Proof & Pudding

Many weeks have passed since my last blog post.    During the majority of this time, the organ’s final touches have been completed.

Tonal finishing is a laborious and time consuming process, refining the shop voiced pipework to speak with its optimal voice in its new acoustic home.   During this process, each rank of pipes is checked for balance within the organ’s overall tonal architecture, and, likewise, each pipe is checked for its place within its brothers and sisters in its rank, as well as checking that each pipe speaks properly.

This requires the patience of a saint to endure long days of repeated notes, comparing one pipe to another; a seemingly endless blither of monotony.   This process is aurally fatiguing, to be sure, but absolutely essential to the success of an instrument – the refinement achieved here, even in one tiny pipe, can make or break the project.

The majority of the organ’s pipes, the flue pipes, were completed in April and May.   Now Jack and Louie were back to finish off the reeds, and a few other final details.


Once the reeds were completely voiced, a through-tuning was done, carefully setting the temperament (“Equal”, of course).   No pipe was too small, or too big, to escape the tuner’s discipline (see image)!   Thankfully these huge pipes won’t need tuning very often.


It is interesting to compare some before and after pictures of the organ.  Below you can see various views of the church before and after the organ project.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It has been wonderful to introduce our new organ to the parish, as well as some inquisitive organists – this list of visitors is by no means complete!  Here are just a couple of our esteemed guests that have delighted in the warm sounds of Op. 172.


On June 17th, during the service, a small presentation was made by Michael Murray and Mike Dangelo.    The congregation rose to their feet, offering a boisterous rendering of their appreciation!   The next morning, Jack and Louie headed back to California.


Then, on the afternoon of June 18th, the final box of bits was collected by a shipping company and, with that, the organ project is basically done.    This was an oddly emotional moment; for years now this project has occupied daily life; now, one must practice!


And, finally, here she is.   On a warm summer’s afternoon in July, I sat down and recorded this improvisation to explore the colours of our new wonder.      Turn the volume up, sit back, and revel in these exquisite sounds.   They say the proof is in the pudding, so I present “Exhibit A – The Pudding”.

Tone, glorious tone!

It’s been a busy few weeks at Redeemer, with installation crews swapping, and the focus shifting from physical installation to musical refinement.

Within fairly short order of the façade going up, the remaining pipes of the Great division were planted on their chests.

In the below pictures you can see some images of the Great division’s pipes, divided across its two chests.

Louie, Mark, Dave, and Tim worked long and hard to get the organ playing (though not tonally finished) by the beginning of May, ready for Bishop Alan Gates to bless the organ as it began its life at the Redeemer on May 6th.

The organ, even in its shop-voiced state, held forth with great dignity in her first service.  During the postlude (Dorothy Papadakos’ arrangement of Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”), the various reeds of the organ got a good airing.  There was absolute silence – you could have heard a pin drop (if the organ weren’t playing).  All 280 people stood throughout the entire piece (of their own volition) with barely the rustle of a piece of paper to be heard.

First thing on Monday, May 7th, Jack Bethards and Mark Hotsenpiller were hard at the tonal finishing, beginning the laborious process of going through each and every pipe to ensure each speaks promptly, with elegance and beautiful tone.

Tonal finishing is a lengthy, and aurally demanding time.    The tiniest of adjustments to a pipe can make a world of difference; this takes experienced ears, steady hands, and, above all, patience!

The first sounds that have come from the organ are simply ravishing; sounds that harken back to the glory days of the romantic organ.   What will it sound like after Jack, Mark, and the rest of the Schoenstein team are done?  I’m not sure there are adjectives that will do it justice!

Installation – Week 3

The crew from Schoenstein (Mark Hotsenpiller, Dave Beck, & Tim Fink) arrived bright and early on “Marathon Monday” to continue installation work, and begin the installation process of the façade pipes.

On Tuesday the façade pipes arrived from A. R. Schopps, and they were quickly stowed in various locations about the church.

We were all eager to see the finish of the pipes, with its unique silver luster.   They didn’t disappoint!

Work quickly turned to the racks that help to hold these beauties in place.    These must be carefully erected to ensure everything is true for ages to come.    Whilst Dave & Tim worked away at the racks, Mark began preliminary voicing on these pipes, as they arrived with nary a nick to be seen! Not for long!

Once all the racking was in place, the pipes went in very quickly, and the façade began to show off all her lovely curves.

The final result surprised us all – in a good way!   The exquisite finish on the pipework changed with beautiful subtlety in different lighting; sometimes gold, sometimes silver,  or, if the light reflected from the windows, blues and greens began to appear.   The effect was transfixing! The woodwork grounded it all so that it truly looks like it was always there.    We think Mr. Vaughan would be proud.

Finally, here is a time-lapse of the past three weeks condensed into 2 minutes.   There is still much work to do, but, the organ is taking shape and has her party face on!   Within the next few weeks we will start to hear her come to life!

Installation – Week 2

Another busy week was had at Redeemer. New Holland Church Furniture arrived on Monday with the casework cabinetry.

New Holland’s fabulous cabinetry was spread across the church, and work quickly began       to get the main case up.  The main case consists of many portions — the Chancel impost, Transept impost, Chancel lower panels, tracery doors, Chapel panels and doors, as well as our marvelous new little ‘secret passage’ to from the Chancel to the Chapel. The areas around the Choir division are a series of ingenious doors to allow easy access for service.    Each impost is supported from the floor (rather than being cantilevered) to ensure things are level and true for ages to come.

Punctilious attention was paid to matching the stain for all of this woodwork.  Scrupulous study showed that there was significant variance in woodwork colour throughout the church — finding the perfect match was no mean feat! The splendid results attest to the care taken by all those who played a hand in finding the perfect match.

The massive imposts were put in place, ready to receive their crowning glory — the façade pipes (come back next week to see these).

All the while, the Schoenstein team, Nikko, Joe, and Chris, were diligently working away to get the organ mechanically complete.

By Thursday, the manual flue pipes for the Swell and Choir were ready to go in.   A few of  us offered to lend a hand to provide a human conveyor belt into the chamber — it was awfully fun!

Within a few hours, the Choir and Swell were looking quite respectable!

By the end of the week, all of the casework cabinetry was installed throughout the building, and it is quite beautiful.   One aspect of which I am particularly proud, is the West End cabinetry.    As these also act as returns for the HVAC, register grilles were required.   The only possible aesthetically pleasing result was to use those that match the existing ones.   eBay to the rescue!   After considerable digging into the bowels of the interwebs, I managed to source vintage brass grilles that perfectly match the existing ones at the West End.   Their patina helps to further promote the idea that this cabinetry could have been placed here by Mr. Vaughan himself.

We bade farewell to Chris, Joe, and Nikko on Friday, after two tremendous weeks of work.  Thank you, gents, for your great work.   Next week the next Schoenstein crew arrives — more pipes!


Installation – Week 1

The title of this blog post may be the most boring of the lot, but the goings-on that it describes are most certainly not!

Easter Monday saw a blog post, replete with some pictures of the erecting process, but due to P.R.S. (Post Resurrection Syndrome), this blogger took the morning off to enjoy a few extra hours of sleep.   As a result, this post is slightly out of sequence with that which precedes it, having some documentation of unloading the truck, etc.

Here beginneth the epistle:

It was a typical New England April Spring morning, bathed in warmth and sunlight;   the air-conditioning in the church was cranked and blowing a gale to offer some releif from the heat….. who am I kidding; it snowed…. IN APRIL!    Despite the snow, the crew managed to get the organ from the truck to the church in good order (and humour).


The Swell windchests were quickly brought into the chamber, and set on their frame.

Likewise, the Choir division, right behind the choir stalls, between the Chancel and the Chapel, went up in fairly quick order.    The lowest Dulciana pipes were planted fairly early in the process, and the walls and shutters of the enclosure were up tout suite.

The Swell box walls followed suit, and subsequently the magnificent wooden 16′ Ophicleide and the largest pipes of the 16′ (metal) Double Diapason were nestled into their home on the liturgical east side of the organ chamber.

Next the Chancel Great chest was moved into place, and the Swell shades were installed. This Great chest will house Open Diapasons Nos. 1 & 3, the rest of the Great chorus, and the Great Trumpet.

The 32′ Contra Posaune arrived mid-week, and was promptly planted into its new home at the very back of the swell box.   Its boots are wooden and resonators zinc; the resonators are ‘bugled’ as I like to call it (coiled up, in a similar fashion to a bugle or trumpet – the widely accepted term is ‘mitred’).  This allows these pipes, the lowest of which is 32′ feet in length, to fit into the 15′ tall chamber.

Nearing the end of the week, the lowest pipes of the Swell 16′ Posaune, 8′ Horn Diapason, 8′ Echo Gamba, and 8′ Vox Celeste were all keeping their big brother, the 32′ Contra Posaune, company in the swell box.

Finally, the last large windchest could be brought up into the chamber – this belonging to the Great’s transept pipework (8′ Harmonic Flute, 8′ Bourdon, 8′ Open Diapason No. 2), as well as the Choir’s unenclosed 8′ Tuba and 8′ Grand Diapason.

By the end of the week, all of the wind system, chests, walls, and large (interior) pipework were installed, leaving only a few odd bits and pieces, and the small matter of some 1800 pipes left to be installed.       The organ’s structure elegantly fills the interestingly shaped chamber, and it is a marvel to see the ingenious use of space.

The console has been overseeing all of the installation, snuggled into its little niche.   The stain is just perfect, and the console looks as if it has always been there.    Whilst the built-in console lights have not yet been seen, the new ceiling mounted lights seem to be a smashing success!  Designed to light the manuals and stop jambs (an all too frequently overlooked aspect of console lighting), these strong LED floodlights live up to their name and flood the jambs and manuals with light without shadows, making navigation easy.   All those hours Dr. Forster and I spent with our tape measures and trigonometry have seemed to pay off!    The clearances around the console allow for a page turner or console assistant to navigate either side of the console, and the sight clearances for conducting from the console are, of course, just as we thought – perfect!

Bring on week 2, and pipework!!

She’s here!!!

The large truck containing the organ arrived on Easter Day, sometime in the evening, and, bright and early on Easter Monday, Schoenstein & Co. got to work busily unloading the thousands of parts.      By 10:00am the church was filléd with organ parts.

Quickly after lunch, floor frames began to be laid out, and very quickly framework, legs and chests began to be installed!

Messrs. Forster-Murray were on hand to move the temporary ‘organ’ from the console niche to the floor of the Nave, so that the new Schoenstein console could be nestled into its forever home.

A fascinating part of the installation was to see all of the meticulous work that goes into these instruments.    With the chests apart to move them easily into the chamber, one can see the elegantly simple design and beautiful work incorporated into the Schoenstein chests.

By the end of the day, the hard working crew (that’s understatement of the decade!) had the main Swell and Choir chests in place, as well as the console situated in its new home. One should note the exquisite woodwork, and how seamlessly the stain blends into its surroundings.

At the end of the day, curiosity got the better of me, and I simply had to put a little air through a pipe.    In the video below you can hear the first pipe of the main organ sounding (one of the basses of the Swell Echo Gamba) .

And, finally, just before leaving for the day, a quick walk-through of the church so that you can see it all – organ bits EVERYWHERE!    What a momentous day!

Pearl-clutchingly good!

The exciting day for the open house had finally come.    Almost all of the organ was in and playing.   We were treated to a quick preview before the crowds came, which afforded us a little time to get some great photographs, and help settle our own excitement (just a tiny bit).

In the calm before the storm, as it were, the birds outside the shop were providing their own little fanfare to the day’s proceedings – Rossignol au naturel.

The shop was fairly full, with the chassis of an old tracker awaiting restoration, as well as a Möller Artiste, both in the erecting room, and the Tulsa organ parts in various locations throughout the shop.    But there, nestled in the erecting room between the other organs, she lay — silent, but not for too long.   Several of us gleefully wandered about, admiring the complexity of the organ; somewhat like children in a candy shoppe.   Finally, we heard the whir of the blower, and we knew… it was time.

Here’s a little walk around the organ just prior to open house.

It was an oddly trepidatious moment as I slid onto the bench.   I pondered which stop to draw for a moment.   Would it be the herald of a trumpet, the noble fanfare of a tuba, or the thunderous roar of the Pedal Ophicleide? No.  I closed the the choir box, and drew the delicate Lieblich Gedackt, one of the organ’s most graceful of voices.  Its colourful, bubbly tones quietly chirped from within the choir box, and titillation ensued.    The Dulciana spoke with refined dignity, and when paired with its wafting celeste, the Unda Maris, the waves of the sea (the meaning of “Unda Maris”) washed over us in glorious wonder.




Quickly moving to the Swell Division, we tried out the newly approved low notes of the Swell Celeste, and they didn’t disappoint.  Purring away, the richness of that string and celeste was nothing short of perfect — a thin scale that was unashamedly string-tone, without any undesirable scratchy characteristics, providing a delectable sound that was instantly stimulating and sumptuous.   When one added the super coupler, the desire to grasp for one’s pearls was irrepressible, so beautiful was the wash of sound!




The two small colour reeds, the Oboe Horn and Corno di Bassetto, are, I think, two of the most beautiful examples I’ve heard — from any builder.   The Oboe Horn on the Swell, has a lovely, covered, impishness about it, that provides great colour and expression when used as a solo voice, and blends so perfectly in ensemble.     One would have been forgiven in thinking that Jack Bethards somehow managed to resurrect Father Willis to assist in the construction and voicing of the deliciously woody Corno di Bassetto on the Choir!

The four manual flutes, the Choir Lieblich Gedackt, Swell Stopped Diapason, Great Bourdon, and Great Harmonic Flute each had their own complementary colours — the Choir the most bubbly, the Swell dark and mysterious, the Great Bourdon colorful and limpid, and the Harmonic Flute soaring and vibrant.

There has been a lot of discussion regarding Diapasons in the design of this organ.   Op. 172 is a small organ — only 25 voices (31 ranks).   Of those 25 voices, six are 8’ Diapasons.   The Swell has its Horn Diapason, the Choir its Dulciana (an ‘Echo Diapason’) and a clever Grand Diapason (the bass of which comes from the Pedal), and the Great has its three 8’ Diapasons.    All of this Diapason tone does not equate loudness, but depth and richness.  An oenophillic analogy, one minute the organ may shift from being a lighter Saint-Émilion (Diapason No. 3), to something smooth with a bit more depth, a Margaux (Diapason No. 2), then a powerful Pomerol (Diapason No.1), and finally an intense and rich Pauillac (the Grand Diapason).   The myriad of tone combinations these provide, not to mention ‘stacking’ these wondrous sounds, proved quite the delight!

Diapasons are the core to any good organ, and are simply indispensable in a fine liturgical one.    They produce that absolutely unique organ tone on which we rely for hymn singing and choral accompaniment.  The idea of multiple Diapasons within one division is one that really developed in the 19th century.   One may see many late 19th/early 20th century modest organs built by Willis, Hill, Lewis, Skinner, or Harrison with Great divisions containing multiple Diapasons.   These great masters of the trade well knew the incredible importance of a multi-Diapason Great.     Whilst this hallmark of the Romantic/Symphonic organ may have fallen out of fashion during the organ’s ‘dark years’ of neo-classicism, Jack, along with this writer (and so many in attendance) are avid fans of the kaleidoscopic tonal variety, and absolute support to congregational singing, that such a scheme provides.




The big chorus reeds enjoyed a good airing as well — the Swell Posaune and Cornopean, the Great Trumpet, and the Choir Tuba (and Pedal Ophicleide) all showed their different and colourful faces.     The Tuba unit, which extends down to the Pedal in wooden pipes, was a particular highlight — its rich, authoritative voice powerfully underpinned the entire ensemble.




There were many Schoenstein folks there, including some members of the Schoenstein family, talking with visitors about their craft and what it’s like to work in one of the finest organ-building factories in the world.

Many hundreds of people came and went throughout the afternoon; reveling in the sound of the organ.  It was a great treat to spend time chatting with friends old and new.




The Schoenstein crew threw a wonderful afternoon to celebrate their fabulous work. Great food (beautifully presented!), gorgeous flowers, wonderful sounds, and even more wonderful people.    What a joy!   So many thanks to the whole S & Co. crew for a fantastic afternoon!

Here’s a little snippet demonstrating some of the lovely sounds.    Of course, the organ is only ‘shop-voiced’  — all of the *real* magic happens in May and June with weeks of tonal finishing!

A reporter from the Daily Republic has written a short article on the subject, which may be found here (the report does contain a few errors):

February: The Bringer of Fabulousness!

Once these leviathan pipes had been gingerly brought into the church, the three windchests were installed – one either-side of the font and window at the West End, and one in the transept.

As soon as everything was level and plumb, it was time for the mammoth job of hoisting these behemoth pipes into place.   This was an all “hands-on-deck” moment, with the burly OCH fellows doing all kinds of gymnastics as the massive pipes were lovingly nestled into their new home.   This is no mean feat as these pipes are 1 3/4″ thick, with low F weighing in at 680 pounds!

With all of this excitement happening on Shrove Tuesday, there was considerable interest from parishioners.   Once the coast was clear and one side of pipes was up, the Choristers took a quick break from rehearsal to have a look (from a safe distance, at the other end of the building).   In the picture you can see yours-truly holding one of the smallest pipes (a quint), which is taller than any of the Choristers.

Below you can view a time-lapse video which shows the pipes being hoisted into place over four days (the video only takes 2 minutes!); Ash Wednesday happened to be day three, which meant the three services we had that day slowed down the progress a little.   If you watch carefully, in the foreground you can see parishioners coming and going.

It was decided to paint these hefty pipes the wall colour to help them recede into the wall.   The end result is that, despite their enormity, visually they really do blend into the wall and don’t call attention to themselves.  Of an afternoon, as the sun moves toward the (actual) west, sunlight filters through the side-aisle windows and casts beautiful light across the pipes.     The chests will be ‘wrapped’ in recreation wainscoting to make it look like these pipes were around with Mr. Vaughan.  It has been interesting to note over the past two Sundays that the Open Wood has been in place, that a good number of parishioners when asked if they like the look of the new pipes, have replied with something akin to “Which pipes?!…….. Oh!  I walked right past them!”

Concurrent with the installation in the church, in the undercroft, the blowers and wind system for the Open Wood and the main organ were being installed.   All of this work will allow the main installation to proceed in a fairly speedy manner when the rest of the organ arrives on April 2nd.

Whilst the delivery of a 32′ Double Open Wood is something of an organist’s dream, February did manage to get even more fabulous when the Vestry approved three small enhancements to the organ at their meeting on Shrove Tuesday.

Originally, when Schoenstein & Co. made their initial measurements of the building prior to the organ’s construction, true to many architect’s form, the organ chamber was not as spacious as once would have hoped.   This resulted in some creative thinking in the initial design to make the most efficient use of the limited space; an organ-builder’s age-old problem!

Once demolition of the organ chamber’s tatty tongue & groove walls was complete, it was clear that cleaning, sealing, and painting the original brick walls was the best course of action.    This afforded us a few extra inches of space in three directions; just enough to add a few extra pipes in order to enhance the organ’s tonal palette without compromising maintenance access, nor overcrowding pipework.

At the time, fund-raising efforts, whilst going well, were still short of the goal, so prudence was the order of the day.    Hopeful of a positive outcome at some-point in the future, preparations were made, so that if it were decided to include the desired stops, this could be done with a minimum of fuss.

These preparations (now “completions”) are the lowest seven notes of the Vox Celeste on the Swell, a 2 2/3′ Nazard to the Choir (borrowed from the Lieblich Flute), and an unenclosed Grand Diapason appearing on the Choir and Great, the bass of which is borrowed from Pedal Open Wood/Open Bass rank.

The Swell Celeste will give that luscious luminosity to the bass of quiet moments; the Nazard a bubbly new colour without any extra pipework; and the Grand Diapason (the 5th 8′ Open Diapason in the organ!) even greater breadth and dignity in hymnody, as well as having various solo uses (thus its duplexing to the Choir and the Great).    These tweaks to the organ represent a vast increase in the tonal palette of the organ for minimal cost.

Click here to view the organ’s stop-list.

Thus concludes February and all her fabulosity!




As Blanche would say, “Muscles bulgin’!!”

Today Schoenstein & Co, assisted by the friendly Organ Clearing House fellows, gathered in the wee hours of the morning to meet the truck from A. R. Schopp’s that was full of various organ parts, most noticeably, the 32′ Double Open Wood.


Whilst only 21 pipes were delivered today as a part of the first phase of installation (the main installation will occur on April 2nd), it was by no means a small one.    The pipes ranged in length from a “mere” 5 1/2 feet tall, to a whopping 24 feet tall.

All of the pipes in this delivery are made from wood, and are a part of the 32′ Double Open Wood.  Many people have asked what these immense pipes will sound like, and my best analogy is that of a giant purring kitten.    I imagine it will be the sonic equivalent of taking a bath in velvet.

Below you can see some images of the largest pipe (32′ F) being moved into the church.   The main entrance under the tower was much too tight a turn, so the side porch entrance was used.  This was truly an ‘all hands on deck’ kind of moment!


Yours-truly and the good Dr. Forster were ready and able to lend a hand, and ultimately all 21 pipes were resting safely in the church Nave (I’m quite sure the extra manpower provided by us made all the difference!).



Once all the pipework was safely in the church, various other organ parts were moved into their new homes.

The wonderfully robust 5 HP Zephyr blower also took many hands to help it into its new residence.


Many thanks to all the fellows from the OCH & S&CO who got quite the workout – no need for the gym today!

Weaving windlines and wires,….. and winter!

Following the Christmas break, work on the organ continues.     The structure of the organ is now mostly complete and, in these past few weeks, work on the wiring and the wind system have been the order of the day.

In the below pictures one can see two photographs of the carefully planned wind system;    the curvaceous windlines weave their way under the Swell and Great windchests.   Also visible in the image of the Great are some wooden pipes mounted on their side.   The smaller 8 pipes belong to the Great 8′ Bourdon, and the larger two are the highest two quint pipes for 32′ D# and E (the 32′ Double Open Wood is full length from 32′ F; the low five are an independent quint).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Further around the corner, Nikko continues his tireless and painstaking work on the organ’s wiring (see below).   This is a very carefully planned equation so that one can quickly, and easily, find the needle in this haystack!

IMG_5714In addition to all the wires (take a close look!), one can see the low 5 notes of the Great 16′ Double Diapason to Nikko’s right.

Whilst all of this was going on at the Schoenstein shop in Benicia, our intrepid travelers made a quick stopover in Dallas en route back to Boston from Hawaii’s warmth.   This was in order to see the Schoenstein organ at Park Cities Presbyterian Church, now just a little past her 10th birthday.

Somewhat bleary-eyed from flying overnight, and shellshocked by the 25°F(!) weather, the organ at Park Cities wowed with its colour and exceptional beauty; surely some of the most beautiful 8′ Great flues (amongst other things) that we’ve heard!  Gotta love all those marvelous brass expression shoes!!