Sunday 1 April 2012
By Christopher Trikilis
The Bishop Kelly Memorial Organ, now installed in St Patrick's Church, Mentone, is 150 years old this year.
Pipe organs and organ music play a huge role in the Catholic liturgy, richly enhancing one's prayerful experience and are the musical instrument most capable of leading and encouraging singing. As Protestant churches have closed across Melbourne in recent years, many fine pipe organs have found new homes in Catholic churches where their beauty and sound can continue to be appreciated.
The Mentone organ is of great historical value. Built in England by Frederick W. Nicholson in 1862, it was imported to Australia for the Congregational Church, Prahran, and was the largest instrument in the Colony of Victoria at that time. Following its installation, the grand opening was celebrated with a concert in February 1863 by Melbourne City Organist Charles E. Horsley, conductor W. Clarke and a 50-strong choir.
During the 1980s, the church (by then Prahran Uniting Church) closed and was bought by Prahran City Council for use as a performing arts space. The organ was gifted to
St Patrick's on the condition that it be restored for use in worship, and was placed in storage while plans were made for its restoration. More than five years of planning, research and meticulous restoration resulted in the instrument being brought from an unplayable state into the fine instrument that so richly enhances parish liturgies today.
The organ remains as it was designed, except that the case was duplicated to allow it to fit in the gallery at Mentone without blocking the fine Gabriel Loire stained-glass window, and a pedal Trombone stop was added. The dedication and opening concert for the organ were held on 13 August 1999 and featured performances by the Australian Army Band directed by Captain Andrea Davey, and guest organist Professor Ian Tracey of Liverpool, in the UK.
At its re-dedication in Mentone, the organ was dedicated to Bishop John Anthony Kelly, parish priest at St Patrick's 1973-1986 and Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne. Each year, a recital is given in his honour to showcase the capabilities of the organ beyond its normal duties of hymn playing and leading the singing, and an Advent Organ Concert series featuring prominent local organists is held each Saturday leading up to Christmas.
The organ has encouraged the establishment of a strong musical tradition at the parish, drawing on the full array of the Church's musical patrimony (including chant, polyphony and hymnody led by the parish's mixed-voice choir).
Christopher Trikilis is Director of Music, Catholic Parish of Mentone-Parkdale.
For details of celebrations, see What's On.
Photos: The Bishop Kelly Memorial Organ at St Patrick’s Church, Mentone. Photos by Christopher Trikilis.