The legacy of Worship and the Arts at St. Alfred’s, Palm Harbor began with the vision of the Rev. David R. Moores, the Second Rector of the Parish (1982-1990).
Fr. Moores was not only a charismatic priest, but also an accomplished pianist and organist. He had been playing piano since the age of five, had given several organ concerts in our area before coming to St. Alfred's. He was also active in the Clearwater Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
When it came time for the current church building to be designed, it was intentional that the chancel area was designed to be a place that could be used for musical and theatrical events. The eventuality of a pipe organ was part of the original plan. Fr. Moores hoped that the new nave would enable the congregation to put more emphasis on music and the arts. He believed that a church is a place where art, music, liturgy, majesty, and mystery ought to be combined to give people "a sense of God.” In an interview with Fr. Moores, he is quoted as saying: “I think we in The Episcopal Church are at our best when we use the arts as an expression of our faith. The arts make it easy to fall in love with God - to discover God in your own way - and we'd like to share this with the community.”
As an expression of this commitment to the arts, the church also commissioned Christopher Still to design and install a collection of stunning murals that adorn St. Alfred’s Outdoor Chapel and narthex walls and ceilings. Mr. Still was the grandson of long-time parishioners of St. Alfred’s and the murals were some of his first large-scale works. Mr. Still has since become a major artist producing significant works including the murals at the Florida State Capitol Legislative chambers.
A SERIES OF BEGINNINGS
It was always the intent of St. Alfred’s to have a pipe organ. The original plans for the church building included a space adjacent to the choir area in the southeast corner of the church dedicated to an “Organ Chamber” which, over the years was used for organ speakers and general storage.
In 1993, after Fr. Moores’ death, Dr. Eugene Szonntagh, Organist and Choir Director, presented a proposal for a pipe organ of his own design to be installed in the Organ Chamber, the platform above the screen behind the altar, and in an antiphonal division over the west entrance doors. An Organ Committee was formed and work on the project continued but did not come to fruition.
In 2007, the church again initiated a process to further prepare for the ultimate installation of a pipe organ. The church engaged Scott Riedel and Associates, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, working with Kevin Johnson, Organist and Choir Director, to assess and design both a choir space and the necessary alterations to the church to prepare for the design and installation of a pipe organ. A new raised choir space was built, and red oak platforms were designed to support two divisions of pipes behind the choir along with significant acoustical improvements made to the worship space. Completed preparations were made to support a future pipe organ. The church was ready to move forward. However, a series of clergy transitions over the next several years resulted in another delay to this project.
“The song and music of worship has carried this congregation forward in good times and bad, in prosperity and adversity, in joy and in sorrow, giving breath and life to its praises,” shared the Rev. Edward J. Henley, Interim Rector 2013 - 2015. “I continue to be grateful for my time at St. Alfred’s, in the music of worship, I am deeply aware that I am in the presence of something far greater than myself. I find my place in the created order and in the emerging reign of God.”
In 2021, during the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, St. Alfred’s was inspired to initiate the project again. What better time to move forward than in a time when the church needed a forward-facing focus? So much work had been done in the parish family’s history to prepare for this. It was decided that it was time to bring this legacy to fruition. The Organ Committee was formed in April 2021 and work began on making the dream a reality.
“What began as an exploratory venture quickly turned into a decision to fund a new organ and by the grace of God and a lot of prayers, we decided what we wanted, and funds raised through anonymous donors have almost completely paid for the organ without a formal fundraising effort. I do not believe in coincidences. I firmly believe that St Alfred’s has been blessed by the good Lord and that acquiring the new organ, coupled with establishing a Center for Music and the Arts, will provide a means for people to experience exceptional music and art,” shared Ralph Jordan, St. Alfred’s parishioner, Organ Committee member, and former Vestry member.
St. Alfred’s selected Casavant to design the pipe organ. The organ consists of three Manuals and Pedals, 33 Ranks, 28 Stops, with a total of 2019 pipes in four Divisions (Swell, Great, Pedal, and Antiphonal). There are also five digital stops by the Walker Technical Company.
As part of a robust capital campaign, St. Alfred’s received generous gifts from several lead donors in the Parish, raising enough funds to pay 80% of the cost of the instrument at the time of signing the contract in November 2021.
Casavant elected to use the two existing 2007 organ platforms for the Great and Pedal divisions in this project. The expressive (enclosed) Swell division will be housed in the existing chamber adjacent to the choir area.
The Antiphonal division will be installed above the west entrance door of the nave of the church, majestically crowning the lintel of the main door and framing the round window looking out onto the Christopher Still murals in the narthex. By virtue of its location, the Antiphonal will be able to support and lead congregational singing and enhance festival celebrations and instrumental performances via the use of the new hooded festival trumpet. 30
The design of the case is inspired by the church’s architecture and various features of the interior of the church, incorporating the angles already present in the architectural elements of St. Alfred’s. The red oak is in keeping with the wood of the existing platforms. The layout of the façade pipes not only recalls the angular style of St. Alfred’s, but the ancient origins of the pipe organ with this organ’s neo-baroque design.
Throughout this process, it was clear that St. Alfred’s was building on the work of others, and it was felt that it was important to acknowledge and respect that work. To that end, the vestry approved the formation of the David R. Moores Center for Church Music & the Arts. This is an entity under the umbrella of St. Alfred’s Episcopal Church that has been developed for the advancement of music and the arts not only at St. Alfred’s but also the greater Palm Harbor community.
“I really feel like this is an incredible opportunity to frame this undertaking within the greater understanding of what it means to be good stewards of the dream we’ve inherited, all the hard work of preparation and building. In effect, this new center for the arts is the ultimate act of stewardship of our parish identity, mission, and DNA,” said the Rev. Peter A. Lane, Rector, St. Alfred’s.
The Casavant Organ is the keystone of the Center and will be a focal point for worship, education, entertainment, and outreach. As the Center develops, St. Alfred’s will provide music and arts education to youth and adults through church-related choral and instrumental programs and private instruction in organ and piano. Their goal is to encourage and grow the next generation of church musicians. The Center will be dedicated to quality choral and instrumental music through its mission to share God’s loving presence with the community through music and the arts.
“I have been an active parishioner and choir member since 1995. My home is in Pasco County and traveling to St. Alfred’s is a 25-mile trip, but I have done it for nearly 30 years because of the quality of the worship and music here. The dedication of all who are or have been involved has made it a joy to travel to participate. I am thrilled that just about a year from now we will have a quality organ worthy of supporting our St. Alfred’s music, and that it will also be used for the study and training of future church musicians and provide opportunities for organists for concertizing. I never knew Fr. David Moores, but I am certain that after 40 years he is looking down with great anticipation to the fulfillment of this dream,” said Joyce Oldmixon, St. Alfred’s parishioner, choir member, and volunteer.
It is anticipated that the new organ will be installed in the summer of 2023.
Pictured here, top and bottom: murals painted by Christopher Still in St. Alfred’s Outdoor Chapel, and narthex. 32