Congregants at Cutchogue church raising money to repair rare pipe organ

The Kilgen pipe organ at Our Lady of Ostrabrama R.C. Church in Cutchogue has been played weekly at every Mass, funeral, wedding, first communion, confirmation and concert for 81 years.

Now, the historic instrument is in need of repairs and the congregation is seeking donations to help cover the cost.

Earlier this month, parish music director Kelli Naugles informed Monsignor Joseph Staudt of Cutchogue’s Sacred Heart Parish, who is also the administrator of Our Lady of Ostrabrama, that the organ needed between $30,000 and $100,000 in repairs. Msgr. Staudt said some congregants hope the organ can be refurbished in time for the annual Candlelight Christmas concert Dec. 22.

William Roslak, organist and choral director at Special Music School in New York City, said the organ was installed in the early spring of 1938 and resembles two organs present in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s one of the few of its kind that exists in the United States in its original condition.

“It’s remarkably untouched since it was installed,” he said.

Mr. Roslak, who grew up in Southold and attended the church, plays the historic organ with the East End Women’s Choir for the yearly December concert. He has devoted his free time to researching the instrument, which he said produces a “lush and deep tone … great for accompanying a choir.”

Roughly a decade after the Kilgen organ was constructed, Mr. Roslak said, Baroque-era organs grew in popularity. These instruments produce a “brighter and high-pitched tone to emulate the music by [Johann Sebastian] Bach,” he said.

But the fad resulted in the destruction and modification of most older manufactured organs. The Cutchogue organ, however, was spared and has maintained its sound.

East End Women’s Choir director Kamilla Ozman hopes to see it repaired and said the Candlelight Christmas concert would “not have the same significance” if the organ were not present in the church.

“It’s like this overwhelmingly beautiful sound,” she said. “It fills up the whole room and it’s really beautiful. It’s a real force.”

The historic Kilgen pipe organ is located in the balcony of Our Lady of Ostrabrama R.C. Church in Cutchogue. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)

Mr. Roslak said it’s important to preserve the craftsmanship that went into building the instrument. He added that purchasing a new organ would be far more expensive than repairing the Kilgen. Ms. Naugles, he said, told him a new pipe organ could cost anywhere from $500,000 to $2 million or more.

Refurbishment would not alter the exterior of the organ — or the sound it produces — but it would be an investment, he said.

“The community has to get behind it,” he said. “This is about preserving what we have. We don’t want to change it.”

Top photo credit: William Roslak

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