together.  The full- bodied sound of the organ got a full workout as Stevens used the stops to change the instrumentality as the melodies changed from one to another.  When he ended, he grinned, “The organ was rebelling a bit at the end there.”

Hudson Historical Society accepted donations toward the cost of the organ restoration.  If you wish to make a donation, you can do so by mailing a check to the Hudson Historical Society, P.O. Box 475, Hudson, NH 03051-0475.  They still have a cabinet Mason & Hamlin organ that needs to be restored.