Group launches $4M campaign for Portland's Kotzschmar Organ

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PORTLAND — The Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ on Sunday launched a $4 million capital campaign to renovate and sustain the nation’s oldest working municipal pipe organ.

The group has already raised $2.2 million towards the renovation – a sum that includes a $1.25 million bond being financed by the city, which plans to pay down the debt through a ticket surcharge.

The friends group hopes to raise $3 million by next August and $4 million when the renovations are complete in 2014.

Kathleen Grammer said the group has been quietly fundraising for about a year, and it will continue to reach out to regular members and contributors.

“(We) have been making them aware of the needs of the organ,” she said.

Grammer outlined those issues in a July interview and tour of the organ.

The instrument is powered by an 825-square-foot wind chest, which pushes air through more than 6,800 metal and wooden pipes behind the Merrill Auditorium stage and above the audience.

The organ was donated to the city in 1912 by publishing magnate Cyrus H.K. Curtis. It was named after Hermann Kotzschmar, a German immigrant, organist and local music teacher.

“The Kotzschmar Organ, now in its centennial season, can reproduce virtually any sound, from thunderous roars to soft, ethereal whispers,” the group said in a press release.

The organ was removed in the 1990s when the hall was renovated, which loosened some of the joints. Inside the wind chest, tape and caulking have been used to try to stop the leaks.

After a week-long centennial celebration in August 2012, the organ will go silent for about a year and a half while it is repaired.

At that time, Grammer said the group will concentrate on public fundraising.

While the renovation is expected to cost nearly $3 million, Grammer said the group hopes to raise an additional $1 million to support concerts, education programs and key staff, such as the organist and the curator.

Grammer said fundraising has been a challenge, given the economy, but she’s confident the group will be able to meet its fundraising goal.

“This has been a concerted effort on the part of FOKO and the city, and we’ve joined forces together to make this happen,” she said. “It’s a very exciting time for the Kotzschmar Organ, which is a national icon.”

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Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings