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19th century organ rekindles sacred music of the past

Alaska Day festival activities in Sitka don’t always involve bagpipes and marching bands. Sometimes the music is a lot quieter.

Marianne Gould gave two recitals recently on Sitka’s 1844-vintage Kessler organ. The instrument is housed in the downtown Sitka Lutheran Church, and was nearly destroyed in a fire two decades ago.

Gould lives in New Braunfels, Texas, just outside of San Antonio, where she was a music teacher in public schools for 27 years.

Gould met the rebuilt Kessler Organ on cruise stop in Sitka last year. Her recital last Friday (10-12-12) was called “Songs My Mother Taught Me.”


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My mother loved to sing and we would sit down in the evenings and thumb through the hymnal and she would play the piano and we would sing together. And as I got more mature and able to sing on my own we started to do parts, and sing for church. So, it’s always been a part of my life.

I used to sing in a folk group when I was in college, but I’ve always had a real love for church music and sacred music. It’s been a lot of fun.

Visiting organist Marianne Gould performs on the 1844 Kessler organ in Sitka Lutheran Church. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Last summer my husband and I came here on a cruise and we took the walking tour of downtown and I saw the marquee outside that said Sitka Lutheran Church, and I had to come inside. I visited with the people that were here and just fell in love with Sitka and with the church. It had such a rich history, and the people were so friendly. Of all the places that we went in Alaska and in Canada, this was my favorite, by far.

It’s challenging in that there’s just the one keyboard. There’s no volume control. The only volume you can do is by changing the stops. But it’s also very rewarding just knowing that it’s an instrument that’s been around a lot longer than I have, and has seen tragedy, and yet has come out and sounds just as good today as it did perhaps when it was first built. To be able to be a part of playing on this instrument is a real blessing.


How Firm a Foundation was composed by a musician known only as ‘K,’ and was a favorite piece of President Andrew Johnson

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