Peragallo Organ Company
Our 100th Year: A Look Back
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By John Peragallo IV
In the words of Ervin Drake, and as sung by Frank Sinatra, “It was a very good year.” Our centennial year 2018 was filled with so many wonderful moments that we will remember for years to come as we celebrated relationships, new and old.
As the story goes, John Peragallo Sr. was installing the American Master Organ Company’s theater organ in Butte, Montana, in 1917, when he received word that the young company back home had gone bankrupt. At this point, he made the brave decision to set up his own workshop in Paterson, New Jersey, and began a journey of what would be 100 years of continual organbuilding.
So, appropriately, we began the centennial celebrations in 2017 with a grand moment, hosting Daniel Roth, titular organist of Saint-Sulpice in Paris, at St. Francis Xavier Church in New York City. The morning of the recital, he taught a masterclass and critiqued three budding talents: Henry Lee of the Manhattan School of Music, Ryan Kennedy of the Juilliard School, and Matthew Smith of Westminster Choir College. Speaking with great wisdom and inspiration, he offered guidance on technique, refocusing their approach primarily on the spirit of the music, and encouraging them to appreciate their art as they move forward in their careers. A few hours later, M. Roth performed splendidly to a church completely filled with admirers and graciously received the New York City AGO Chapter’s International Performer of the Year Award.
Back in Paterson, New Jersey, the Peragallo family had begun construction on a new instrument for A&M United Methodist Church in College Station, Texas, which is featured on this month’s cover. The story of this instrument began years ago, in the choir loft of St. Peter’s Church in Columbia, South Carolina, home of Peragallo Opus 643. During his studies at the University of South Carolina, Lawrence Abernathy, A&M’s current music director, was a member of the renowned music program at St. Peter’s, under the direction of YouTube organ influencer Mark Husey. Upon graduation from South Carolina University, Mr. Abernathy headed to the Lone Star State with the tonal quality of the Peragallo instrument still shining in his musical vision. Newly arrived at their posts at A&M, Abernathy, along with the church’s talented organist, Jungjin Kim, sought to build a music program that pushed beyond the traditional Methodist vocabulary.
Texas is never shy in showcasing its ambitions of a brighter future, with Texas A&M University being a perfect example. The recent vision set forth by the university to double the population of the town of College Station is a goal already being realized. The previous organ at A&M United Methodist Church needed to be reimagined to support an ambitious music program that was quickly moving beyond the instrument’s capabilities.
The church invited builders to review the instrument and draw up proposals. John Peragallo III and Frank Peragallo were tasked with the process of analyzing the organ and the church’s acoustical space. A multifaceted proposal was developed in coordination with the church to address the music ministry, the instrument, the acoustics, and environmental aspects of the room.
The organ committee made a field trip to the factory in New Jersey, during which the group of eight toured many of our instruments in the New York City area. The mission of the trip was to define and demonstrate, in real life, how proposed ideas on building acoustics and tonal schemes would shape the church back in Texas. A clear picture emerged of what all parties would need to do.
Preston Greenwald, the pastor of A&M United Methodist Church, led the project’s funding and the coordination of the many design professionals and engineers who were members of the church. The new organ would be a visual centerpiece in the sanctuary, and careful consideration was given to each critique of the design by all the professional talent that surrounded the project. Ultimately, Greenwald’s faith in his ministerial staff, his building crew, and our company pushed the project to a result that beckons great music making.
The church’s acoustical settings were rethought and improved with a new sanctuary floor and resurfacing of the ceiling in a more reverberantly reflective material. This work was undertaken by Will McCollum, the facilities manager at the church. Will and his sons were intimately involved in each step of the organ’s construction onsite and later returned to our shop with Jungjin Kim to learn about pipe organ care, tuning, and maintenance.
The organ features a completely reimagined tonal palette, offering a broad selection of Romantic stops and a plenum capable of generating both greater power and a reflective pianissimo. The new casework allows the Grand-Orgue division to speak directly down the center axis of the nave. Many new ranks were added, including a full diapason chorus in each division, along with distinct solo stops in the form of a Willis Tuba, English Horn, Clarinet, and Hautbois. The Grand-Orgue manual pipework features two 16′ full-length flue ranks, including the facade Violone, aptly nicknamed “Yo-Yo Ma” by the pastor. Our signature curved French terraced key desk was custom designed and hand built to match the church’s furnishings.
The organ’s construction and installation lasted through the spring of 2018 and brought us to another memorable point in the year with the dedication of the newly refurbished organ at St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Paterson, New Jersey. A four-generation organ, it has been either rebuilt and/or expanded upon by every generation of Peragallos over its 90-year life. The dedicatory recital was played by Stephen Tharp, a famed talent and a family friend of many years, since his days at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
The next chapter of the centennial year, the new organ for St. John’s Lutheran Church in Sayville, Long Island, was a lifetime in the making. The project began with initial assessment and research done by John Jr. more than 16 years ago. Cindy Holden, the director of music at the church, steadfastly saw the project to completion, no matter the obstacle to overcome, which included raising the roof of the church for a new expanded sanctuary with enough height to house the grand 38-rank instrument.
Upon the completion of the casework in June, the Peragallo family hosted Paterson Day, an open-house block party at the factory. All were invited to celebrate the Peragallo Organ Company’s history in Paterson over the past 100 years. The mayor of Paterson presented the family with a proclamation and the Key to the City. Letters from senators, congressmen, and clergy were read, and much food and fun were enjoyed by all. The day culminated in the reveal of the casework to the organ committee from St. John’s Lutheran, which had worked for decades to realize this dream. The new organ was subsequently installed last summer and dedicated on March 1 by organist Mark Pacoe.
Many notable recitals on Peragallo instruments were sponsored as part of the 100th anniversary. Jennifer Pascual performed in the spring of 2018 at St. Malachy’s—The Actors’ Chapel and received the Paul Creston Award in front of a crowd of her peers. This annual event and organ concert series have become a fixture in the New York City organ world. Many artists of world-renowned fame have performed at The Actors’ Chapel on 49th Street in the heart of the theater district.
St. Philip the Apostle Church’s Annual Summer Concert Series, in Saddle Brook, New Jersey, hosted recitals featuring organists Renée Anne Louprette, Gary Sabak, Mark Pacoe, Jennifer Pascual, David Tisbert, Preston Dibble, Joseph Wozniak, and John Peragallo III, who, along with soprano Jessica Tomasella, rendered the American debut of Jean Langlais’s Ave Maria. Concerts focused on the shared experiences each artist has had with the Peragallo Organ Company over the past 100 years.
The winter months saw a tradition of investing in future organ education expanded upon with the creation of the Peragallo Secondary Organ Scholarship with the Suffolk (N.Y.) AGO Chapter. Along with the John Peragallo Jr. Organ Scholarship at Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the new scholarship program will continue promoting organ education with skilled and knowledgeable teachers at the helm to guide young talents. The Suffolk chapter’s scholarship program already has a track record of bringing interested organ students the proper support, seeing them through to the collegiate levels. We are proud to be a part of this program and are delighted to see that St. John’s Lutheran Church will be hosting the student competition this spring on their new organ.
Wrapping up the year’s events, one final recital was held, bringing in the renowned Stephen Hamilton to perform a program titled French Fireworks at St. Francis Xavier Church in New York City. It was a beautiful display of French organ literature demonstrating the instrument’s subtle strengths and awesome power.
Looking beyond 100 years, the centennial has granted us a time for reflection and to adjust to the ever-changing field of organbuilding in the years ahead. Plans are already underway to expand the Peragallo workshops to bring our instruments to new and exciting places.
This year has reminded us of the importance of each moment God gives us. A focused examination of our roots has granted us even more of an appreciation of how much hard work and love have brought us to now: from John Peragallo Sr.’s chance opportunity with a Skinner foreman over 113 years ago, to his struggles during the Depression, to every missed dinner John Jr. spent working to keep this thing of ours going. This reflection reminds us how one moment of our story leads to the next. The fifth generation is growing quickly, and we hope a future filled with opportunities awaits them and all those who share our craft.