OPINION: Spirit of Christmas readily heard in the ‘King of Instruments’

Built in 1881, this newly restored reed organ will be featured in a 7 p.m. Christmas concert at the Moore Museum on Friday, Nov. 24. For tickets or info call 519-867-2020. Submitted Photo

Phil Egan

The composer J.S. Bach described music as God’s gift to man. He called it “the only art of Heaven given to earth, and the only art of earth we take to Heaven.”

For over 150 years in Sarnia, church congregations have raised their voices in devotional song to the tune of what Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart once described as “the king of instruments” – the organ.

I thought of this recently when I learned of a very special Christmas organ concert at the Moore Museum’s chapel on Nov. 24th, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The concert will feature the music of a 136-year-old newly restored reed organ donated to the museum by a church in Mooretown.

But organs had been on my mind for some time – not just because I find the music spiritually uplifting, but for historical reasons.

Some time ago, I wrote a column in The Sarnia Journal about the former Scott’s clothier building at 301 Christina St. N. The building was constructed in 1875 for Sarnia grocer Moses Masurette.

Not long after its completion, Masurette sold it to John D. Beatty, one of the owners of the Great West Transportation Company. The company built the luxurious wooden-hulled Great Lakes passenger steamers, United Empire and Monarch.

Beatty was a distinguished parishioner of Central Methodist Church and, in 1898, was involved in buying a pipe organ for the church, which we know today as Central United Church.

I know this because the current owner turned over to me a stash of historic documents found in the house. The home later came into the possession of Ann Beatty, who married Sarnia mayor and inventor Thomas Doherty.

The documents reveal that Beatty solicited quotes and received specifications from a number of Eastern Canada’s most renowned organ manufacturers. They included the massive factory of R.S. Williams & Sons of Oshawa, Edward Lye & Sons and the Heintzman Company, both of Toronto, and D.W. Karn & Company of Woodstock,

The company chosen to build the organ, however, was Casavant Brothers of St. Hyacinthe, Quebec. Known in Quebec as Casavant Freres, the company still exists today.

Founded in 1879 by brothers Claver and Samuel Casavant, the company flourished and gained international respect in 1891 after completing the magnificent organ at the Church of Notre-Dame in Montreal.

I attended the funeral Mass of Quebec Deputy Premier Pierre Laporte at Notre-Dame in Montreal, following his assassination by the FLQ during the October Crisis of 1970, and felt the power of that amazing, noble instrument at a time of national mourning.

Bach was right when he also described the music of the organ as “the art of Heaven.”