In a previous post I wrote back in February, I wrote about my idea of having a pipe organ built and dedicated to everyone affected by Turner syndrome. But a number of events have taken place since then which have caused me to reconsider some of my original ideas. Yes, there will still be an organ; in fact, two of them, built in vastly different styles. More on that later, but first, I discovered a new organ that we could use as a model!!! But before we explore our new model organ, I think it would be helpful to read this general introduction to pipe organs; then come back to this post.
The organ which we could use as a model was built in 1925 by the Hinners Organ Company, and it can be found at the Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Tilsit, Missouri. The Organ Media Foundation produced a video about it in June of 2018. As organs go, it has a thick, warm sound, typical of instruments of its era. It’s also quite small, having only one keyboard, or manual, with four sets, or ranks, of pipes: an 8′ open diapason, an 8′ lieblich gedackt, an 8′ gamba, and a 4′ flute; it also has a 16′ bourdon in the pedal. There is also a special coupler, which plays each key, as well as the same note an octave higher. One downside, though, is the short range of the pedal keyboard; it’s only one octave. In our organ, we would extend it upward to two octaves and add a second stop at 8′ pitch in order to make the organ more versatile. By doing this, we wouldn’t need the divided keyboard found in the original instrument. Otherwise, we would maintain the same key and stop action, manual keyboard range, the octave coupler, and, most importantly, the thick, warm sound.
Some of you reading this post may be wondering, “What does a pipe organ have to do with Turner syndrome?” First, before I answer that question, I would recommend you read this biography about Dr. Henry Turner, after whom Turner syndrome is named. The biography is quite detailed, but the most important info you need to know are the dates: 1924, 1938 and 1970. Dr. Turner lived through a period in the history of the organ known as the Organ Reform movement. It was also called the Organ Revival movement by those who were actively involved in it. In a nutshell, starting in the 1920s in Germany, a small group of organists decided they’d had enough of the big, thick sound which was common at the time, represented by the Hinners organ I mentioned earlier. They basically said, “What if we could go back, to a time before the sound got thick?” They understood that the organ’s sound had gotten its thickness primarily in the 1800s, during the Romantic period (notice the capital R; it has nothing to do with love). They also had some organs from the 1700s and 1600s which they used as inspiration for their new instruments, and so began the Organ Reform; you can read all about it at http://www.lawrencephelps.com/Documents/Articles/Phelps/ashorthistory.shtml.
Several years later, in the 1930s, it came to America. Things started out very slowly; after all, the thick, Romantic sound was still fresh in everyone’s mind. An example of that would be our good old friend the Hinners, but we also have the Ernest M. Skinner organ, Opus 327, built in 1921, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois. Here is an audio example of what it sounds like; note the big, thick sound. Ernest M. Skinner’s instruments were all about that Romantic sound, but it wouldn’t last forever. No; an English gentleman named G. Donald Harrison came to America in the late 1920s to work for Skinner, and, after a few years and a takeover of the company, started introducing little tiny reforms into the instruments he built. The tiny reforms eventually, over a few more years became bigger and bigger, culminating in our next example instrument, for the Church of the Advent, Boston, installed in 1937. Here is an Audio example of the Boston instrument. There is quite a difference between the two organs, built only 15 years apart; the Boston instrument sounds, perhaps, a little bit brighter and thinner than the Evanston Skinner. The Boston instrument represented a whole new sound, never before heard in America, but to most of its admirers, it was perfect.
But the perfect sound wouldn’t last very long, either. After yet another World War, some new organs and ideas began arriving from Europe. In some ways, they were a continuation of what had been going on in prior decades, but they also pushed the boundaries of what the reform could do. They introduced, or rather re-introduced, mechanical key action, which hadn’t been done on a large scale in America in quite a long time. Most important, was their tone; it was the complete opposite of the Hinners or the Evanston Skinner. An audio example can be heard in this organ, built by the German organ builder Rudolf von Beckerath in 1957, for Trinity Lutheran Church, Cleveland, Ohio. It has a thin, almost “cold” sound, which would have probably been a shock to those listening to it for the first time, particularly for those folks who didn’t have any direct connections to the organ.
The Cleveland von Beckerath had very far-reaching results, a few of which are well worth noting. First of all, a group of young organists in Montreal, headed by Kenneth Gilbert, a former organist of Queen Mary Road United Church, had, through their reading and study, become completely convinced that it was necessary for them to have instruments quite different from those available locally. A visit to the Cleveland instrument resulted in a smaller von Beckerath for Mr. Gilbert’s church in 1959. Subsequently, an absolutely gargantuan instrument was ordered for St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, where Raymond Daveluy was the organist, and this was installed by von Beckerath in 1960. In 1961, yet another von Beckerath organ was installed in eglise de l’lmmaculee-Conception, where Gaston Arel was the organist, and another von Beckerath was ordered some time later for the First Presbyterian Church in Winnipeg. Thus four von Beckerath instruments appeared in Canada directly as a result of the 1957 installation in Cleveland. Several other von Beckerath instruments had also been installed in the United States primarily as a result of the success of the Canadian instruments, the most notable among these being the magnificent instrument installed in 1962 in St. Paul’s R. C. Cathedral in Pittsburgh, where Paul Koch was the organist. ** Taken from: ‘A SHORT HISTORY OF THE ORGAN REVIVAL” (http://www.lawrencephelps.com/Documents/Articles/Phelps/ashorthistory.shtml)