In 1954, Harold F. Snow decided he would build a church designed around an organ.

As it became clear that the First Christian Church on Pine Point Road in Scarborough was too small for the congregation – even without a large pipe organ – Snow decided that he and the Scarborough company F.H. Snow Canning Co. would donate a world-renowned Austin organ, and then build a new church around it.

“I decided that my company would like to donate a pipe organ,” said Snow recently, sitting in the church he designed and carefully watched be built 50 years ago. At the time, he was the organist and music director.

“I proposed the idea that we’d be better off to go find ourselves a piece of land and build a new church,” said Snow, who still lives in Scarborough and attends the church.

Construction began in 1954, and was completed with the installation and dedication of the organ in 1957. Now, the Blue Point Congregational Christian Church will reach its 50th birthday next October. For the year leading up to its anniversary, the church will hold different events culminating in the rededication next fall.

Snow’s daughter, Susan Snow, remembers the huge community effort to help build the church. She recalled Marines coming to clear the land and different residents with construction skills lending a hand. Though she was only about 5 at the time, Snow can still picture the huge workbenches in the shed in her yard where her father planned the church that was designed for music.

Harold Snow, who was the organist and music director for 40 years, helped create a church that could house a 26-rank Austin organ. Visible on the left side of the church are five rows, or ranks, of pipes. What can’t be seen are the 21 other ranks, including 16-foot-long pipes concealed in the walls. The walls flanking the sanctuary were built at an angle that would best suit the acoustics, and the floors and ceiling are bare to allow for better reverberation.

John Turnell Austin began his organ company in Hartford, Conn., in 1899. Organs that were built by the Austin company in the 1890s are still in use today. In 1954, Snow paid $20,000 for the Blue Point organ. Today, he estimates, it could easily cost $200,000.

What makes an Austin organ so desirable, said Snow, is Austin’s invention of the universal air chest. The air chest is a large, airtight room where someone can access all of the valves for easy maintenance. Organs are powered by pressurized air, which was once created with something like fireplace bellows and then large hand cranks.

Today, the church’s organ is powered by an electric blower, though Nancy Landsman, the current organist and music director, remembers the hand-powered organ at her childhood church. Members of the church, said Landsman, were picked to push the large hand pumps during services.

“It was a big deal when you were asked to do that,” said Landsman.

Playing the organ, said Landsman, is much different from playing the piano. After pressing a piano key, the note lingers. With an organ, pressing and instantly releasing a key creates a short burst of sound. As a result, said Landsman, an organist has to learn how to substitute different fingers to hold notes while moving on to play new ones.

An organist also needs to work in coordinating the feet, she said. The pedals below make up another keyboard the organist needs to play. In the end, she said, it’s much like bringing together four hands to play one instrument.

“It’s wonderful to have this instrument at my disposal,” said Landsman. “It’s like a gift.”

“The touch of the Austin is different than any other organ,” said Snow. When you press a key on many other organs, said Snow, there is more resistance on the key. “This one here, you push, and all of a sudden it will just go down,” he added. “It gives a much better touch.”

This organ, said Snow, also has a special sound. When the organ was being designed, Snow insisted it run on a lower wind pressure. The old pump organs all ran on lower pressure, since someone was pumping the bellows and less pressure meant less work. With electric pumps, said Snow, high pressures are easy but the lower, softer tones are easily obscured.

The Kotzschmar organ at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall, said Snow, is a high-pressure organ.

Building the pipes capable of all the subtle tones is an extremely involved process, said Snow. When he ordered the organ, he went to the factory in Hartford, where he saw workers spread sheets of liquid metal on marble covered in cloth. After it cooled, they would mark and cut out all 200 pipes from the tiny high notes to the huge 16-foot pipes.

“If you could see inside the pipes, you could see the texture of the cloth,” said Snow. “Today the artisans just aren’t there to build these.”

Throughout the year, the church will celebrate its anniversary while looking forward to a special concert on May 6, said Landsman. Along with Landsman’s fellow organist Everett Henry and the Portland Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, they will hold a public recital featuring the theme “Celebratory Music” and variations on “Happy Birthday.”

Harold Snow, left, and Portland municipal organist Ray Cornils, kicked off the year-long celebration of the Blue Point Congregational Christian Church’s 50th anniversary with a concert on Oct. 15. The Blue Point Congregational Christian Church and its large pipe organ were completed in 1957. A year-long celebration of its 50th anniversary started this month.Only five of the organ’s 26 rows of pipes are visible. Behind the walls are pipes that range up to 16 feet long.


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