Pipe Organ restoration now possible with corporate donation

Penang's oldest pipe organ.

The pipe organ at the Church of the Assumption, Penang part of City Parish, is close to a century old and is in dire need of repairs and restoration.

As such, a Pipe Organ Restoration Committee was set up a year ago to solicit funds for the restoration.

The Committee received a tremendous boost to their funds when, on 16 July, 2012, two well known and established corporations, The Star Foundation and AirAsia Expedia, made generous donations of RM50,000 and RM200,000 respectively.

The donations from both Star Foundation and AirAsia Expedia came about through the Tourism Minister Dr Ng Yen Yen. She heard about the fund-raising campaign and alerted Star and AirAsia.

Pic1: L to R: Rev Dominic Santhiyagu, Kamal Hashim, Dr Ng Yen Yen, Dan Lynn and Fam Kee Ee

On 16 July at 6.00pm, the Church of the Assumption organized a cheque presentation ceremony at its premise.

Those who graced the ceremony were Tourism Minster Dr Ng, Trustee of Star Foundation Kamal Hashim, AirAsia Expedia CEO Dan Lynn, AirAsia Director Fam Kee Ee and parish priest Rev Dominic Santhiyagu.

Also present were about 100 parishioners from the church, well wishers and friends of Ng, The Star and AirAsia.

The Assumption Church, Penang.

The 225 years old Church in Farquhar street, is situated within the UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of UNESCO World Heritage Icons, with its unique colonial architecture.

The pipe organ in the church is arguably the oldest in the country and it is believed that there are only five pipe organs in useable condition in the country.  Assumption Church’s pipe organ was built in 1914 by Morton & Moody from England.

According to Leonard Selva, the organist, the organ is in bad shape now. The keys and trackers of the organs often get stuck when it is played and there are also leaks in the wind chest. Thus repairs and restoration to the organ is imminent.

The cheque-presentation Ceremony began with an address by the chairman of the Pipe Organ Restoration Committee Claude Richards.

“Many organists and choir members have come and gone, being associated with this pipe organ in one way or another, but yet, this instrument still stands here today, proudly doing what she had been called to do – to give us music so that we may pray without words.” he said.

“And yet, as recent as a year ago, the Pipe Organ Restoration Committee was told that if we left her to deteriorate in her present condition, she would stop singing after 2 years at the very most.”

Thus, began the fund-raising campaign, Richards informed.  They had been soliciting for funds since last year. At the beginning of this year, he said, the Committee was pleasantly surprised when they heard from Leonard, the organist, that their Restoration Project had caught the attention of Dr Ng.

The pipe organ can be seen at the choir loft, 1st floor.

Richards thanked the Almighty for the gift and blessing of all persons who have in their own ways contributed towards this restoration project.

He thanked Dr Ng for her genuine interest in this project and for the numerous meetings she  had with the committee during this year, and for her tireless effort in raising the required funds.

“I also expressed my deepest gratitude to AirAsia and The Star for contributing so generously towards this aim of ours to ensure that the Assumption Church pipe organ continues to sing for generations to come.

To Fr Dominic and Fr Michael, thank you for your invaluable time, guidance and feedback during meetings and other informal gatherings to discuss this project.”

He also thanked all the past and present choir masters,  organists and choir members, for their commitment, dedication and continued services to the church, and to all those who have given their time and effort in the maintenance of the pipe organ.

Dr Ng Yen Yen giving a speech.

Dr Ng’s began her adress with how she got to know about the Organ Restoration Project. While she was in China one day,  she couldn’t sleep so she turned on the TV at 2.00am and watched the Discovery Channel.

There was a programme ‘Pipe Dreams’ which focused on Leonard’s dream to play the KLCC pipe organ.  The Assumption Church pipe organ was also featured, and it was mentioned that there was a need to restore this instrument. She then got one of her staff to contact Leonard about the restoration.

Since then, Dr Ng had made a few trips to the Assumption Church to see for herself the condition of the pipe organ.  She felt that the pipe organ is worthyof restoration and especially so since it was housed in a heritage building. Through her contacts, she had approached The Star and AirAsia and spoke to them about the project, and they willingly stepped forward to help.

“In Malaysia, we pride ourselves with diversity, so we celebrate this diversity. We are blessed to have churches, temples, mosques all lined up in one row. The pipe organ in this church is a ‘gift of history’ to us, thus  it is our responsibility to preserve it. I thank Fr Dominic for allowing us the opportunity to be part of this noble journey to restore a great heritage.” she said.

The choir and organist presenting a piece ‘Praise My Soul the King of Heaven.’

The audience then had a chance to listen to the music from the pipe organ when Leonard played ‘Amazing Grace’ on it. This was followed by a hymn rendition (Praise My Soul The King Of Heaven) by the choir.

Air Asia Expedia mock cheque.
The Star Foundation’s mock cheque.

After the mock cheque presentation, everyone adjourned to the hall next door for tea and fellowship, while a Press Conference went on with Dr Ng Yen Yen, the donors and parish priest, Fr Dominic.

Dr Ng spoke about the importance of corporate sponsorship for heritage and was glad that The Star and AirAsia had come forward.

CEO from AirAsia Expedia Dan Lynn felt extremely honoured to be involved in the restoration of the oldest pipe organ in Penang.

He said, “Appreciating a city’s heritage is one of the great privileges of travelling, and we hope that by preserving one of Penang’s iconic cultural artifacts, we would encourage more travellers to visit this wonderful city.

AirAsia Expedia will be launching Expedia.com.my in the coming months, and this gesture is in line with our long-term commitment and investment in Malaysia.”

The pipe organ, fondly refer to as ‘The Grand Old Lady’ by the Choir, is being played every Saturday at the 6.30pm Sunset Mass by Leonard Selva Gurunathan, with an accompanying choir  that consists of 9 members. Ian Campbell was the music director from the late 1970’s to 2010, after which Claude Richards took over.

Leonard Selva, the organist said that the organ is in a bad shape now.

“There is no other instrument that can picture God sonically other than the pipe organ! I could see a Prince of peace through the subtle stops of the organ. And I could also see the Majestic King with the full stops engaged!” said Leonard Selva Gurunathan, who had been playing for the church since 1997.

“Whenever the I play the organ, I feel the spiritual side of me awakens and I am really inspired to praise God. There is so much the organ at the church carries. I see sacrifice, I see dedication, I see love, I see an artwork, I see history and most importantly I see an important channel to communicate with God.”

Dr Ng, the sponsors, the parish priest and the choir members.

Another fund-raising event that is coming up is a concert by the Penang Philharmonic Orchestra on August 8, 2012 at 8.30pm at the Assumption Church.

The orchestra will play sacred music from the 14th century to the present.

Entry is by a minimum donation of RM20.00 and is free  for school going children.

Come, and listen to some great music, and at the same time, contribute to a noble cause. Those who are interested, kindly contact the parish office at Tel: 04-2261502/2293431.

Monetary donations are also welcome towards the organ restoration or the church maintenance.

Cheque should be made payable to ‘Assumption Church Building’.