St. Sebastian’s ‘pipe dream’ becomes reality

By Colette M. Jenkins
Beacon Journal religion writer

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Father John Valencheck (left) listens as Lynn Frey-Steward, director of music, choir and master organist, demonstrates the sound of the new organ at St. Sebastian Catholic Church on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012 in Akron, Ohio. (Mike CardewAkron Beacon Journal)

Lynn Frey-Steward is overjoyed each time she sets her eyes on the Schantz organ console that sits in the choir loft at St. Sebastian Church.

“The best way to describe it is in terms of a box of crayons. We went from a box of 24 to a box of 48, with a lot more hues and colors to choose from,” said Frey-Steward, the director of music at the West Akron parish. “This instrument has such clarity. The sound just carries.”

The four-manual, 44-rank, 2,683-pipe organ, with two exposed chests, will be played publicly for the first time during a 3:30 p.m. dedication service today at the church, 476 Mull Ave. During the service, the instrument will be blessed by Catholic Diocese of Cleveland Bishop Richard G. Lennon, and a concert will be performed, showcasing its different facets.

“The pipe organ is the official instrument of the Catholic Church and it can’t be played liturgically until it is blessed by the bishop,” said John Valencheck, pastor at St. Sebastian’s. “We invested in a larger instrument because we want to expand our concert offerings. Our old organ was a very good workhorse Catholic organ, but this one is more versatile.”

The new organ is actually a rebuilt version of a Schantz organ purchased last year from the former Trinity Lutheran Church in Canton, after that church closed and merged with two other Lutheran congregations.

The instrument includes pipes from St. Sebastian’s old Wicks organ and new handmade pipes and parts, including a zimbelstern (a wheel of rotating bells) that makes “ting-a-ling-a-lings,” according to Frey-Steward. It was rebuilt and installed by Orrville-based Schantz Organ Co.

Leftover pipes are part of the organ at St. Vincent Parish on West Market Street in Akron.

St. Sebastian has been without an organ since April, when the more than 50-year-old, 26-rank Wicks organ was removed. The installation of the new organ was completed Oct. 29.

The entire project, including the purchase from Trinity, cost the parish more than $500,000. That price was a better proposition than purchasing new or restoring the old organ. More than a fifth of the project’s cost has been covered by donations from nonparishioners and non-Catholics.

“It would have been very costly — more than $300,000 — to keep the old organ, which was breaking down because of its age and undersized for what we want to do with our music program,” said Valencheck, who previously served as organist and choir director in his home parish, the former Sacred Heart in Barberton. “A new one would have cost upwards of a million dollars. We got a great instrument for about half of that.”

The organ is capable of producing a wide range of musical effects, including sounds of the oboe, festival trumpets, flute, strings and tromba. The colors of the keys, made of rosewood and cowbone, on the keyboard are reversed.

Two chests of pipes (the Great and the Positive) that flank the choir loft can be seen from the sanctuary. The other pipes are behind a screen.

An image of St. Cecilia (the patron saint of organists) in a stained-glass window adjacent to the choir loft overlooks the Great pipes.

Valencheck and Frey-Steward said the new, larger instrument is among the largest pipe organs in the eight-county Cleveland diocese, which includes Summit, Medina and Wayne counties.

“The organ dedication is an extraordinary event. It’s something people only experience once in a lifetime,” said Frey-Steward, who also serves the parish as choirmaster and organist. “This instrument secures music in the church for generations to come. It shouldn’t need any major repairs for at least 60 years. In addition to being a great addition to the parish, it will be a gift to the community as we continue to offer musical programs that include everything from the Akron Symphony Chorus to jazz.”

Today’s concert will feature compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederich Handel, C.S. Lang and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A live video stream of Frey-Steward at the console (where the organist sits and controls the instrument with keyboards, couplers, expression pedals and stops) will be provided during the concert.

For more information, visit or call 330-836-2233.

Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or

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