Saint Mark's recently undertook a major restoration of our historic pipe organ, bringing to fruition a project that was in planning for more than three years. Our 1936-37 Aeolian-Skinner organ (Opus 948) is an instrument of historic and artistic significance, built by one of the finest firms, during a great age of American organ building. It was designed and voiced by the legendary G. Donald Harrison, president and tonal director of Aeolian-Skinner, widely considered one of the greatest organ builders of all time. The entire instrument includes two older divisions (both in the chancel) – the Screen division that dates from about 1906; and the String division, built in 1922 at the Wanamaker organ shop. An Antiphonal Organ was added to the instrument, at the west end of the church, in 2002, and comprised ranks of conventional pipes as well as digital stops.
Pipe organs are full of thousands of components well beyond the wood and metal of the pipes themselves: reservoirs, blowers, wind lines, electrical wiring, a great deal of leather (particularly prone to degradation after years of use), and so on. While carefully maintained over the 80 years of its life, our instrument had never had a complete restoration, and many components were badly in need of more thorough attention. This restoration project addressed the entire instrument, and should extend the lifespan of the organ for another 80 years, with proper care.
Of particular note are revisions to the Antiphonal Organ. The important addition of this part of the organ contributed greatly to the musical life of the parish, particularly in the support of congregational singing. Fifteen years later, we had an opportunity now to improve this part of the organ by eliminating digitally-created voices, and by adjusting the tonal quality of the pipework to achieve a better blend with the older Chancel Organ. We acquired several ranks of pipes from dismantled Aeolian-Skinner organs (at Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, and Saint Paul’s School, Concord, New Hampshire) both built and voiced by G. Donald Harrison, with which to create a complete chorus in the Antiphonal Organ that is better balanced in both tone and volume with the sound of the Chancel Organ it is meant to complement. The superb Trompette-en-chamade under the west window will continue to herald the Good News from that end of the church. A gorgeous Flauto Mirabilis stop, by E.M. Skinner, was moved from the Antiphonal Organ to the Chancel Organ, joining the Tuba, among important solo stops that were part of the 2002 expansion of the organ.
The cost of the entire project has exceeded $600,000. A generous grant of $400,000 from the Wyncote Foundation covered the cost of the restoration of the historic instrument, and contributions from a few generous parishioners enabled us to commit to the repair and revision of the west divisions. Further donations will help fund ongoing work to keep the organ in its very best condition.
Two organ builders undertook the restoration work. Emery Brothers of Allentown took on the historic restoration of the Chancel Organ. The process of re-installation was subsequently managed by long-time curator Steve Emery and his dedicated and gifted crew. Repairs and revisions of the Antiphonal Organ were carried out by Foley-Baker Inc., of Tolland, Connecticut. The final product has faithfully restored and retained G. Donald Harrison’s work, the Screen and String divisions which predate it, and has augmented the historic instrument with antiphonal pipework that perfectly complements it, resulting in an expansive and beautifully expressive instrument comprising 114 ranks of pipes.
If you’d like more information about this project or if you’d like to make a contribution to help pay for ongoing work, please be in touch with:
Mr. Robert McCormick, Organist & Choirmaster
The Rev. Sean E. Mullen, Rector