Portland’s magnificent Kotzschmar Organ will be undergoing extensive repairs next year. No doubt, we will miss the historic organ while it is out of commission for up to 18 months.

This means that every concert that utilizes the Kotzschmar between now and its 100th anniversary next summer should be treasured.

With that as context, Tuesday’s “Christmas with Cornils” concert at Merrill Auditorium takes on added meaning. If you are among the many who appreciate this annual event, it’s all the more reason to attend Tuesday.

As the saying goes, sometimes you do not appreciate what you have until it’s gone.

“We’re billing each of our upcoming concerts as the last one of its kind for a couple of years,” said Kathleen Grammer, executive director of the Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ (FOKO).

The nonprofit group that supports the pipe organ successfully lobbied the Portland City Council this fall to approve a $1.5 million bond to help pay for $2.5 million worth of renovations. FOKO will provide the balance.

Most of the money will be used to repair and clean damaged pipes and seal leaks in the organ’s wind chest. Another chunk will improve lighting and sound at Merrill Auditorium, which has housed the organ since 1912.

The organ was donated to the city in 1912 by publisher Cyrus H.K. Curtis and dedicated to Hermann Kotzschmar, a German immigrant who settled in Portland and taught music to its citizenry.

As its name implies, “Christmas with Cornils” features municipal organist Ray Cornils. He is delighted that the organ will get the attention it deserves.

“It is in failing health right now. I am so glad the city and community is supportive of it,” he said. “With this action, the health of this instrument is guaranteed.”

Cornils has planned a festive evening on Tuesday. The concert will feature the musical prowess of Cornils and assorted friends, including the Choral Art Camerata, the Parish Ringers and the Kotzschmar Festival Brass. Soloist Aaron Engebreth will narrate “The Night Before Christmas.”

“This is the 22nd year we have done the Christmas program,” Cornils said. “I grew up playing the tuba, and so I have always loved brass music. I think the Kotzschmar sounds especially great with brass, so I always like to feature a lot of brass with the organ, and am always on the lookout for new pieces.”

This year’s program is full of such combos, including the opener “Joy to the World” and a recitation with music of the poem “The Night Before Christmas,” featuring baritone Engebreth.

“I worked with him as a soloist with the Choral Art Society,” said Cornils. “I heard this nice voice behind me singing, and during the break, we chatted. He’s got a rich voice, and knows how to reclaim a text.”

Trumpeter Anthony Di Lorenzo arranged both pieces.

Meanwhile, the Parish Ringers will join Cornils for renditions of “Ding Dong Merrily on High,” “A Holly Jolly Christmas” and other selections. The Parish Ringers add a lightness to the program, which Cornils finds particularly appealing.

“I think a lot of people think the organ is heavy, and it is,” he said. “But it can still smile and have a lot of fun. We will be having fun on Tuesday.”

Grammer appreciates the ebb and flow of “Christmas with Cornils.”

“I think it stands apart from other Christmas concerts and events,” she said. “It’s always late in the season. The sense that you get when you are in the audience is almost spiritual. It is for me, anyway. There are times when you can almost hear a pin drop in the auditorium, and times when the energy is at its height.

“To me, it’s one of the favorites out there in terms of holiday offerings.”

During the 18 months that the Kotzschmar will be out of service, Cornils will serve as an ambassador of sorts. He will perform on other pipe organs in Maine, and talk about Portland’s famous organ.

He will do a Christmas concert next year – somewhere – but not on the Kotzschmar, and not at Merrill.

The idea behind his tour is to spread the word about the Kotzschmar so audiences are larger when the organ is fully restored to its greatness.

“We will have scaled-back concerts, but we will be alive and well,” Cornils said.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

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Twitter: pphbkeyes