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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Dieffenbach Pipe Organ

Last evening one of my dreams was fulfilled. I heard a Dieffenbach pipe organ being played. The Altalaha Lutheran Church in Rehrersburg has one of the seven Dieffenbach organs still in existence. It was played by Adam Dieffenbach who is a restorer of pipe organs and a direct descendant of Christian Diffenbach who built the instrument in 1817. One young man came all the way from Baltimore to hear this organ.

Christian Dieffenbach (1769-1829), was the second of four generations of organ builders in Berks County from ca. 1780-1900. In the late 1700s Johann Jacob Dieffenbach (1744-1803) walked from Berks County to Philadelphia (about 70 miles) to look at a pipe organ. Dressed in the clothes of an 18th century farmer, he faced some difficulty but was finally allowed to examine the internal works of the organ. It was built in the style of a 17th century organ and already antiquated.
Returning home, he immediately began to replicate the organ he had seen in Philadelphia. It took several years to complete, but Johann placed the organ of his own design in the Tulpehocken Reformed Church in Stouchsburg in 1785. In the next twenty years, Johann Jacob built organs for many churches in Berks and surrounding counties.
Christian Dieffenbach continued his father's organ building trade and was followed by his son David and grandson Thomas. In addition to Altalaha, Dieffenbach organs are at Salem Reformed Church, Bethel; Reeds Lutheran Church, Stouchsburg; Friedens Lutheran Church, Shartlesville; the Berks History Center, Reading; and the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota (originally in a church in Schuylkill County). A Dieffenbach family member also owns one.
Altalaha's organ has been modified in that it now has an electric motor to operate the bellows. Originally the bellows were powered by a hand crank at the back of the organ. While the organist played, another man was positioned behind the organ to turn the handle to power the organ. The organ at Bethel still has the hand crank and a plate inscribed with the names of all the men who turned it. 
The organ has 52 keys and 12 stops. It is a small keyboard in comparison to the organs of today but it makes an amazing sound. The music was wonderful! Adam played mostly 18th century music which is what the organ was created to play. The last number was Siegeslied by Sigfried Karg-Elert (1877-1933) and a grand finale to a great recital. 

Altalaha Lutheran Church treasures this organ and the proceeds from the recital will help to finance some much-needed repairs. The church is also proud of its Pennsylvania German heritage and maintains the building with its original German-style architecture. They continue to use the pipe organ in the balcony as they have always done, but they also have a more modern organ and piano in the sanctuary. To their credit, there are no noisy drums or band instruments in there, which is more than I can say for some Mennonite churches. The German writing above the pulpit alcove says "The Lord is in his Holy Temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him." 

I do not agree with all the Lutheran beliefs and practices but I do commend them for valuing and preserving their heritage. New is not always better. 

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