The Organ Project

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This whole organ project started when St. Benedict's Episcopal Church needed a new building to accommodate the many new members who had moved to the rapidly-growing South Florida community of Plantation.

For some time, congregants had often overflowed the old church, especially on Christmas and Easter when the side doors had to be opened and many people had to sit on folding chairs outside the main building.

 Interior of Old Church

(photo courtesy www.stbenedicts.org)

Plans were made for a new, larger church. The design included a narthex adjoining the old church's back wall, which had doors installed so that it could be used as the new parish hall. The old parish hall was then available for meeting rooms and educational uses.

Once the plans were approved, construction finally began after much delay. One of the goals of the master plan was to replace our electronic Allen organ with a pipe organ.

St. Benedict's has always considered music as an integral part of our worship. The old building never had the space for a decent-sized pipe organ, and the electronic organ served well for many years. But the new beginning promised by our much larger church begged for a new beginning musically as well.

An organ search committee was formed and many options were explored. A new instrument of the size we needed was prohibitively expensive. But just when things looked bleak, they heard about an older organ that was available at a reasonable price.

 

The historic 19th century Miller Chapel at Princeton Theological Seminary was to be renovated. Its 1964 Moller electropneumatic 55-rank pipe organ was to be dismantled and sold, so that a new tracker organ could be installed.

Although the Moller had served well for almost 40 years, the seminary decided that they wanted a smaller, baroque-flavored tracker instrument with an ornate case that would be more suitable for their worship style and musical repertoire.

At this very time, my father was looking for a way to honor the memory of my late mother, Dorothy, an organist and Lay Eucharistic Visitor, when he heard about this instrument and donated the money for its purchase and relocation.

Incidentally, there are many  "purists" who are adamant that only a tracker organ (named for some of the direct mechanical linkage parts that operate the pipe valves) gives the organist complete control over the attack/decay speech characteristics of the pipes. 
 

They feel that electropneumatic (E-P) action, where the console sends electrical signals to the pipe chambers where they operate pneumatic relays, is inferior.

 

Others, like myself, feel that while there is nothing wrong with tracker action if that's what you want, any actual auditory advantage of direct touch control is minimal at best in most real-world playing situations, while its disadvantages of  heavy touch, fixed console location and in most cases the lack of multiple registration memory levels, automatic transposition, MIDI input/output and other modern advances greatly outweigh any possible benefit.

Age is a relative thing in pipe organs; there are many very old ones still playing well; and many much younger ones with many problems. The nature of the environment and maintenance as well as the quality of the original materials have a huge impact on an organ's useful life. In the case of Princeton Theological Seminary's old Moller, the leather in the console pneumatics and that in the combination action control units had deteriorated much faster than had the leather in the windchests. When we examined the organ before purchase, we were told that we would be better off converting the console to solid-state control rather than trying to rebuild the old system. This would also allow us to give our organist many new features without altering the tonal qualities of the organ.

Here again we get into controversy --- just as some tracker-backers dislike E-P action, so do some E-P "purists" loathe computerized control. Personally, I think there is nothing wrong with taking advantage of your era's technology. 

 

Console with electropneumatic control. Over a thousand wires (hidden in picture) connect it to the rest of the organ.

Same console with microprocessor control. One thin CAT-5 network cable connects it to the rest of the organ.

While I agree that some famous organs should be left as-is for historical reasons, I believe that there was no more reason for us to keep hundreds of pounds of wood-framed pneumatic relays in the console itself, not to mention well over a thousand wires connecting the console to the massive combination action cabinets and to the pipe chambers, than there would be for us to go back to the days of hand-operated blowers to provide the organ wind.

In any event, the decision was made, the organ was purchased, and the organ project left the theoretical phase and became reality.

Where it Was


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This page was last updated on 11/10/08.
All content copyright 2006 Brian F. Bailey, W4OLF