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Thursday, 01 December 2022 09:53

All Stops Out at St Kilian's

Thomas Heywood inside the St Kilian's organ Thomas Heywood inside the St Kilian's organ K Strong

It’s official, the organ is not only the King of Instruments, but a whole lot of fun too – a Church full of young St Kilian’s dilettantes can’t be wrong.  Any Mondayitis was blown away on 21 November when Thomas Heywood presented “All Stops Out”, an educational recital, exploring the amazing world of the pipe organ, to St Kilian’s Primary School students, just in time for the St Kilian’s pipe organ’s 150th anniversary.   

Who would have thought that the organ could be hotter than an electric guitar, funkier than a saxophone and more riveting than a tryst of bagpipes – the St Kilian’s students, of course.   Not sure if they had licence to do so, they mischievously laughed at the not-so-polite sounds of pressurised air moving through the pipes, hammed it up as crazy conductors of Beethoven’s Fifth, arm marched (while seated) with feigned haughtiness, to Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance, and broke into spontaneous song with Happy Birthday – inadvertently wishing the St Kilian’s organ a happy 150th birthday.

“The Pirates of the Caribbean's, Davy Jones is an organist,” announced Thomas Heywood to the sea of yellow-shirted would-be pirates before him.  “Of course, he plays the pipe organ with his tentacles!” (Of course, Thomas Heywood knows how to win over an audience). 

According to Thomas, interest in the pipe organ is growing at phenomenal rates around the world and so organs are starting to appear in new and surprising venues.  “Organs can be found in pizza shops and department stores!” said Thomas to an audience which almost took a double-take at this unlikely information.

“There are over 2500 pipe organs in Australia and New Zealand,” said Thomas. “This invaluable musical inheritance is worth well over a billion dollars in purely monetary terms and is priceless in replacement value. After all, pipe organs are the largest, most valuable musical instruments in the world!”  

After the recital, the St Kilian’s School Choir gathered near the organ to rehearse the Christmas Carols which they will sing at the Grand Organ Master Series Concert on 11 December.  The concert will be an all-stops-out musical celebration of the historic 1872 Randerbrock Pipe Organ 150 years after its installation at St Kilian’s Church. 

Featuring performances by organist Thomas Heywood, trumpeters, Jacqui Vine  and Henry Livingstone; the  Sacred Heart Cathedral Choir directed by Paul Taylor and the St Kilian’s School Choir directed by Sharon Bourke. 

The pipe organ at St Kilian’s Church was gifted to the parish by the first priest in the Bendigo Goldfields, Fr Henry Backhaus.  When Fr Backhaus purchased the pipe organ from his hometown of Paderborn, Germany in 1871, he couldn’t have foreseen that, by moving a pipe organ to the other side of the world, he would be protecting it from the damage of future wars and Germany’s post-war policies of ‘modernisation’ and ‘improvement’. 

Built in 1871 by R.A. Randebrock, the St Kilian’s pipe organ is now a rare example of a near-original nineteenth century Randerbrock Pipe Organ and is of international historic importance.  It was installed in the original St Kilian’s Church on 11 December 1872 with a concert, no doubt with ‘great pomp’  reported in the Bendigo Advertiser on 12 December 1872: 

“The concert last evening at St Kilian’s to celebrate the opening of the new organ was a great success, not only in a musical point of view, but also in that of attendance, for there were some 500 persons present, representing the beauty and fashion of the city.” 

The organ predates the existing St Kilian’s Church.  When the original stone church was deemed unsafe in 1887, the organ was stored until it could be installed in the existing timber Church in July 1888. 

According to the Organ Historical Trust of Australia, the organ in St Kilian’s Church Bendigo is of international historic importance and is a rare example of a Randerbrock pipe organ in near original condition: 

"The fact that this organ deviates but slightly from its original form makes it an instrument of international historic importance. Its conservative tonal design exhibits close relationships to earlier schools of organbuilding in Germany.

The case of the St Kilian's organ is outstanding for its ornate carving, particularly beneath the central flat of pipes and in the upper portions of the casework. The fact that it still possesses its original tin display pipes is probably unique, since most organs in Germany had their tin display pipes removed in World War I to supply metal to the war industry."

Tickets

Tickets to the Grand Organ Master Series Concert at St Kilian’s Church, Bendigo on 11 December 3.00 p.m. will be available at the door. You can also book ahead at Trybooking
Ticket prices are: $30 per Adult, Concession $25.00 and Under 18 free.

Learn More

Read more about the Grand Organ Master Series.  

Follow Grand Organ Master Series on Facebook, or on Instagram.

You can read more about the St Kilian's Randerbrock pipe organ and its historical significance at the Organ Heritage Trust Australia website.

If you're interested in reading the Bendigo Advertiser story (12 December 1872) about the "Opening of the St Kilian's Organ" when Dr Backhaus "spoke in the most complimentary terms" of the vocalists, "who sung with "very efficient manner" and Mr Lamble "brought out the full powers of the choir to perfection" --  Please visit TROVE (National Library of Australia).