Sunday, May 07, 2017

Lilies of the Valley, Charles W. Fry and pump organs

Every year when the lilies of the valley bloom --- and they're doing that now --- an old Protestant gospel song gets stuck in my head and declines to depart. Maybe you know it, too --- the refrain runs, "He's the "Lily of the Valley," the Bright and Morning Star; He's the fairest of ten thousand to my soul."

The lyricist was Charles W. Fry (1838-1882), a staunch Methodist sometimes known as the Salvation Army's first bandmaster, who set his own words to a familiar English tune.

A bricklayer by trade, Fry was at heart a natural musician proficient on many instruments who served as band/orchestra leader at the Wesleyan Chapel in Alderbury, Wiltshire. He also led a family band that accompanied William Booth on the evangelistic crusades during which the Salvation Army took shape. That postage-stamp-size photo at left is the best I could do so far as a photo of the family band was concerned.

Anyhow, while lilies of the valley were running through my head last week we got to talking about the four pump organs, reed organs, on the museum campus --- one a wreck, one with a broken pedal, one that barely functions and the other that does, kind of. What we need is a reed organ restorer.

These battered old instruments seemed to fascinate the second-graders who visited on Thursday and one of their teachers got the parlor organ in Stephens House going again to demonstrate how they worked.

So I set out this morning to find a YouTube performance that would (a) demonstrate how a pump organ worked and sounded and (b) give me a daily fix of Fry's old hymn. So here it is.

The musician is a young man named Terry Scherck and he is playing a fine old instrument located in the Peniel Welsh Chapel, Eldorado, Wisconsin. The chapel, built in 1856 by Welsh pioneers, is owned by the Peniel Gymanfa Ganu Association, which holds annual Welsh/English song gatherings there.

Watch the organist's feet, his knee action on the swell during the finale and enjoy the old-time sound. There's an upright piano on the other side of the chancel and you'll hear it chime in toward the end. And good luck on getting this melody out of your head as the day progresses.

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