Monday, November 06, 2006

On the Road with the Organ Committee

During 2006, the organ committee has visited several organs in the Saint Louis area, including the Dobson tracker in the First Unitarian Church and the Casavant tracker at Principia College. Last week, four of us (Lydia, John, Bob and Barbara) went to Chicago to visit four more instruments. The purpose of this is to identify organ builders from whom we would like to have bids. At each instrument, those who could play the organ (Bob and Barbara and sometimes the local organist would play for us as well) played a variety of music, so we could hear what the instrument would be like leading hymns and liturgy and for preludes, postludes and concerts. We listened to different stops (or groups of pipes voiced to sound in a particular way) and listened to see how certain stops sounded with other stops. Ideally, each stop is beautiful by itself but blends wonderfully with every other stop. Because we were listening to tracker (or mechanical action) organs, we wanted to be sure that the sound of the action wasn’t noticeable above the sound of the pipes. Another factor we looked at was the “feel” of the action: how sensitive and responsive are the keys to the touch? We tried to assess how well each organ builder had adapted the organ to the space in the church itself. Failure to do this can make an instrument sound too loud, too soft or too muddy. We looked at how each builder had designed the organ to complement or enhance the architectural look of the building. We are hopeful that this trip, undertaken at our own expense, will help the organ committee to identify three builders from whom we would like to have bids. We visited the 21 stop Halbert Gober organ (Op. 11) at Bethany Lutheran Church, Crystal Lake, IL ; which had a spectacular case

the 19 stop Hellmuth Wolff (Op. 37) at St. Giles Episcopal Church, Northbrook, IL ; The 23 stop Lynn Dobson organ (Op. 81) at Kenilworth Union Church, Kenilworth, IL and the 27 stop Martin Pasi organ (Op. 15) at the Episcopal Church of St. Paul, and the Redeemer, located near the University of Chicago. Here is a link to the Kenilworth organ on Dobson' site, showing how the organ itself was built. Here (below) is a picture of the interesting embossed pipes on the Dobson.

Below is a picture of the Pasi in St Paul and the Redeemer. I really like the ribbons over the altar, too.

Below is a picture of the Wolff at St Giles' Church, Northbrook and here is a link to the Wolff website for the specs and other information.

What are trackers, anyway? Well, right above this is a picture of the insides of a tracker instrument and you can read one church's explanation of how organs work here I suspect that I'll be editing this soon with some input from John Speller on websites that explain how organs work.