First Unitarian
Ĉolian-Skinner Pipe Organ
Opus 1433, 1963

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Pre-June-2000 fire arrangement

There let the pealing organ blow,
To the full-voic'd quire below,
In service high, and anthems clear,
As may with sweetness, through mine ear,
Dissolve me into ecstasies
And bring all Heaven before mine eyes.
                             Milton, Il Penseroso

The First Unitarian Church in Worcester was founded in 1785.   The present church building, the fourth meetinghouse, is a replica of the third on this site.  In fact, the current building includes some parts of that third building which was dedicated 26 March 1851.

The first organ of which we have any record is a large two-manual E. & G.G. Hook, Opus 184 in 1855.   When that instrument was replaced in 1901, J. W. Steere & Son made an allowance of $800 for it in the new purchase price, and sold it for the same amount to the Trinity Methodist Church (and charged another $1000 for re-installing it there).  The 1901 III/38 Steere cost $5,350, but did not last long; Cassavant Freres installed their Opus 934 in 1922, IV/50.  The solo division had a separate chamber, but was not under expression (only the swell and choir were under expression).  The church building was virtually destroyed in the New England hurricane of 21 September 1938, when the steeple crashed through the roof, smashing the cross beams and demolishing the center structure and splitting the pulpit structure.  The organ, located directly beneath the steeple, escaped serious damage because the steeple "pivoted" (hinged) just above the organ chamber.  For the first few days, the instrument was protected by a tarp, and then was completely removed within a week to storage.  The sanctuary was rebuilt, the Cassavant reinstalled (unchanged), all to be completed within one year, for the rededication service held one year to the week of the hurricane.  In the 40s and 50s, routine maintenance and minor repairs were performed by Gordon Gurney regarding minor wind leaks and troublesome console problems.  Some pipe relocation was performed to meet the evolving needs of the music program and organist.

In 1963-4, the current Ĉolian-Skinner Opus 1433 instrument replaced the Cassavant.  Designed by Joseph Whiteford and John J. Tyrell of A-S, in conjunction with Richard Westenburg (organist of the church) and Robert E Bennett, MD, chairman of the organ committee, the instrument was finished tonally by Donald Gillett and Barry Watson.  In the late 80s, five ranks of reeds were cleaned and regulated, and in 1995 the console electro-pneumatic combination action was replaced by a 32-level SSL memory, followed by new Harris tilting tablets and drawknob solenoid units in 1998.   In 1997 a Doppel Flute (Möller) was installed as a solo flute playable from the Positiv, followed by Harris drawknob action in 1998.  Throughout the 90s the instrument was maintained by Theodore Gilbert and Gordon Gurney.

In June 2000, a steeple fire (due to roof construction work), caused extensive damage to the chests and some pipework. Stay tuned.


"The organ is in truth the grandest, the most daring, the most magnificent of all instruments invented by human genius.  It is a whole orchestra in itself. It can express anything in response to a skilled touch.  Surely it is, in some sort, a pedestal in which the soul poises for a flight forth into space, essaying on her course to draw picture after picture in an endless series, to paint numan life, to cross the Infinite that separates Heaven from Earth!  And the longer a dreamer listens to those giant harmonies, the better he realizes that nothing save this hundred-voiced choir on earth can fill all the space between kneeling men and a God hidden by the blinding light of sanctuary.  Out of the dim daylight, out of the dim silence broken by the chanting of a choir in response to the thunder of the organ, a veil is woven for God, and the brightness of His attributes shines through it"

-Honoré de Balzac

More information about First Unitarian:


First Unitarian home page    Music at First Unitarian

Phone: 1+508.757.2708
Fax: 1+508.753.9332
Mail: 90 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01608-1173  USA

The Reverend Tracey Robinson-Harris, Interim Minister(2013-14)
The Reverend Barbara W. Merritt, Minister Emerita
Jessica Gray, Director of Faith Development Ministries
Will Sherwood, AAGO, ChM, Director of Music & Organist
James Haupt, Music Intern
Jerry Bellows, Assistant Director
Paul Ropp, Music Committee Chair

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