15 October 2019

Sri Lanka: reviving sounds of the past

Start of the second phase of the restoration project of two pipe organs in Dutch reformed churches in Sri Lanka.

Work being carried out on the Wolvendaal organ in Sri Lanka (photo: Elbertse Orgelmakers).

The Hill organ (1870) in the Wolvendaal church in Colombo is the first instrument to resound after years of silence. This church was built during the eighteenth century by the Dutch East India Company (VOC), and today it is one of the best known Dutch colonial era buildings in Sri Lanka. In the framework of the Shared Cultural Heritage Programme of the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE), the Dutch organ builders firm Elbertse worked together with local artisans to repair and maintain these musical instruments. The most important goal is to make knowledge and skills available in Sri Lanka for future maintenance.

Long term collaboration

This project started in September 2017 with a visit from the Dutch governmental specialist on Sounding Heritage, Rudi van Straten, at both locations – the Wolvendaal church in Colombo and the Dutch Reformed Church in Galle. In one week, both instruments were documented and a recovery plan was described, showing the nature and extent of maintenance interventions.

Singing hymns from past and present

On 3 October 2019, a selected group of local people was invited to listen to the Hill organ at the Wolvendaal church again. After more than 20 years of silence the sounds of the past are resounding again in this church, along with the hymns of the present day congregation. A video of this moment can be found here. The next phase, planned for 2020, will correspond to the revival of the early nineteenth century pipe organ at the Dutch Church in Galle.

This project is supported by the Christian Reformed Church in Sri Lanka and by the Netherlands Embassy in Sri Lanka.