Hyderabad: Two chance encounters spelled good fortune for the 109-year-old British Raj-era pipe organ at St John’s Church, a church consecrated in 1813.
After spending 15 silent years for lack of repair expertise, the massive pipe organ, with a base pipe of 16 feet, was discovered and restored for use by retired Naval engineer Commodore TMJ Champion in 2003. Then in 2010, British physics professor Dr Timothy J Vellicott happened to visit the church. Upon finding the unique organ, he augmented it with a new rank, the ‘fifteenth’.
The pipe organ now has 11 functional knobs controlling a set of 56 pipes each, a total of 616 pipes made of aluminium, wood and metal.
“The organ was first made by a Madras-based company called Misquith, who hired a Hyderabadi technician called Mohammed Habibullah to set up the organ. I contacted the Kolkata-based organ consultant Tapan Kumar Das, whose great grandfather had installed the now-defunct pipe organ at St George’s Church in Abids. He has since been repairing the organ with my help, and we have never hired any other labour for the job,” said Champion, 69, who decided to settle down in the city after a lifelong career as an electronics engineer in the Navy.
Joshua Virender, 40, also plays the organ, and is one of the four pipe organists alongside Champion to be certified by the Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music, London.
“Thanks to the efforts of Vellicott, we have been able to make the pipe organ much livelier. Under his guidance, we are also learning and teaching the correct, original way of playing the pipe organ, having passed six out of eight exams by the board now. Vellicott had come here in 2010 looking for a purely Anglican Church while he was in Hitec City for work, and he has since made more than 25 visits to the church. He maintains a record of every single component of the pipe organ, and continuously works on its maintenance along with Champion,” said Virender.
The pipe organ is one of only five such in Telangana. A bigger one at Holy Trinity Church in Bolarum has been dysfunctional for more than 20 years, while the State’s largest pipe organ, with a 32-foot base pipe, has been dismantled by All Saint’s Church in Trimulgherry.