Rarely are two pipe organs alike; yet among three pipe organs, there are even more differences, as people in Winona may soon discover. For the first time in 30 years, the Southeast Minnesota Chapter of the American Guild of Organists (SMCAGO) will take secular and religious music lovers of all ages on an Organ Crawl, visiting the architecturally significant pipe organs at three Winona churches.
First Congregational, St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the Basilica of St. Stanislaus Kostka possess beautifully crafted pipe organs that date back to the 1800s. The worship spaces, each acoustically individual, will come alive with the unmistakable sounds of organ music on Saturday.
“I think this is a wonderful thing and it is way overdue,” said SMCAGO member and event coordinator Jon Nienow. The Organ Crawl idea resurfaced earlier this year after members of the chapter wanted to make their cause more visible. “We have about 85 members in our chapter, which spans the area of Winona, Red Wing, Northfield, Albert Lea, and Decorah.”
Each church, Nienow said, has an architecturally different organ. Built in 1882, First Congregational has made the altar and the organ the focal point of the worship space. The concave slope of the church leads the eye from the entrance down toward what Nienow described as an organ that has a “midwest style of architecture, with a hint of eastern United States influence.”
St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church was constructed just four years after First Congregational, and has an Austin Organ, a company which is regarded as the oldest continuously-operating organ manufacturer in the United States.
“The organ was recently rebuilt and is now back in excellent condition,” Nienow said. “That organ is an American classic style and is capable of playing just about any organ literature that you could play.”
Known widely across the Catholic Diocese of Winona, the Basilica of St. Stanislaus Kostka is a testament to exquisite Polish architecture. Once inside the open worship space, one immediately sees the three banks of organ pipes that cover one half of the church.
“It’s an absolutely unbelievable space and it is amazing acoustically,” Nienow said.
While the organs are what bring music enthusiasts to the Winona area, Nienow said it is the incredible cooperation among the three churches that makes the event possible.
“This is such a special event, and I can’t say enough about how excited I am to bring this event back to Winona,” he said. “This is a chance for people to hear organ music that you wouldn’t normally hear on a Sunday. Hopefully this will be the first of many more in Winona.”
An early morning breakfast to celebrate the event and Candlemas—February second, the day Christians mark the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple—will take place at First Congregational, 161 West Broadway, at 8:30 a.m.
The Organ Crawl presentations will begin at First Congregational at 9:30 a.m. The next stop on the crawl will be St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 328 East Broadway, at 10:30 a.m. The final event of the crawl will begin at the Basilica of St. Stanislaus Kostka, 625 East Fourth Street, at 11:30 a.m.
A brief history and background of each organ will be given, and local organists and members of the SMCAGO will provide demonstrations of each instrument.
The event is free and open to the public.