The Church of the
Final Report of the Organ Task Force
Background of the Organ
The organ at the Church of the Holy Name was built by E. M. Skinner in late 1922. The organ was updated by Kinzey-Angerstein in 1973 when about 7 ranks of pipes were removed and altered or replaced to make tonal changes. The Williams Organ Co. replaced the original Skinner console (where Susan sits to play) with an inexpensive supply house console sometime in the 1960's. It has been said that Skinner made some of the most beautiful organ consoles, but there is no record of why it was replaced. Currently what we have is about 50-70% of the original pipes, and a replacement console.
To the average person, our organ sounds "loud enough" and seems to work just fine. However, when you look under the hood it's a different story. For example, our type of organ uses leather pouches as part of the system to deliver air to the pipes. When new the leather was very soft and flexible, and the pouches expanded and contracted with the air passing through them. The expected life of the leather was about 25 years, and routine replacement was suggested as part of the normal maintenance of our organ. It has now been about 78 years, and we're a little overdue for our routine maintenance. According to all evaluations of the organ, and our own inspection, our leather pouches are hard and brittle. Mr. Skinner also used rubber hoses to deliver air to the pipes. Ours are all original, and also about 78 years old. Can you imagine using a 78-year-old garden hose, or your car having a 78-year-old radiator hose? These are just two examples of the work that needs to be done. On the brighter side, today's leather pouches are made with modern methods, and are expected to last a lot longer. They also now use silicone tubing instead of rubber, which has a much greater life expectancy. These and many other problems are fully documented in reports from the experts that we have consulted, as well as proposals from organ builders.
Our recent experience with the organ highlights the need for prompt attention to our organ. Two weeks ago our organ tuner (in our case, more of an EMT) was forced to disable the Cornopean pipes, the largest and loudest set of pipes in our instrument. These will be lost until the organ is rebuilt. We are told that other pipes are in danger of also being disabled by age. This repair adds a clothespin to the list of items holding the organ together. It joins a Q-tip, paper towel, and a generous amount of duct-tape, all temporary "quick fixes" for problems requiring serious rebuilding.
Consultations with experts
In the summer of 1998 we invited a group from the American Guild of Organists (The AGO) Organ Advisory Committee to visit us and evaluate the status of our organ. On September 26 we were visited by Charles Clutz, Allen B. Kinzey (who made the 1973 changes), Elizabeth Carley, and Richard W. Hill. They spent some quality time with the organ, along with Susan and some other people interested in what they might have to say. They filed a number of separate reports. We also have reports from other knowledgeable organists and organ builders such as Dick LaHaise, Don Belben, and Bob Love, as well as our own Dana Sawyer. In October of 1999 we hired Barbara Owen for a one-time consultation. Barbara is a nationally known consultant, who shared her experiences with the committee, and also submitted a report. More recently we received evaluations and proposals from Don Olson of the Andover Organ Company, Joe Rotella of the Spencer Organ Company, and Thad Outerbridge, a local organ builder.
Two complete compilations of these reports are available from the OTF for any parishioner to check out. Without intervention, the prognosis for the organ is poor; along with the neglect of the required maintenance, parts of the organ are just plain worn out or sub-standard. A chart outlining the comments made by our visiting experts is available in our handouts today and as part of our compiled documentation.
Research and Education of the Organ Task Force
The vestry created an Organ Task Force (a.k.a. The Organ Study Committee) in response to the deteriorating condition of our current organ. Before we set out on any course of action we educated ourselves and the parish about all the possibilities. Part of this education was visiting other churches and listening to other organs, studying any books written on the subject, and listening to the experts we encounter. All of our visits and meetings have been open to people from the parish. We have encouraged as many people as possible to participate.
We have gone to visit many different churches and organs. Our first trip was to Sanbornville, New Hampshire, to see the original Hutchings organ from our own church. It has been refurbished, and making beautiful music for the congregation since it left here in 1923. We have sung along with, played, and enjoyed many very different types of organs in many very different types of churches. Some of the organs were freestanding, and placed out in the open of the chancel. Most were set back into an organ chamber, similar to our own organ placement. Some were in the front of the church, and some in the rear. We have heard and seen new and rebuilt tracker organs, digitally enhanced pipe organs, pure digital organs, and restored electro-pneumatic organs. Tracker means that the action from the keys to the pipes is completely mechanical, digital organs use computer-controlled electronics for the reproduction of pipe organ sounds, and electro-pneumatic organs use a combination of electric relays and pneumatic action. Our organ is electro-pneumatic.
In our travels we have been fortunate to visit a couple of restored Skinner organs. We have learned that there are many places to put an organ in a church, each position giving a different sound to the music. The placement is important, and the situation we have is the least favorable acoustically. We also learned that tracker organs are the most popular among organists, giving the best "feel" and "action" to the keys. Also, we have found that different congregations enjoy different types of sounds, and that each organ was designed to support congregational singing. We have heard organs designed by different builders, some new and some rebuilt. In each case we learned a lot, and enjoyed the visits. One important thing we have learned is that organs built for a church should support the congregation in worship. They should not be designed for concert performances. Supporting congregational singing means that the sound from the organ should make you want to sing along and sing with real zeal. It should make you want to put your whole voice into uplifting singing, and allow you to feel the music.
We didn't just talk to organists and builders; we also met some parishioners from the churches. Many of the parishioners we encountered told us that they thought their organ was fine as it was, or loud enough to hear. However, after the instrument was rebuilt, restored, or replaced they then understood what was missing. They told us that they found the change uplifting, felt that the new sound improved worship, and helped support them in their singing.
The first proposal we received was from Don Olson, President of the Andover Organ Company. This proposal calls for completely replacing the existing Skinner organ with a used Ryder tracker organ, Opus 138, built in 1886 and currently in Vancouver, BC.
The second proposal we received was from Thad Outerbridge, an organ builder who maintained our instrument for a number of years. Mr. Outerbridge proposes that we rebuild and replace much of the existing instrument, changing the current windchests to slider chests, and reconfiguring the existing organ chamber. What we would end up with is a new organ that re-uses some of the parts from our old instrument.
Our third proposal is from Joseph Rotella of the Spencer Organ Company. The proposal is broken into three parts, each a project of its own. The first phase would replace all deteriorated leather and rubber parts and restore the mechanical systems of the organ. The second would restore the original pipes in the organ to the sounds they were meant to have, and all non-Skinner pipes would be replaced with used Skinner pipes or exact replicas. This phase would also add a new reed stop, again composed of used Skinner pipes or authentic replicas, and would move the front of the organ outward for better projection of sound. The third phase would replace our cheap supply house console with an original Skinner treasure. The console they recommend began its life in the National Cathedral in Washington, another Henry Vaughn building. Coupling this console with our Skinner organ would certainly enhance the aesthetic beauty of our church, as well as help restore what we lost with our 60s supply console. The end result of this project would be a complete restoration of the Skinner instrument, and additions in the true Skinner tradition.
Based on meetings with the builders, we feel that it is in the best interest of the church and the organ to accept the third proposal, a rebuild of our present instrument. There are many reasons, some of which can be highlighted.
Copies of all of the proposals are available in the files of the Organ Task Force.
It is the unanimous recommendation of the Organ Task Force that we accept the proposal of the Spencer Organ Company, and move forward with an organ restoration project. The credentials and reputation of Mr. Rotella and his company are impressive, and his work is well respected in the organ building community. At the end of this project we would posses an organ true to the tradition of E. M. Skinner, that will serve our needs for the next century.
Before we can go forward
Before any project can be undertaken, a number of things need to be addressed. First and foremost, the acoustics of the church need to be addressed. When Henry Vaughn designed and built the church, there was no carpeting and there were no pew cushions. The pew cushions have a minimal effect on the acoustics of the church, as they are usually covered with people during a service. The carpeting however, is a different story. As warm and attractive as it is, all carpeting and padding absorbs sound. It absorbs the sound of voices as they travel to the back of the church, and absorbs the sound of the organ as it travels. All of the experts we have talked to describe the church space as acoustically dead. We recommend that an acoustic expert be brought in to evaluate how we can best compensate for the loss of sound in the church. A proposal for such an evaluation has been prepared, and will forwarded to the property committee.
The next steps
There is some site preparation work that will need to be done before and during the restoration process.
A proposal for site preparation costs and work needed is currently in preparation; these will be added to Mr. Rotella's proposal.
Once a decision has been made, the Vestry will need to commission a group to look into fundraising and other sources of funding. This project is an investment in the infrastructure of the church, the history of the church, and most importantly the worship in this church.
Where to get more information
The Organ Task Force members are Susan Taormina (our Organist and choir director), Louise Mann (our Rector), Bob Torrey, Dana Sawyer, Rick Sweeney, and Patricia Buchanan. Feel free to talk to any of us about what's going on with the project.
There is a special area setup in Remmick Hall for all Organ Task Force documents. As you enter the hall from the church, there is a window immediately to your right. Underneath this window is a cabinet. On the top shelf in this cabinet is all you could ever want to know about this organ research.
Copyright © 1998, 2008 - The Church of the Holy Name
Last updated: Saturday, September 3, 2005