Toe rails to make Rubens blush!

Fresh from the shop floor, some new progress pictures came in today.   Much work has been done, with the last of the wind chests (the Open Wood 32′) being completed in the mill.

The console is well on its way, and the ‘paparazzi’ have caught on camera for the first time the lusciously curvaceous custom toe rails.

These elegant curves not only appear pleasant to the eye, but afford the organist refined efficiency in reaching for toe studs.    A note for the uninitiated: “Toe studs” are buttons pressed by the feet in order to engage preassigned combinations of stops.  These are often cumbersome, cluttered, and difficult to reach, though they shan’t be here!

Also of note is that the console shell is coming along very nicely.  Careful attention to detail in grain matching for the panels on the console is already evident, even before staining and finishing.

Elsewhere in the shop, the work on the chests is nearing completion, and the structural elements for the organ await their role in the erection process.




The passing of the torch.

Today, the Noack Organ Company held an open house to show off the Redeemer’s old organ (originally built in 1989), as rebuilt for St. Paul’s Chapel of Trinity, Wall Street, New York.

It was a fairly surreal experience to hear and play parts of an organ I have known intimately for 16 of its 28 years, now in an entirely different setting.

The handsome case built by John Geib in 1802 has been modified and restored, and Noack has rebuilt the organ to fit within its confines.    The organ will head for New York in October.


Measure thrice, cut once!

By early August, with the removal of the Noack façade, the time had come to reconfigure the Chancel furniture.

There were many elements that needed modification in the Chancel, not just for the organist, but the choir and clergy as well.   The front row of the choir stalls on the south side were moved so close together in the 1980’s, that it was extremely uncomfortable to sit in this row (and forget about kneeling!);  the organ console had to be moved from the south to the north side; seating capacity, seating usefulness, and sight-lines needed to be optimized; the lack of symmetry between the stalls needed correction; the center aisle needed to remain as wide as possible, yet the reading desks should act as safety rails for congregants en route to the altar rail; and, above all, it had to look like Henry Vaughan just left the building.

The key to the whole equation was flipping the furniture from one side to the other.   Now that the space for the organ console niche was prepared, the platforming could be modified. The old platforming was not level on either side, and was of less than stellar construction, so it was decided to make new platforming.   The beautiful (and thick!) original oak flooring was salvaged and reused as much as possible.

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Some delicate work was required to modify the enormous old wall panel that would frame the newly reclaimed space on the north side.

This beautiful woodwork was superbly constructed and required a careful hand to ensure it would be structurally sound.   The removal of the back panelling allows for the beautiful tracery to be even more eye-catching.    Thankfully, the removal of the back panels was a fairly simple affair.   The answer to the question of what to do with the long descending trim in between the three removed panels was quickly found in the reredos.    We had some original tracery that was a part of the lost screen formerly separating the chapel and chancel.   So it was decided to use two of the rosettes from a damaged panel to mimic the ‘finial’ on the reredos.    See pictures below.

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With the staining now complete for the flooring and niche, the furniture was ready to be placed back into the Chancel.

To return symmetry to the Chancel, and adequate space for those who inhabit these seats, the previously luxuriously spaced back row of choir stalls was reduced, and the space divided to achieve the necessary result.

The front row reading desks had a curious shelf for books, instead of the more usual rack.     This shelf hit one’s knees.   The solution was to modify the shelf to become a more normal book rack in keeping with the rest of the church.   This also provided the opportunity to provide those in the front row with discreet cup holders.

The stalls all came back together in a whirlwind on September 7th and 8th, and a massive cleaning job then ensued!

Once all of the work was complete, the New Holland Furniture Company, who will be making the organ cases, also stopped by to double check measurements.

Hopefully Mr. Vaughan would approve.

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Here’s a before and after:

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When in Rome…..

Schoenstein & Co. are well placed between San Francisco and California’s famed Napa and Sonoma Valleys.    So, on a weekend away to indulge in culinary delights of the latter,  our intrepid travelers, Michael and Stuart, took opportunity to stop in and spend a morning at “the shop”, checking in on the organ’s progress.

Op. 172 is well on her way.    The two windchests for the Great were nearing completion.   The Swell chests were running close behind the Great’s, but not by much.    Miles of wires were being meticulously run for the action.   Trays of Swell pipework were stacked up, and in various states of voicing.    The console was being constructed and taking very nice shape, indeed.

Here are a few shots of Op. 172 in the shop:


Our visit was close on the heels of an open house the previous weekend.     There were several different organs in various stages in the Erecting Room – a Möller Artiste; an old tracker action instrument by Bergstrom & Sons from 1897, bound for the Cline winery in Sonoma; a new, small Schoenstein for Holy Cross Church in San Jose, CA; and the new organ for the chapel of St. Philip’s Cathedral, Atlanta, GA (this was in the process of being packed up to be shipped).

The console for the Atlanta organ was just about to be wrapped, but not before Glen Brasel demonstrated how wonderfully easy it is to maintain – almost like an “Inspector Gadget” episode, every part of the console opened to reveal a piece of machinery that was either easy to get to, or was on a slide to make it easy to get to!   Clever organ builders here, who are careful to ensure their organs are well maintained!

The Schoenstein shop also includes the most astonishing archive of their history, as well as an exhaustive library of almost every publication ever produced about the organ (Dr. Forster was pleased to see his hymn playing book on the shelves!).    An astonishing place; what a privilege to work with such amazing artisans!


Time for a facelift!

The time had come for the last remnants of the Noack to leave Chestnut Hill.

The Organ Clearing House returned to disassemble the façade, and send it off to Homestead, PA where it too will get a new lease on life.

Dismantling the façade, which is some 27 feet tall and quite massive, was no small task.  As the various bits of the organ came to the floor, the metal fatigue in the façade pipes (and repairs over the years) was very clear to see.

The Clearing House fellows worked through the very hot weather to get it all down in a few days, leaving the church in great shape for Sunday services.

Mighty in miniature!

Coinciding with all the work at Redeemer of late, Schoenstein were installing a new organ at Grace Church in Hartford, CT.     This organ is something of a sister instrument to the organ our committee first heard at Christ and St. Stephen’s in New York.

Just after its tonal finishing we stopped to see what the newest Schoenstein was like.

The church itself is a modestly sized structure, seating about 100 people.  The organ, and choir, are located at the West End of the building, with the altar at the East End.    The organ is about half the size of what the Redeemer’s will be.

This astonishingly colorful organ wowed with its beauty and authoritative tone; whispering one minute, and roaring the next.   We were also privileged to go through the interior of the organ, where the divisions of the instrument were carefully and thoughtfully laid out, allowing one to navigate through with ease (this also translates to ease of maintenance, which means the organ will be well cared for and will enjoy a long life!).

Congratulations, Kyle Swann and the people of Grace Church!



For now we see through a mirror dimly….

One of the first things that was discussed in the organ project was where the console (the cabinet that the organist plays from) should be located.

Over the years, the console has moved a few feet here and there, but essentially stayed in the same position on the liturgical south side of the chancel, right under the organ pipes (or, in the case of the Noack, directly in the line of fire!) and behind the pulpit.

The choir stalls on the south side, however, have been modified and rearranged over the years, shoehorning different sized organ consoles into a space not really large enough for it.    This resulted in a bit of a “dog’s breakfast” of furniture placement, with pews not lining up, and some chairs dangling over the edge of platforming.

One of the biggest problems with this arrangement is that it is difficult for the organist to judge the balance between the organ, the choir, and the congregation.    On the Noack organ, if the Choir division (located inches behind the organist’s ears!) were played, that is all the organist could hear; whereas, if the main organ (up in the chamber) were used, which is what happened most of the time, all of its sound went straight over the organist’s head, often resulting in the organ being too loud if the organist weren’t aware of this potential pitfall.

To improve sight lines and allow the organist to better judge balance for the organ, choir, and congregation, as well as to return symmetry to the chancel furniture, it was decided to move the organ console to the north side of the chancel, flipping the choir stalls in mirror image.


Vaughan - Chancel and Choir
Henry Vaughan’s original chancel layout.
A void in the wall directly under the window, originally containing a massive radiator, was reclaimed on the south side of the chancel, giving the console area another 18″ of depth.

This design of flipping the furniture, with a small recess for the back of the organ console, revives the spirit of Vaughan’s original design in mirror image.