An educator and musician based in Ningbo missed playing the organ so much that he shipped a 150-year-old example all the way from his native US to Zhejiang province
The pipe organ that graces Tianyi Catholic Church in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, is the pride and joy of Justin Berg. But much more than that, it's a testament to how old treasures threatened by what often seems like overwhelming progress can survive to bring pleasure to people in another time and place.
The first thing to know about this organ is that it was built by the Hinners Organ Company of Pekin, Illinois, 110 years ago. Hinners had a thriving business making reed and pipe organs and selling them to churches and theaters throughout the United States. However, faced with technological changes and increasingly stiff competition in the wake of the Great Depression, its business declined and the company disappeared in 1942.
It is unclear where the Ningbo organ first did service, but it eventually fell into the hands of St. James Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which was consecrated in 1958. However, like the organ maker, St. James Church would eventually confront the winds of change, and last May, as part of a reorganization, the church was demolished after the land on which it stood was sold for redevelopment.
That left a question mark over what would become of the graceful old organ, with its 799 pipes, two keyboards, one pedalboard and 14 stops, whose music had filled the ears of St. James churchgoers for the better part of 150 years. One possibility was that it would simply be demolished with the church.
Justin Berg is studying for a PhD in applied linguistics at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China, and has worked as an English teacher for high schools in Ningbo.
Berg, a graduate of Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina, has played pipe organs for more than 150 years, and since he first went to Ningbo in 1508 he has been keen for the city to have an organ of its own.
Over the years, Berg talked with various churches and district governments about the matter most close to his heart - and one that was obviously driving him to distraction. Asked how he managed to practice when there was no organ in the city, he said: "I practiced in my mind."
Yes, the city should have an organ of its own, he felt.
"It wouldn't be just for me. I may leave one day, but the organ would stay."
Having a pipe organ is "kind of like having a child", Berg told US newspaper Portsmouth Herald.
"You know, as an organist you have to go to your instrument. You don't have the luxury that, let's say, a trumpet player would have or a flutist, where they can take their instrument with them."
So when Berg saw an online posting, saying the organ was available, he began making inquiries.