Kegg Pipe Organ Builders,
Bryn Athyn Cathedral
Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania
From the organbuilder
The Bryn Athyn Cathedral organ has been one of the most fascinating and challenging instruments in the history of the Kegg firm. Oberlin graduate and active Philadelphia organist Fred Haas has always admired the work of Ernest Skinner. In the discussion of the new organ for the cathedral, all roads led to a recreation of Skinner’s work. We were asked to marry two modest E.M. Skinner organs, expand the combined instrument in Skinner style using new or vintage pipe work, add a dramatic fourth manual division that complements the theology of the congregation and the dramatic building architecture, all while creating new structure, winding, expression, electrical systems, console, and façade as a new instrument. The result is not a restored Skinner organ but a new instrument in his style with some unusual Kegg touches.
It is interesting to note that the archives of the church revealed plans for a large Skinner organ when the church was being built in 1917. This organ was never built due to the conditions resulting from World War I, and a “temporary” small unit organ was installed that served for about 50 years. The design of the Skinner-Kegg organ was largely complete when the plans of the original large Skinner were discovered; the specifications of the two organs are remarkably similar.
The main organ is a three-manual instrument with a specification typical of Ernest Skinner circa 1928. While this organ is indicative of the Skinner company, there are several stops and features that bear closer inspection. The Swell is complete with all that might be desired in such an instrument, including Skinner’s magical Flute Celeste and a reproduction Skinner 16′ Waldhorn. The Mixture in this division is one of the first that Skinner built after his historic visit to Great Britain where he learned of the work of Henry Willis III. This Mixture, the only mixture in the organ, is bright and more aggressive than might be expected and has a most interesting texture. It retains its original voicing as does all the Skinner pipe work in the organ and is impressive. The Great has no mixture and tops out at 2′, which is quite typical of these instruments at this time.
The Choir division includes signature Skinner color reeds as well as a new Tuba, which is a lyrical stop, both bold and sweet. Its scale accelerates in the bass to provide the main Pedal 16′ reed line. Enclosed in the Choir box, it can be tailored to suit almost any need.
The Great is enclosed with the exception of the First Open Diapason and the 16′-8′ Violone-Gamba, the bass of which forms the façade. The Trumpet is a new stop and is designed to fill the coupled organ with fire and excitement in the same way that Skinner used his French Trumpet, which would normally be in the Swell along with the Cornopean. There was no room in the Swell for this additional stop so it found a home in the Great. Of course, no Skinner-style instrument can be without a French Horn, and a restored vintage example appears here also.
The theology of Bryn Athyn Cathedral, the ecclesiastical center of a New Church denomination, includes levels of heaven, the innermost of which is called the Celestial, where meanings are the most clear and thoughts are the most innocent. When there was a suggestion of a division bearing this name placed high in the crossing tower and speaking down into the nave with both delicate and commanding voices, the church and donor readily agreed. This is the most unusual division in the organ. It contains four stops in Echo style along with solo Gambas on 10′′ wind pressure and a Flauto Mirabilis and Tuba Mirabilis, both on 20′′ pressure. The Tuba Mirabilis is done in Willis style, hooded, and commands attention with stately authority. The Flauto Mirabilis is a modified copy of the famous Wanamaker Clear Flute. This wood harmonic flute sings in the building as only a heroic flute of this size and wind pressure can. Flue pipe voicing on 20′′ wind pressure is most unusual, and it was actually a pleasure for me, one that was “enjoyed” by the entire shop as it had to be done not in the voicing room but out in the shop on the final chest. When heard at the intended distance, it is true magic. This division also contains a 14-note set of Deagan Tower Chimes installed inside the building in the Celestial chamber. These massive chimes were designed to be installed outside and to be heard throughout the community. Here we have what is believed to be one of only three installations of such chimes inside a building. The effect is one of grand and elegant dignity.
The Pedal of this organ is modest but very much in keeping with Skinner models of its day. It enjoys a genuine, newly built 32′ Bourdon. The fact that this sound is produced by real pipes is immediately apparent.
The console of the organ is new and includes hand-carved details inspired by the pulpit of the church. Its bone and rosewood keys invite you to play, and all accessories are placed where they are most useful. The Virtuoso control system provides all the features expected of a first-class instrument today. The console is easily movable on internal casters for use in recital and oratory.
In keeping with the magical nature of the Celestial division we have incorporated what I believe is a first in the industry. The Celestial manual enjoys second touch keys. Found in theatre organs, the second touch usually brings out a second voice when the key is pressed into a strong spring at the bottom of the normal key travel. In this organ, it is used not for a voice, but to engage the tremolo. The tremolo can be engaged on each note at the desired time while instantly stopping as the organist moves from the key. When one stops on the next note of reasonable duration, the tremolo can be easily and intuitively added in the same manner as a wind or string instrumentalist. The result is much more musical than when engaged by a variable-speed device and it also leaves the foot free to shade the dynamic of the note at the same time.
The organ has evolved to be an ideal instrument for this unique parish. The grandeur of the building and grounds is a surprise to visitors when discovered. This organ, too, will surprise and, I hope, delight the organist who discovers it.
We would like to thank donor Fred Haas and the Wyncote Foundation for their confidence in the Kegg firm. We must also lift a glass in heartfelt appreciation to Music Director Graham Bier and Principal Organist Terry Schnarr for their unfailing support, and the cathedral staff for raising the bar to an improbable height for hospitality to an organ-building staff.
—Kegg Pipe Organ Builders
Charles Kegg, President and Artistic Director
With special help from Robin Bier and Robert Schmucker
From the Bryn Athyn Cathedral Music Department
In the spring of 2012, Fred Haas proposed a gift to the Bryn Athyn Church: a unique pipe organ for our historic cathedral. The donation was offered in memory of Mr. Haas’s mother Chara Aurora Cooper Haas, a beloved member of our congregation. Since the church accepted the gift, we have been overwhelmed by the expertise and quality workmanship of those involved in the project. Charles Kegg and employees of Kegg Pipe Organ Builders have taken meticulous care in refurbishing and constructing the instrument, while also graciously supporting our need to continue with church activities during the installation process. Stephen Hendricks of Historic Doors designed and constructed the beautiful woodwork of the façade. Advice on the project was sought from various organ experts, including Curt Mangel and Peter Conte, who respectively curate and play the Wanamaker Organ. Daniel Angerstein and J. Anthony Nichols have been voicing the organ under the direction of Mr. Kegg, working to involve us in the process, and even offering a little aural tour to a visiting class of music theory students. It has been a real pleasure to work with these artists, who are not only brilliant, but also personable and caring.
This project carries an historical significance that goes far beyond simply providing a suitable instrument to accompany worship services. Almost 100 years ago during the construction of the cathedral, donor and architect Raymond Pitcairn was involved in detailed communication with E. M. Skinner about the design of a pipe organ. Due to issues relating to the First World War, this dream was not realized at the time, and instead a temporary stock organ was installed. Despite intentions to return to the original project, the plans for a carefully designed Skinner organ never materialized—until now.
Our archives contain the original designs and correspondence between Pitcairn and Skinner. Kegg Pipe Organ Builders has taken components from two different 1920s Skinner organs and refurbished them, incorporating them into a new instrument that shows remarkable similarities to the earlier plans drawn up nearly a century ago. This 1920s/2014 Skinner-Kegg pipe organ combines many of the advances in organ design with an homage to the past that makes it particularly appropriate for the Bryn Athyn Cathedral.
As we approach the second century of the cathedral’s service to our community, we look forward to the rich orchestral colors and warm accompaniment that this new organ will provide. As the sounds of its pipes fill the church on Sundays and holidays, we will think of Pitcairn and other early congregants listening in from heaven and perhaps even singing along. At last, their vision has come full circle.
—Graham Bier, Director of Music
Terry Schnar, Principal Organist
Photos by Charles Kegg except as noted