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USM Alumnus Helps St. Dominic’s Organ Find a New Home

By Leah Mills

Nick Wallace, a USM School of Music alumnus, helped breathe life back into a pipe organ. After a decade in storage, the Hook and Hastings organ from the Portland’s St. Dominic’s Roman Catholic Church, now the home of the Maine Irish Heritage Center, was moved by Gorham’s David E. Wallace & Co. to Christ Church in Rochester, N.Y., where it is now part of the Eastman Rochester Organ Initiative. The Initiative, part of the Eastman School of Music, is assembling a collection of organs, making Rochester a global center for organ performance, research, building and preservation.

Nick, who is a guitarist, transferred to USM after deciding to pursue a degree in music, saying the university was his first choice based on the reputation of the School of Music.

“People of Portland who really love that organ will be happy to know it still has a Maine connection,” said Lori Arsenault, music operation director. The organ had been a fixture in St. Dominic’s from 1893 to 2001, when the church closed and the organ was put up for sale. In April 2001, the organ was disassembled and put into storage by Andover Organ Company, with David Wallace and his son Nick assisting.

Nick began working with his father in the shop at age 13. He began serious work on the Hook and Hastings organ after he graduated from USM in December of 2011, helping his father throughout the entire cleaning, transportation and installation process.

Nick had heard stories of the St. Dominic organ’s history from his father. “When he was younger and taking organ lessons, he took lessons on the Hook and Hastings organ,” said Nick of his dad. Nick’s grandmother also played the organ.

In January of 2010, Mark Austin, the Eastman School of Music’s organ curator, contacted David E. Wallace & Co. about the Hook and Hastings organ. Austin wanted the organ to become one of the outstanding organs in the Greater-Rochester area overseen by the Eastman Rochester Organ Initiative.

“Selling organs takes a long time,” Nick said. He elaborated that it’s not uncommon for a church to close and for an organ to sit for decades before someone comes along and realizes its beauty. Then things have to be measured and funds have to be found. All in all, it takes about a year of planning.

And that’s exactly what happened. Although they heard from Austin in January of 2010, the organ wasn’t officially sold until August of 2011.

After the sale was final, the organ was moved to the David E. Wallace & Co. shop in Gorham. That’s when Nick and his father began the cleaning process in December of 2011. “Long story short, we cleaned and repaired what needed to be cleaned and repaired, and I went through a long process of measuring the chamber in Rochester and making sure everything in this organ would fit in it,” Nick said. “Because of the size of the organ and the chamber, we had to rearrange a few things.”

Delivery required two trips to Rochester. The first had all the large exterior and interior wooden pieces of the organ, and the second was to transport all the pipe work. Installation of the organ in Rochester’s Christ Church began on June 26, 2012 and continued through November. 

At last the project was completed. The beloved organ with a rich Maine history that had been sitting in storage for a decade was now sitting gloriously in it’s new home. It was then that Nick decided to send a message to a few members of the USM School of Music to let them know what he’d been up to.

“I know that this organ was very important to the Portland area and that many students from USM had performed on this instrument,” he told them. “While it is sad to see it go, it is in a very good new home.”

Members of USM’s School of Music were happy to hear from him. “He was a great student,” Scott Harris, former director of USM’s School of Music said. “We have a smaller organ that was a gift to our school that David Wallace has worked on,” Harris said.

What Nick and his father have done is unique. It’s a niche market, with only a handful of people are qualified to do this work, allowing the Wallaces to travel the world to work on organs. Harris added, “The most interesting thing about USM music students is the variety of things they wind up doing, and Nick is a good example of that.”

See David E. Wallace & Co., or visit their Facebook to learn more about their current project in Essen, Germany.

 Photo caption:

(L-R) David Wallace, Gwen Roland, and Nick Wallace of David E. Wallace & Co. in front of the St. Dominic Roman Catholic Church Hook and Hastings organ, now installed in Christ Church, Rochester, N.Y.