Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Cathy Hollowell's name.

From the hands of U.S. senator to a church in Nassau Bay, a 90-year-old pipe organ still has generations of hymnals ahead of it, and church leaders have a plan to help it play on.

That plan includes St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church raising $250,000 with a gala and auction to both restore and install the instrument.

The full story

In 2016, St. Thomas was gifted the Kimball Opus 7133 from a private collector who had originally wanted to install the organ at his home but decided to donate it instead, St. Thomas Music Director Garmon Ashby said.

“St. Thomas is very appreciative of music and particularly the organ is a very key part of leading music in the Episcopal tradition,” Ashby said. “We have a beautiful acoustic in our church, which means it would be ideal for housing the organ."

The Opus 7133 is of considerable size and has three manuals and pedals, with 41 stops, 52 ranks and a total of 3,556 individual pipes, according to the church’s website.

St. Thomas currently has a digital organ, which emits sound through speakers. However, digital instruments do not have the longevity of a classic pipe organ, Ashby said.

“[Pipe organs] need to be fixed up every now and again, and the mechanisms need to be worked on and sometimes you know, replaced and restored, but the actual pipes, of which this organ has thousands, last for a long, long time and improve with age if anything,” Ashby said.

Put in perspective

The acquired Opus 7133 has a storied past and has changed many hands Ashby said.

As a gift to his wife, former Colorado U.S. Sen. Lawrence Phipps commissioned the Opus 7133 in 1933 to be installed in his Denver mansion. Following Phipps's death, the organ passed through many owners before it was bought by the Texas man who donated it to St. Thomas.

“The pipes were very well built as well with a beautiful sound, and the sound was of a very particular style, which was very fashionable at the time. A very warm, rich kind of style,” Ashby said.

Ashby said the church is fortunate to have acquired an organ that produces such rich sound, perfect for accompanying the Episcopal tradition’s hymnals and choir music because many organs from that era met a cruel fate.

While the Opus 7133’s warm, rich sound was widely desired during the era it was built, Ashby said that as mid-century tastes started to prefer a brighter sound, many older organs were cut up or stripped for parts.

Giving back

JohnPaul Chauvin, a University of Houston freshman organ performance student, regularly plays traditional music, such as César Franck’s "Cantabile," for St. Thomas on the digital organ but looks forward to the chance to play on the Opus 7133.

“Whenever we have real pipes in the organ, we can have real wind flowing through them, and it gives a natural sound, and so it better emulates the human voice,” Chauvin said. “It makes everything more meshed together, and it helps us worship God more ... genuinely.”

Ashby said that once the organ is installed, he hopes that St. Thomas can be a resource for music students throughout the Greater Houston area to play a historic organ.

“It’s the only significant-sized Kimball, unaltered in the Houston area,” Ashby said. “It would be a wonderful opportunity for those students to come and experience this style of organ which is relatively rare in Houston.”

The details

The church estimates that a new organ of similar caliber would cost $1.5 million, and while the donated organ will be much less expensive to install, St. Thomas needs to raise about $250,000 to successfully install it, church choir member Cathy Hollowell said.

The church is hosting a gala with live and silent auctions Feb. 16 at 6 p.m. at Bay Oaks Country Club to raise funds through tax-deductible donations.

Hollowell believes the organ will pay dividends to the local community, especially those who will be able to visit St. Thomas to attend organ performances.

“You don't have to get in the car and go down I-45 to downtown to hear music or to see art—it's right here in the community. I think that's very important,” Hollowell said.

Get involved

Those who want to support fundraising efforts can do so by sponsoring the gala, contributing items or gift certificates for the auction, attending the gala or simply offering a donation. To purchase gala tickets, contact Renee Bielski at [email protected] or visit the church’s website.