Antique British pipe organ regaining its former splendour
Pipe organs that for years used to fill churches with celestial music are making a comeback after they were sidelined by the introduction of electronic instruments.
A pipe organ that is about 150 years old is half way there. The organ, housed at the Maria Regina church in Marsa, is being renovated by organ builder Brian Bugeja. It was made by the firm Frederick Rothwell of Harrow, London, which was established in 1858 and wound up in 1961.
Mr Bugeja has been working on its console, considered the brain of the instrument, for the past two years.
The organ was originally at the Immaculate Conception church in Burnt Oak, London. It was bought by Fr Valent Calleja in 1982 for his church when he was parish priest in Marsa.
Mr Bugeja is a mechanical engineer, organ builder - he built the pipe organ bought by St James Cavalier in Valletta in 2003 and which today is housed at the church of St Catherine of Italy also in Valletta - and a top musician who was tutored by Dion Buhagiar and Carmelo Schembri.
"The damage caused by woodworm was so extensive that I had practically to rebuilt the console, using sheepskin for the bellows, gaskets and valves as in the original.
"The pipes that drive the console to the wind chest were made of lead, which will be replaced with stainless steel ones," Mr Bugeja explained.
He would love to complete the painstaking job tomorrow but "I spend two to three hours thinking about the next step before I go on. One cannot rush such a job. It will take at least another two years to complete". If the organ is serviced once a year, as a bare minimum, it will take 50 years of regular playing, he noted.
Mr Bugeja will today be flying to Manchester where he will spend three weeks at George Sixsmith Organ Builders. There he will go over the British system of how organs are built to get a better idea on how to reconstruct the missing parts of the Maria Regina organ.
A former Malta Shipbuilding engineer who left the 'yard on an early retirement scheme, Mr Bugeja, 41, attended a two-month course in organ building at the Oberlinger factory in Mainz, Germany. About 70 master craftsmen at the German firm produce fewer than 10 organs a year that are exported worldwide. Each organ costs tens of thousands of euros.
Fr Calleja said that Mr Bugeja had been recommended to him by Fr Vinċenz Buhagiar who had known about the organ at the church of St Catherine of Italy.
"The organ was brought to my attention by Fr Naz Tonna who, at the time, was chaplain in Tottenham, London," Fr Calleja said.
Ironically, the London church wanted to sell the organ to buy an electronic one. Fr Calleja, who bought it for £200, recalls that "the English organist who used to play it and, incidentally, was married to a Maltese lady from Sliema, started crying when he saw the organ leave the church".
Fr Calleja has another connection with the Marsa church: It was built by his father Salvu.
The present parish priest,Fr Paul Bugeja, said the parishioners were looking forward to hear the organ being played and are contributing to its restoration.