Trinity Cathedral church restores 88-year-old organ; dedication set for Sunday

The majestic swells of the organ at Trinity Cathedral, the oldest church within the original city limits of Miami, will envelop an audience again Sunday after more than two years of silence.

The organ’s restoration was part of a five-year, $7 million renovation project, which included removing and refurbishing the historic church’s stained-glass windows, restoring the marble floors and bringing the structural and electrical components of the building up to code.

The Episcopal church, at Northeast 16th Street and North Bayshore Drive, initially opened its doors in 1896 as a wood-framed building off Northeast Second Avenue and Second Street, on land donated by Miami founder Julia Tuttle. The Rt. Rev. William C. Gray founded the church on June 12, 1896, one month before the city’s incorporation.

It moved to its current location in 1925.

The organ’s original pipes — 2,497 — were more than 80 years old and had deteriorated, causing tuning issues.

“The organ restoration really is the crown jewel of the project because that is what everyone sees and hears,” said the Very Rev. Douglas Wm McCaleb, who has overseen the project. “They don't notice the electrical changes or the cement that was put in to stabilize the floor.”

Congregants will have a first listen during 10 a.m. services Sunday for the rededication. To celebrate its unveiling, Trinity Cathedral will host an inaugural recital by the cathedral’s organist, Matthew Steynor, at 4 p.m. that afternoon.

The thrum of the 88-year-old organ reverberated through the cathedral this past week as specialists put the finishing touches on the pipes, keyboard and pedalboard. Roger Colby, president of the organ tuning and repair company overseeing the restoration, played at the keyboard as his associates, buried among the four ranks of pipes, adjusted them.

“The organ was designed by one of the most respected organ builders in the country, Aeolian-Skinner, and a lot of the original character remains,” Colby said. “This type of organ is known for its warmth of body and depth of sound.”

Aeolian-Skinner built organs for such landmarks as Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in upper Manhattan and St. Thomas Episcopal Church off Fifth Avenue in New York.

R.A. Colby began working on the organ in September 2011, when the organ’s pipes, wind chests (the box in an organ from which the air bellows) and mechanical components were shipped to the Colby factory in Johnson City, Tenn. The manual keyboard and pedalboard remained there until October 2013; the pipes did not return until last week.

The cost of renovating the organ and its 3,600 pipes, some of which towered 32-feet high, was $460,000. (Another 1,103 pipes were added after the church opened.)

Miami architect Harold Hastings Mundy designed the current-day cathedral. He also designed Miami Edison Middle School and St. Agnes Episcopal Church in Overtown.

It is said Hastings modeled Trinity after the Romanesque Byzantine Italianate cathedral, the 12th Century Church of Saint-Gilles-du-Gard in Arles, France. The only bell tower south of Charleston, the church became the cathedral in 1970 for the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida.

This was the first time the cathedral had been renovated from the ground up, McCaleb said. During the construction, services at the 700-member congregation continued with the organ’s console remaining in place and played as a digital instrument.

“We never once stopped worshiping in the cathedral,” McCaleb said. “We moved the altar around to avoid the scaffolding.”

McCaleb says church leaders decided to expand the project to ensure the entire building was returned to its former stateliness, including restoring the stained glass windows. The Rose Window, 36 feet in diameter and the signature window fronting the church, was not removed. Instead, pieces of the stained glass were removed individually and restored.

“The vision was to make it a center that belongs to everyone in the city and that we could enjoy as a historic place in a city that does not have many historic buildings,” McCaleb said.

To invite the city to enjoy the cathedral’s upgrades, McCaleb said the bishop has declared a Jubilee Year, in which organ recitals featuring guest organists from around the world will take place the last Thursday of the month, from February through May.

“The series will really show off the instrument and you will be able to hear a difference,” said Steynor, whose performance Sunday will kick off the recitals. “I am looking forward to playing with all of these wonderful colleagues who are highly regarded.”