"The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul"
(Johann Sebastian Bach)
Southeast Asia's oldest Anglican church – St George's Church in Penang – has received a bicentennial blessing this year in the form of a pipe organ, the most majestic of all instruments.
The 1,050-pipe Mander organ joins the ranks of its "neighbour" – the Church of Assumption along George Town's Lebuh Farquhar, in hosting its very own pipe organ.
With the consecration of the beautiful new instrument at St George's this morning by the Anglican Bishop of West Malaysia and Archbishop of the Anglican Church of the Province of South East Asia, the Most Reverand Datuk Ng Moon Hing, Penang island now has the distinction of being home to two glorious pipe organs found in two heritage churches on the same street in the Unesco heritage core zone!
"The character of Anglican worship revolves around congregational singing of hymns," said St George's Church's Bishop Charles Samuel, "and an organ is the basic necessity for nearly all of this music. There is no other instrument that matches its ability to lead the singing of a several hundred-strong congregation."
Bishop Samuel has stressed that the new pipe organ is "dedicated to the glory of God" and will also serve the good of the community through special organ recitals and other associated events which will be open to the public.
An inaugural public recital is scheduled to be held in the church on Aug 19 at 4pm and should lend an acoustically-rich addition to George Town Festival 2017, which will be underway by then.
The new pipe organ at St George's took a year to build in England and has been gifted to the parish by the family of the late Datuk Tan Kim Yeow.
The organ has 17 stops (19 ranks) comprising the 1,050 metal pipes (containing tin and lead) in total. There are no electrical components in the organ other than the fan blower and tremulant.
It also boasts pipe shades which carry carvings of foliage and the distinct 'Pinang' tree in its design.
St. George’s church had a few organs over the centuries, including a two-manual 16-stop (17-rank) pipe organ built in 1899 by Forster & Andrews in memory of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
Mander Organs Limited is a pipe organ maker and refurbisher based in London. The company has built and installed numerous celebrated organs such as the 68-stop four manual and pedal organ found in the Church of St Ignatius Loyola, New York. It has also rebuilt the Willis organ at St Paul's Cathedral in London and refurbished the Royal Albert Hall's grand organ.
Present in Penang to ensure that the organ is handed over to the church and left in very in good hands is Dr William McVicker, an organ auditor for the organ maker.
Dr McVicker is also organ curator at London’s Royal Festival Hall, director of music at St Barnabas Church Dulwich and a visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music.
An experienced musician with a keen ear for organ tone, he is said to offer advice on matters technical and musical, specialising in acoustics, liturgy and architecture, among others.
And who could be more thrilled to welcome the new organ to Penang, than the neighbouring Church of Assumption's resident organist, Leonard Gurunathan.
Leonard is currently lending a hand in training a group of young musicians at St George's Church to master pipe organ playing and lead the congregation in Sunday worship.
It was so gratifying to be surrounded by a group of enthusiastic youths including the musically-inclined Matthew, Miriam, Audrey and Jason last week. They took turns in pulling out all the stops and putting their best feet forward on the new organ as they learn to produce the best sacred music possible.
Oh, and did you know that there are specially-made shoes which organists (especially those handling pipe organs) should wear?
Dr McVicker brought out his pair of organ shoes which looked like they were crafted from the softest of leather and looked narrower than normal dress shoes.
I would imagine that the leather ensured minimal friction between shoe and pedal and enabled the organist to glide their feet across the shiny pedals and actually feel them through the thin sole.
Thank you Chu Hor, Leonard and Dr McVicker for a lovely afternoon of music in the midst of the organ pipes, which have added a measure of beauty to a sacred space, in the manner which stained-glass windows often do.
Thank you Leonard, for generously sharing these shots