An Ecclesia D-570 makes its debut at the Thomian Chapel, Sri Lanka

This week, a beautiful four-manual Ecclesia D-570 was installed at the prestigious S. Thomas' College in Mount Lavinia, Sri Lanka.

The Thomian choir is part of a tradition that goes back to 1854 when the choir made its debut at the consecration of the Cathedral Church of Christ on St. Matthew’s Day by Bishop James Chapman in the grounds of S. Thomas’ College in Mutwal. When the college moved to Mount Lavinia in 1918 the community worshipped in a make-shift sanctuary in the dining hall until 1927 when the Chapel of the Transfiguration was completed and consecrated by the Bishop of Colombo, the Rt Revd Mark Carpenter-Garnier on 13th February that year. The choir continued to maintain a high standard and was affiliated to the School of English Church Music (now the Royal School of Church Music) by the first Chaplain and Choir Master, Revd T W Gilbert. Over the years the Thomian choir has sent out many young men, too numerous to mention individually, to serve the church as choristers, choir masters and organists in all churches both in Sri Lanka and abroad.

To enhance the beauty and grandeur of Anglican liturgical and choral worship in the chapel a Hammond organ was donated in 1938 by an old boy and one of the first members of the board of governors, Sir Stewart Schneider. This was the first organ of its kind in Sri Lanka at that time and continued in service until 1985 when it was replaced by the Allen digital computer system organ purchased through the generosity of old boys of the college and friends of the chapel. This was installed in time for the annual Festival of 9 Lessons and Carols in December 1985 and was dedicated by the Bishop of Colombo, the Rt Revd Swithin Fernando, on 21st February 1986 at a service of choral evensong that included a special recital by Lucian Nethsinghe, the organist and choir master of the Exeter Cathedral in the UK, an old boy and former chorister. The preacher was the legendary chaplain and choir master Canon Roy Bowyer Yin. The driving force behind the purchase of this new organ, again the first of its kind in Sri Lanka, was the late K C Markalande (Marko) together with Eddie Appathurai, both staunch former choristers who had received their training under Canon Yin. The then Warden, Neville de Alwis, an ardent high churchman who loved traditional liturgical worship advocated ‘nothing but the best’ for the college chapel and thus it was that he who supported the initiatives of the old boys to purchase the new organ. It is worthy of mention that when three guarantors were required for the purchase of the Allen, it was three non-Christian old boys who came forward to support the cause! This reflects the nature of the Thomian ethos.

The Allen organ was in use through the 1990s until numerous technical problems ensued and by the end of the decade it was considered necessary to go in for a replacement and many options were looked at from different parts of the world. In the Millenium Year 2000, the Special Events Committee of the Thomian OBA headed by Bertal Pinto Jayawardene took steps to raise funds towards purchasing a new organ and the Johannus Sweelinck 30 church organ from Holland was chosen and installed with the able and assistance of old boy Neranjan de Silva, an expert in the field who has over the years been responsible for the care and upkeep of Johannus Organs in many churches in Sri Lanka in addition to his professional career. The Johannus Sweelinck 30 was the first of 3 manual church organs to be installed in Sri Lanka. It was dedicated at a special service conducted by the chaplain Revd Sunil Ferdinando and commissioned by Russell Bartholomeusz, the precentor of the chapel, himself a student of Canon Roy Yin who had taken up the mantle of choir master and organist from Revd Lucian Fernando, and who has become as much a legend today as Fr Yin was in his day.

In 2013 it was time to purchase a new organ for the chapel. After studying the various available options it was decided to purchase a Johannus Ecclesia D-570 church organ with available funds while an organ fund that was also established to raise funds towards the purchase of new organ. The new organ was installed in December 2013 by Neranjan de Silva who continues to render yeoman service to his alma mater. It has not been used for a service as yet and will make its debut after it is dedicated to the glory of God by the Bishop of Colombo, the Rt Revd Dhiloraj Canagasabey, at a service of choral evensong on Thursday 13th February 2014 at 6.00 p.m. During the service the new chapel hymnal will also be dedicated.

Following evensong there will be a short recital given by Denham Pereira, one of Colombo's highly sought after choral accompanists, and one of the foremost recital organist in Sri Lanka at present, himself an old boy whose association with the church began at an early stage when he was appointed organist of St. Matthias' Church, Boralesgamuwa at the age of 12. His love for organ and church music grew further as a Thomian chorister under the direction of Russell Bartholomeusz and he later went on to be appointed organist at the Church of St. Michael and All Angels, Colombo at the age of 19 where he also began his organ studies with internationally renowned organist David Ratnanayagam [also a former Thomian chorister] leading to the successful completion of  Trinity College exams in pipe organ. Today he is also organist and director of music at St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk where he formed and directs the chamber choir 'Voice of Praise'. Through this special organ recital he will demonstrate the full potential and power of the Johannus Ecclesia D570.While the new Organ will be used for all major services in the chapel, the older Johannus that has been repaired will be used to train young Thomians who have an interest in Anglican choral music. These young organists will play for all school day services and will also train themselves as organists in what will be a type of organ school as envisaged many years ago by the late Warden Neville de Alwis. The college has produced many accomplished church organists over the years to serve the church at large and it is hoped that through this informal organ school STC will produce many more organists to enrich the church’s worship of God.All those who value and enjoy choral music, the Anglican service of evensong and the rich sounds of the organ are invited to be part of the service.

Source: Daily

Dealer: Johannus. Coordinator: Neranjan de Silva.