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Our Pipe Organ

Our pipe organ was custom built for our sanctuary in 1998. Its two manual keyboards and pedal keyboard control 16 different voices or stops. One of these stops requires four pipes per note so the total number of ranks (rows) of pipes is 19. The pipes are set up in four divisions (like sections of the orchestra) Great, Swell, Double Expressive Swell, and Pedal. It was built by Schoenstein & Co. of San Francisco, which was established in 1877 and specialize in making church organs of the symphonic style.

People are usually quite surprised to learn that a church organ is far more complex than a concert organ. However, when one thinks of the multitude of musical jobs that a church organ must do, it is obvious that if an organ is to accompany a church service properly it must have the versatility of a symphony orchestra…and more. A concert organ is only required to play certain parts of the organ’s own solo repertoire. Because a church organ is heard by the same people week-after-week, year-after-year, it must be able to render a much wider variety of solo repertoire, but that is only the beginning. The church organ must support the congregation in hymn singing, it must accompany choirs of all types as well as soloists, it must work together with instrumental ensembles ranging from chamber orchestras to brass choirs, and finally it must set the mood of the service with improvised interlude music. To do these musical jobs the organ must be what we call “symphonic”. This means that the organ is designed to produce all of the musical effects of the modern symphony orchestra over and above the normal effects of the organ. It does not mean that it is attempting to imitate the particular sound of orchestral instruments or to play the orchestral repertoire; rather it means providing a dynamic range, from the softest whisper to the most powerful dramatic crescendo, and a multiplicity of tone colors – the kind of luxurious variety and richness of tone that enraptures symphony audiences.

The reason the organ is the instrument of choice in the church is that it goes even further than the symphony orchestra in providing musical versatility. The first and most important difference is that the organ is not controlled by a conductor, but by a single artist who can instantly match the mood required during the service by improvising music and blending the tonal colors at the appropriate volume. This is something no orchestra can do. Second, the organ has a much wider range of tone colors and pitches than the orchestra. It sounds an octave below the lowest orchestral instrument and an octave above the highest one. It contains tones that are quite similar to those of the orchestra, but adds to that a wide selection of tones that are unique to the organ or that are imitative of other sounds including the human voice. Third, the organ has a far wider dynamic range from the softest to the loudest sounds. This is most important on the soft side where the organ can start at a nearly inaudible whisper and gradually increase in a glorious crescendo. Finally, the organ has the power of unlimited sustainability. That is, it can hold a chord indefinitely. This is a quality of great importance in leading singing where the long vocal line must be supported.

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To exploit the symphonic possibilities of the pipe organ fully, this instrument has some special features. It employs the Schoenstein system of Double Expression wherein the softest and most powerful voices of a division are placed in an expression box of their own that opens through shutters into the main expression box of the division. Both sets of shutters can be controlled with ease to achieve any level of volume desired.

The term “custom made” has a special meaning for this organ, because the space for pipes was so limited. Here are notes from the builder. “Although the side chancel chamber was of adequate size, the opening only spanned about half of it and could not be enlarged. This meant that the Great would fill the opening and that the tone of the Swell would have to speak across the Great and make a 180-degree turn to reach the nave. Obviously we could not enclose the Great, so we cut it back to the bare essentials and built up the Swell, duplexing several of its stops on to the Great. The Harmonic Flute, with its ascending increase in treble power, is one of the few solo voices that can work well unenclosed. Since the Corno Dolce and Celeste had to be in the Swell in order to be under expression, there was no room for its 16′ extension, and the Harmonic Flute had to have its own bass. We have often noted the interesting musical quality of the orchestra’s traverse flute, which changes to a distinctly string quality in its lowest range resulting from the tube of the flute being the same scale for its entire compass, and we decided to extend the Harmonic Flute into a string-scale bass stop at both 16′ and 8′ pitch. We reduced the diameter of the pipes as they progressed downward so that the tenor and bass of the Harmonic Flute is distinctly in the string family – enough so to name the extensions ’Cello and Double Bass. Fortunately the chamber was large enough to include a 16′ extension of the Great Open Diapason. Since the stop did not have to be on display, we were able to make it of wood which yields a very solid, prompt-speaking tone. The Great chorus, being inexpressive, required special treatment. An independent 2′ Fifteenth completes the chorus, but Mixture tone is also necessary. In an organ of this size, Mixture tone is most useful when it is under expression, so we increased its size and power, placing it within the double expressive sub-division of the Swell. Used with the tuba it adds brilliance to the Full Swell build-up. Used alone it can be adjusted to various different volume levels to suit lesser Swell combinations. In full organ combinations, when coupled to the Great, it tops off the diapason chorus.”

Specs

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