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The St James' Organ Replacement & Restoration Appeal


Why spend money on a new organ? Why choose an American pipe organ builder? Why does the church build it? What will it add to the musical life of Sydney? Who is supporting the Appeal? What is the St James' Music Foundation?

The current organ sounds impressive, so why spend money on a new one?

It is true that one can still make some impressive sounds on the current organ, but this hides many of the deficiencies that are present. There are a number of components in the organ which are on the verge of failing completely, which could mean the organ goes from sounding impressive to falling silent as the perished leather bellows fail. Some parts have already had to be disconnected for this reason, for instance the Trompette militaire has not been playable for the past year and a half.

For the current organ to keep being played, a lot of mechanical parts would need to be completely replaced, at considerable expense. And the fact is, although its history is long, the there is no historical version of the organ that one would want to return to. The rebuild of 1970 is widely seen to have used very poor materials, and to have unsuccessfully tried to change the sound of the organ to match the tastes of that decade. The rebuild of 1900, which moved the organ to the current position, was problematic enough that the organist had a lot of the pipework replaced five years later. And there is little if anything left of the small original organ in the back gallery, and its subsequent rebuild in the space which is now the Holy Spirit Chapel, so any return to those versions would be impractical.

The new organ will certainly have an impressive ‘full organ’ sound. But even more important will be the fine gradations of tone colour and dynamic from the whisper quiet Flute Celeste up to the full organ sound, anchored by the 32’ Contra trombone. The many sounds of the organ will be a true inspiration to organist and listeners, and will allow the organist to be an effective liturgical player, choral accompanist, and recitalist. You will be amazed by the sounds from the new organ: but you won’t know what you’re missing until it arrives.


Why select an American builder? Won't that add to the cost of construction? Aren't there any Australian builders?

We strongly believe we have chosen the best builder for the task. From the beginning of the project, we sought expressions of interest only from international builders (UK, USA, and Germany). There are a number of organ builders in Australia, some of whom have built smaller organs, and some of whom specialise in restoration. For instance, our project consultant, Peter Jewkes, has recently restored the magnificent organ in the Sydney Town Hall. However, there are no Australian builders with experience in building an instrument of the size that St James’ needs. Dobson, however, have completed a number of instruments that are even bigger; most significantly, the recently completed organ at St Thomas Fifth Ave New York, where the English Cathedral style music programme makes similar demands on their organ as we do here. There will however potentially be some cost-saving measures using Australian builders and craftsmen for components of the organ, such as restoring the two ranks of pipes which will be retained from the old organ, and building the wooden facade.


If this will be the third biggest organ in Sydney, why is it up to a church to build this instrument?

From its inception, St James’ has always seen itself and operated openly as part of the wider city in which it is situated. Since the establishment of its first choir, made up of convicts from the nearby Hyde Park Barracks, it has become well known as a centre for musical excellence. St James’ has a proud tradition of showcasing a rich variety of sacred music. It does not want to exclusively maintain this treasure behind its historic convict-laid brick walls, but share it as widely as possible. St James’ is probably the only institution in Sydney at present that has a vision and the capacity to take on such a daunting but achievable task.


How will having a new organ help enhance the musical and cultural life of Sydney: it will really be just another but bigger church organ for religious services won’t it?

The organ will be certainly fully used at religious services. But that is an advantage. Unlike the other two grand Sydney instruments that are played only at particular one-off concerts or events, the St James’ organ will be played week-in and week-out. Music lovers will have the opportunity to listen to the instrument on a regular basis. In addition, St James’ plans to expand its already popular program of concerts and recitals which are open to the general public. Given the significance of the instrument, it’s expected that it will attract organists from around the world who will want to come to Sydney to play it and to give recitals.  So, the instrument will certainly add to the Sydney music scene on a number of levels.


Who is supporting the Appeal?

The exciting thing about this Appeal is that the whole St James’ community has quickly embraced it. The community shares a vision to keep music front and centre of the work of St James’.  This support has translated into concrete action. In the first six months of the Appeal the community itself has contributed just under $1m to the project.

Significant Sydney and music identities have unhesitatingly added their support. The immediate past Governor of NSW, Dame Marie Bashir, the Chair of the Greater Sydney Commission, Lucy Turnbull, and the ex-Chairman of the ABC, Donald McDonald, all readily agreed to act as Appeal Ambassadors. Sir Andrew Davis, the international conductor and Chief Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra since 2013, has joined them. Sir Andrew’s involvement demonstrates the significance of the potential new instrument in the wider music community beyond Sydney.

The music community itself is thrilled by the project too. David Drury, organist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra has said that having played a Dobson organ in The Cathedral of the Angels in Los Angeles he is excited by what will be achieved here in Sydney.  Thomas Wilson, organist at St Marys Cathedral Sydney, also thinks that the project is hugely exciting and that it will be the most significant new organ project Sydney has seen since the installation of the organ in Sydney Town Hall that was completed in 1992.

Everyone is unanimously looking forward to hearing a wonderful new sound in St James’.


What is the St James’ Music Foundation?

The St James’ Music Foundation is running the Appeal for the new organ as part of its wider mission.

The St. James' Foundation Limited is a company limited by guarantee, and is trustee for St James' Music Foundation. The company has received the appropriate approvals from the Australian Government allowing donations to the foundation to be tax deductible. The overall purpose of the Foundation is to raise funds that will yield a return sufficient to fund the ongoing music program at St James'. 

The specific objectives of St James' Music Foundation are to:

  • Maintain and support the St James' Choir

  • Make St James' synonymous with being a prime music venue in Sydney

  • Establish St James' as a venue for excellence in the performance of organ music

  • Enable St James' musicians to take up opportunities for outside performances, creating a wider audience for the St James' music tradition

  • Establish a position of administrator to promote the efficient pursuit of our musical aims

  • Budget for ongoing expansion of the choir music library

  • Enable commissioning of new works

  • Budget for the rebuilding of St James' organ.


For more information see:

Why spend money on a new organ?
Why an American builder?
Why does a church build it?
How will it enhance the musical life of Sydney?
Who is supporting the Appeal?
What is the St James' Music Foundation?
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