On Preserving a Dream
When Lois Knell called, she enquired whether I might be interested in a home organ. She planned to move from her home in Mt. Washington, a neighborhood overlooking downtown Pittsburgh, having lived there with her husband of 46 years. Her husband Herman (“Herky”) Knell had owned a bakery there, and had spent his days providing for his family as a baker. He had spent his spare time on a home organ, and now that he had passed on, his wife hoped to find a new home for his labor of love.
Siedle Organ Company, a family-owned business passed from father to son, has built, restored, and serviced pipe organs in Pittsburgh and the surrounding tri-state area for the past 70 years. Many of the family are involved, including Mom (age 85), sisters, and nephews.
We receive many calls like this one. I expected to find an old-fashioned reed organ, a small electronic, or even a small self-contained organ of several ranks. So I was shocked to see Mrs. Knell’s home, lovingly filled with music from end to end. A Steinway concert grand was along the length of the long living room, and sheaves of music were spread across the music rack. Capping the other end of the room was an alcove built to house the console of their “home organ”—a threemanual Hillgreen, Lane console. Behind it was the first chamber, housing seven Choir ranks; below this floorless room was a second chamber containing eight Great ranks, and beyond that, extending into the basement, was the Swell chamber—another eight ranks. The Pedal stops and blower room extended out into the garage.
Mr. Knell had taken this project very seriously, and built his house on the Mount with the intent of having a pipe organ of this size. Mrs. Knell had been the organist at First Baptist Church in Mt. Lebanon, a suburb of Pittsburgh, and Mr. Knell had been the choir director. Their mutual love of the organ, and its influence in their lives, made their home the natural place for an undertaking of this scope.
The bulk of the organ was Hillgreen, Lane, circa 1942. Much of the organ came from Mount Pisgah Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, and was removed and re-installed by Mr. Knell. Other parts were accumulated from various organs that fell into disuse, and had crossed the path of this dedicated collector. This instrument was a true labor of love, and Mrs. Knell now wanted to see it find a new home. Could we help her?
As do so many other small builders, we have an extensive inventory of used parts, and could easily have passed on a removal of this size. But this seemed to be too sad an end to another organ man’s dream. Yes, we would help.
At nearly the same time, a second request came from Trinity Lutheran Church in DuBois, Pennsylvania. The church had closed and the building was for sale; a prospective buyer asked that the pipe organ be removed before closing on the property. We replied that, given a little time, a home might be found for the whole instrument, a two-manual Möller with 14 ranks, built in 1926. It had been re-leathered and had held up very well in DuBois.
A local musician, Steven Paul Toney, whom we had helped to do extensive work on the Hook & Hastings organ in his own church, St. Catherine of Siena in DuBois, had taken the position of music minister at Queen of the World Church in St. Marys, Pennsylvania. He had played the organ at Trinity Lutheran and hoped that Father Ferrick, his pastor at Queen of the World, would consider a pipe organ fitted to the empty balcony above the sanctuary. This Möller seemed to be an ideal start; but the potential space on the balcony would allow for much more variety and color. With the help of the finance committee, directed by business manager Joe Kim, the church approved the project.
And so Mr. and Mrs. Knell’s pipe organ found a home. The instrument’s console was expertly rehabilitated by Joe Humpe, of Richmond, Ohio, and was fitted with Peterson ICS 4000 solid-state system and Peterson drawknobs. He suggested a 16′ wooden Principal, and helped us to find one that fit in the center of the balcony; he built a Zimbelstern for the organ as well.
Chambers were built, without blocking view of the central crucifix and two circular stained glass windows. Ranks that supplemented the original Möller ranks came from among the Knells’ pipes. Mixture III, 22⁄3′ Twelfth, Open Diapason, and 2′ Fifteenth were added to the Great. An 8′ Trumpet was added to the Swell, and the additions to the Choir included the Sesquialtera, 8′ Viol, 8′ Voix Celeste, and 8′ Trompette. The finished project comprised twenty-eight ranks, and was dedicated on November 11, 2012.
The organ that came to be at Queen of the World Church in St. Marys, Pennylvania, honors our dad, William R. Siedle, who spent his years as a small builder devoted to designing, building, and maintaining instruments in many small churches throughout western Pennsylvania. It honors the people of Queen the World Parish, with an instrument of power and lasting beauty, and the people of Trinity Lutheran, who so wished their organ not to be discarded. It also honors the Knells, whose labor of love lives on in music, and it honors us to have been able to participate in such a collaboration. We thank every one of those mentioned here for their help.
—Bill Siedle and Ruth Siedle Gentile