This year Saint Mark's will undertake a major restoration of our historic pipe organ, bringing to fruition a project that has been in the 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 comprises 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 has never had a complete restoration, and many components are now badly in need of more thorough attention. This restoration project will address the entire instrument, and should extend the lifespan of the organ for another 80 years, with proper care.
Of particular note will be the revisions to the Antiphonal Organ. The important addition of this part of the organ has contributed greatly to the musical life of the parish, particularly in the support of congregational singing. Fifteen years on, we have 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 have 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 will be 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 will be 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 will exceed $600,000. A generous grant of $400,000 from the Wyncote Foundation will cover the cost of the restoration of the historic instrument, and contributions from a few generous parishioners have enabled us to commit to the repair and revision of the west divisions. We'll still need to raise as much as another $100,000 to fully cover the cost of this project.
Two organ builders will undertake the work over the course of the next 6-12 months. Emery Brothers of Allentown, the long-time curators of our organ, will take on all the historic restoration of the Chancel Organ. Repairs and revisions of the Antiphonal Organ will be carried out by Foley-Baker Inc., of Tolland, Connecticut. The final product will faithfully restore and retain G. Donald Harrison’s work, the Screen and String divisions which predate it, and will augment the historic instrument with antiphonal pipework that perfectly complements it, resulting in an expansive and beautifully expressive instrument comprising 114 ranks of pipes.
The removal of pipes and other parts of the organ is scheduled to begin in mid-October. While the work is underway, we will have an Allen custom digital organ, on loan to us from the Curtis Institute of Music, installed in the church. This instrument will serve us very well and allow us to continue our music program uninterrupted for the praise of God's holy Name.
If you’d like more information about this project or if you’d like to make a contribution to help pay for this important work, please be in touch with:
Mr. Robert McCormick, Organist & Choirmaster
The Rev. Sean E. Mullen, Rector