An historic project dubbed the "great organ transplant" has been completed.

It makes Auckland the home of the largest church pipe organ in the southern hemisphere but, more significantly, Holy Trinity Cathedral in Parnell can finally be consecrated.

Replacing the cathedral's Harrison and Harrison organ, New Zealand's largest musical instrument, was the last - and most complex - part of the $15.1 million Selwyn's Vision Project that began in 2011 when the organ showed signs of serious wear and tear.

A five-year initiative was launched to replace it along with finishing the east end of the cathedral, behind its high altar, with a smaller chapel. Because a cathedral cannot be consecrated until it is completed and fully paid for, it means the church community has had to wait until now for the dedication.

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It comes 174 years after Bishop Selwyn bought the land that Holy Trinity Cathedral occupies, with the aim of building a centre for educational, social, charitable and missionary work.

English firm Nicholson and Co started work on replacing the cathedral's 46-year-old organ in 2014, manufacturing and shipping to New Zealand 5432 pipes in seven 40ft, 45 tonne crates. It took eight months to ship the pipes, followed by a six-month installation period. This involved two teams of four working in six-week "relays" so they wouldn't be away from family for too long.

The firm's managing director, Andrew Moyes, says the project was a double celebration as it marked its 175th anniversary in 2016 while working on its largest ever project. Asked whether he thinks the firm's founding fathers could have imagined such a thing, Moyes says he doubts it.

"And if we thought it was difficult for us to get parts to New Zealand, well it was nothing compared to the type of logistics it would have involved for them back then."

It's also doubtful they could have imagined the type of technological advances which have taken place. The organ has a fixed and mobile console, meaning it can be moved around the cathedral with signals sent digitally to activate its thousands of pipes.

Things went so smoothly, the project was finished two months ahead of schedule. Soon to retire, Moyes says it is a satisfying end to his career which began as an electrical engineer before his love of pipe organs led him to the business.

If it's a satisfying outcome for Moyes, it's also hugely pleasing to cathedral organist Philip Smith and musical director Michael Stoddart. They say the sound produced is majestic, all-encompassing and so captivating, it draws people in off the street to listen.

Smith says a recent practice session caught the attention of brothers, aged 2 and 4 years old, who live locally and were out walking with their parents. They asked if they could come in and listen and then if they, too, could have a turn.

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"I said yes because, really, what harm could they do? It might have been a different story had they been dripping icecream all over the place, but they were fine," he says.
"When I was 11, I asked the organist at Truro Cathedral in Cornwall if I could have a go and he looked at me and just snapped, 'no!' which could have put me off something I love and I don't ever want to be responsible for that happening to someone."

Smith has 21 pupils, more girls than boys, learning the organ and says the demand for lessons is growing.

"When people ask why we might have spent money on replacing an instrument for 'old men', I have only to point to the demand from young people for classes," he says. "It's the highest number of pupils that I've ever had and it's fantastic."

He and Stoddart believe the resurgent popularity may have something to do with the uniqueness of the instrument and the intriguing and varied sounds it can produce.

The Very Reverend Anne Mills, Dean of Auckland, says it's now time for the organ to have its say. Celebrations are on this weekend with a grand opening recital on Saturday evening and, on Sunday, a choral Eucharist at 10am, gala concert at 2pm and choral evensong at 5pm.

Lowdown:
What: Cathedral Organ Festival Weekend
Where & when: Holy Trinity Cathedral, Saturday & Sunday