Organ update, May 2023

Putting some finishing touches to the newly installed Positiv division.

One of the rare opportunities that the current organ renovation afforded was the temporary opening up of the large organ chamber situated behind the reredos. This space was originally designed to accommodate the 1929 organ when the church was built. Increasingly stuffed full of organ structural parts and pipes as the organ was expanded over the years, it was essentially out of sight – and out of mind – to all but organ professionals. When the organ removal was completed in summer 2020, this sizeable space around eight feet deep and the width of the chancel was revealed, affording easy access and unusual views of the back of the reredos, the chancel ceiling, and down the full length of the sanctuary.

Now all that has changed. The chamber is again nearly filled with wooden racks and support structures, some new, some refinished and reused. This is the “skeleton” that underpins the working parts of the organ. It has been redesigned to make best use of the limited space and provide a more efficient arrangement that allows easier access to all parts for tuning and other maintenance. High up in this space, the upper swell chamber has been installed. Some wind lines are laid, and connections for the highly complex electrical circuitry are underway. Construction challenges continue to be presented by the lack of square and level standards on which to build, a typical result of the settling and shifting that takes place in buildings as they age.

Inside the organ chamber

In the organ shop, individual pipe repairs continue, and two new sets of pipes are being constructed for the Flauto Dolce and Celeste ranks – 98 new pipes in total. These new pipes are faithfully constructed according to original Aeolian-Skinner scales, with the organ builder’s skill and experience adding the nuanced adjustments that produce a perfect fit for this particular instrument and room. Voicing continues on an almost daily basis. Anomalies in the voicing caused by time and movement of the pipes are being smoothed out. According to organ builder Steve Russell, the voicing will be more uniform than it has been since G. Donald Harrison directed tonal work on the organ in the 1950s. As Russell puts it, “an important part of this current renovation is preserving the tonal concept that Harrison brought to that project”.

Unpacking pipes newly arrived from the shop

Most of this continuing work of reinstallation has been unnoticed by the average person sitting in the pews, although keen eyes may have spotted the recent addition of some smaller pipes of the Positiv division on the east wall to the right of the altar. Over the summer, the remaining systems needed to provide wind to the Great and Swell divisions will be installed, and more electrical connections will be set up. The rest of the pipes will be brought from the shop and installed. Once the final stage of wiring everything to the main control system is complete – with luck, by October of this year – the instrument will sound tantalizingly close to the way it is intended to. The truly finished result will have to wait until the very last stage of the project – building and installing a brand-new console – is completed in spring 2024. We are looking forward with great eagerness to hearing the rich new array of different sounds that our organ will be capable of producing – most of all the additional bass sound that will balance the higher frequencies and help support congregational singing.

Previous organ renovation updates

Updated organ specifications 2024

Our organ project is being watched over from Above.