From the Organist & Choirmaster
Dear Calvary Parishioners,
Calvary Church has been blessed for decades to have one of the finest pipe organs in the region. Especially for a parish church, the organ’s scope and tonal palette is unusually large. But, despite its size, it has been carefully voiced for the room so that it can sing and sound in a balanced, appropriate way. The visible copper pipes in the chancel represent a tiny fraction of the 3,260 total pipes, most of which are hiding in the chamber behind the casework.
As a composer, I write frequently for organ, and am incredibly grateful to have regular access to such an expressive, colorful instrument. It truly informs and inspires my writing.
The organ was built in 1927 by the legendary Skinner company of Boston, and it was a little less than half the size of the current instrument. Much of the Skinner pipework was retained over the decades, and additional ranks (or sets of pipes) were added in order to make the instrument incredibly versatile. The Quimby Organ Company of Warrensburg, Missouri executed the major rebuilding of the organ in 1995, and has supervised ongoing principal work since then.
The organ’s primary role has always been to lead vibrant congregational singing, but it also effectively interprets a wide variety of solo organ literature, and is an excellent collaborative partner with the Choir. Over the years, many of the finest organists in the world have performed on Calvary’s organ, and they have lauded the instrument and the experience. (To my surprise a few years ago, I found tucked away in a Calvary music cabinet a hand-written letter from the eminent French composer/organist Marcel Dupré to Calvary’s organist/choirmaster at the time. Dupré had visited and performed on Calvary’s organ in 1970, the year before his death.)
Calvary’s rare, historic, and sizeable organ (like any pipe organ) naturally requires ongoing and highly-specialized maintenance. The parish has been a faithful steward of the instrument over the last near-century, but one particularly passionate individual has been tireless in their support:
Sanford Martin. We are incredibly grateful to Sandy’s generosity not only in the past many decades, but during the current maintenance and pipework additions being implemented.
These several improvements and modifications are being done under the expert workmanship of David Beck (from near Toledo, Ohio). After the work is complete, most of it will be unnoticed by parishioners, as the majority of the project involves modification of the internal functions of the console (where the keyboards and pedalboard are located in the chancel) and how it communicates with the pipework. In short, over the years, there were two distinct electronic systems (made by different manufacturers) installed in the organ. Although they have largely worked harmoniously together, over time the configuration would have made future maintenance increasingly difficult. Thus, it was determined that, in the long-range view, it was wise to unify the organ’s switching and combination action (the way specific, custom registrations—or combinations of pipes/ranks—can be stored and recalled instantly) with a new system built by the long-established company, Peterson Electro-Musical Products, Inc.
One of the significant new features will be the capability of “recording” a performance by an organist, and having the organ “play back” that performance—kind of like a player piano, but with much more complexity. This feature will allow, for the first time, the possibility of an organist to step out into the nave to listen to and evaluate balance, color, dynamics, etc. of any given work the individual played on the organ.
There will be a new (repurposed) rank of soft pipes, an 8’ Nason Gedeckt, added to the Choir Division. And, in the Swell Division, new reed pipes will be added to expand the 8’ Trompette one octave below and one octave above the current compass. These additions won’t be visible from the nave or chancel, but they will be heard.
We hope that this current maintenance will help Calvary’s organ continue to inspire souls, spark creativity, and lift faithful voices…both now and in future generations.