Cover Feature

Austin Organs, Inc.,
Hartford, Connecticut

The Royal Poinciana Chapel, Palm Beach, Florida

 

Another Austin in Paradise

Nestled on the island of Palm Beach, alongside the last remaining cocoanut grove, one will discover the rather charming Royal Poinciana Chapel, named after the magnificent Delonix Regia, the Royal Poinciana tree that was once abundant on the island.

The Royal Poinciana Chapel is a vital, post-denominational Christian community with a strong congregation of 800 members and seasonal guests during winter, including some 250 year-round families and children. The chapel sits at the center of Palm Beach Island on three acres of lush landscaped property bordering Henry Flagler’s famous home Whitehall, now open as a museum. The chapel overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway and the West Palm Beach waterfront to the west and The Breakers resort and ocean golf course directly to the east. It features the landmark giant kapok tree giving frame to an exquisite view. It is the most photographed spot in Palm Beach and a favorite location for destination weddings.

Senior Pastor Dr. Robert Norris is known for his impassioned preaching, pastoral ministry, and active community involvement. He also serves as adjunct member of the teaching faculty at Princeton Theological Seminary. The chapel is widely known for its phenomenal music program led by Stewart Foster, minister of music. Foster plays the chapel’s new Austin organ with rare talent and passion and also conducts the professionally trained Royal Poinciana Chapel Chorale at weekly services.

The history of Royal Poinciana Chapel owes its life to Henry Morrison Flagler (1830–1913). Flagler, alongside his friend and business partner, John D. Rockefeller, built the Standard Oil Company into the most prosperous and monopolizing oil empire of the era. As the company flourished and Flagler’s fortunes grew, he left his offices in New York City, and ventured south to a wild frontier known as Florida.

In 1894, Flagler built the Hotel Royal Poinciana on the shores of Lake Worth on the island to be known as Palm Beach and extended his railroad to its service town, creating the city of West Palm Beach. This remarkable edifice, the largest wooden structure in the world at the time, had 1,150 guest rooms with over seven miles of hallways, served by a staff of 1,700, many of whom lived across the pond in housing provided by Flagler and would arrive daily by rowboats to work their shifts. The island boasted an infamous casino, the hotel, and a humble chapel on this parcel. The disposition had the hotel in the center, casino to the south, and chapel to the north. It was said that one could engage in debauchery, rest, and reconciliation without ever leaving the property! The chapel was known for having engaging preachers and excellent music from the beginning. The hotel was demolished in 1934, in favor of the newer, lavish Breakers Hotel, which remains to this day, the former enterprise having become redundant. Years later, the chapel was relocated on the property, and now sits close to Whitehall. Henry Flagler’s original cottage was also moved to this property in recent times, and serves the chapel’s needs for meeting space and special events.

While Whitehall boasts a modest J. H. & C. S. Odell organ in its music room, we do not know the original instrument in the chapel. In 1963, the M. P. Möller Organ Company installed its Opus 9720. At the time of this installation, the organ was a modest three-manual instrument of 30 stops; some 26 stops in the chancel, with three ranks of flutes and a Vox Humana in the antiphonal. In 1981, Austin Organs, Inc., built a new four-manual console. It was designed with the intention of expanding the instrument, and this expansion was initiated before the new console was installed! The revised tonal plan was developed with the assistance of Thomas R. Thomas, director of music at the time. Also, a possibly apocryphal addition to the legacy includes Virgil Fox, a close neighbor. It was said that he wanted a significant instrument on which to practice, and therefore lent his voice and expertise to the early console and tonal design thoughts before his death in 1980. As a result, the new tonal work included a new Austin Great of 10 stops, a new 7-stop Positiv, and a 7-stop Solo. The existing Möller 6-stop Great pipework was revoiced and placed on a new Austin tracker chest in the gallery, alongside a new 14-stop Gallery Swell, and 5-stop Pedal using some vintage pipework from various sources along with new Austin pipework. Back in the chancel, the existing Möller Swell and Choir remained as they were installed in 1963, but a new Pedal division was created utilizing some new Austin chests and pipework alongside a few selected Möller stops. New casework and façades were drawn by Austin’s chief designer Frederick Mitchell.

The new, mostly Austin organ was tonally finished by Fred Heffner and David Johnston. Tripled in size from the original Möller, parts of this instrument spoke from deep chambers and seemed to fill the room with ethereal presence.

Time and tide ravaged the organ. Trouble began with delivery of the façade pipes in 1983. For unknown reasons, pipes of tin and tin-plated zinc were ordered from an Eastern European supplier. Upon arrival directly in Florida, many of these pipes were damaged, some beyond repair. Over time, the soft metal deformed, and random notes began to lose their former eloquent speech. There were hurricanes, water, and various other pests that created issues within the organ chambers. The Möller company proposed a significant renovation/reconstruction of the organ, and removed much of the instrument to their factory in Hagerstown in 1990. With the collapse of the Möller company, the chapel was able to perform a rescue of the organ components from the Möller factory, and the Reuter Organ Company was subsequently contracted to perform a major overhaul of the organ in 1992. This work included some chestwork, additions, and replacement of some reed stops. A number of reed pipes were compromised, because adding to the atmospheric issues that affected the chapel, many instruments in the 1980s suffered decomposition of lead in the blocks of reed pipes. As the lead crumbles into lead sulfate, replacement or reconstruction is necessary. The other factor in the work completed in 1992 was the reconstruction and expansion of the chapel space. The former Swell, Solo, and Choir chests and pipes were relocated to front chambers left and right of the façade. The effect proved problematic since the pipework was apparently not revoiced to compensate for the new location closer to the ears of the Chorale and congregation. As a result, the Swell and Solo aggressively dominated the entire instrument, making proper registration balances difficult to achieve.

In 2014, working with the chapel’s director of music, Stewart Foster, our tonal staff at Austin Organs set out to design an essentially new organ, using the building blocks of the existing instrument as a starting place. The final instrument would contain 104 ranks of pipes. Our guiding principle was that the tonal result would be one of elegant beauty and gentle nuance. In other words, with a temperate approach, tonal blend had to be achieved without allowing any domination of individual departments or voices. The success of this project is certainly in part due to the active participation at every stage from design to installation by Stewart Foster. A consummate musician, he knows not only how to make the organ sing, but what it takes to make an organ truly successful tonally. Austin staff members, including Raymond Albright, Bruce Coderre, Dan Kingman, Curt Hawkes, Anne Wysocki, Colin Coderre, Victor Hoyt, Scotty Giffen, the late Stew Skates, Tony Valdez, Dick Taylor, Mike Fazio, Tong Satayopas, Phil Swartz, and Nick Schroeder, who worked directly on the installation, imparted their own special gifts that contributed to its success. 

 

Mechanical considerations

Our approach in designing the new instrument was to update or replace every questionable mechanical system. A new, four-manual Austin console replaced the earlier mechanical console. The new console, built of painted birch and oiled cherry, is equipped with 300 levels of combination action memory, record-playback, and a transposer; a WiFi interface is integrated in the console control system for iPad/iPhone operation of advanced functions. Austin-made walnut drawknobs control all stops and couplers, the latter being spread on either side of the keydesk. Among some of the unique design elements, the console has a mechanism that physically closes the crescendo pedal when General Cancel is pressed. A second set of divisional pistons called “English Divisionals” appear when selected and have pre-set combinations that create a typical English Crescendo in the desired division. There is also a drawknob matrix that selects Swell and Choir/Solo expression shade operation, controlling three independent expression shade assemblies in each chamber. This allows sound from these divisions to be modeled to suit a variety of dynamic options. By using “Swell Shades Pianissimo,” for example, the organist can successfully accompany a vocal quartet with robust, Full Swell combinations. 

Austin specified a hydraulic lift that raises the console from the main floor to the chancel platform for concert use. Every Möller (and Reuter) chest was removed and replaced with new Austin tracker and unit chests; the entirety of the Swell was placed upon a walk-in air chest with integrated regulator. Wind pressures were raised in some divisions, and a new control system was made by Solid State Organ Systems. Chancel to Gallery data transmission is accomplished via fiber-optic cable. 

 

Tonal design

We started with the Great division to establish the revised tonal personality of the organ. Our guidance from Stewart Foster was found in one particular stop, designated as a model for the character of the entire instrument: the Positiv Italian Principal. It was indeed very smooth, beautifully voiced by Fred Heffner in 1983; only slightly ascendant and while of somewhat light weight, this stop had great tonal presence due to its nicely developed harmonic structure. One fear we had was that, as part of the new tonal design, we were raising the pressure of the Positiv by one inch (water column), so we wanted to be sure not to alter that which was treasured! During the scope of this project, some stops required rebuilding, others re-scaling. The result was enthusiastically received and has proven perfectly satisfactory. 

The Great was carefully voiced to perfect balance, from foundation to sharp mixture. The Reuter Trumpet was removed and replaced with a vintage Austin Cornopean (voiced as a chorus reed), available at 16 and 8 pitches; the 16 octave was built from the former Möller 16 reed (resonator length was added to match Austin patterns for our 6-inch scale, full-length Double Trumpet). Also added to the Great was a five-rank Mounted Cornet. This stop was scaled along French Classic lines and sits on a plinth fed by single actions speaking through 42-inch tubing. The Positiv was re-imagined, retaining the Italian Principal and 4 Octave. The 13 Zimbel was changed to 1 pitch and revoiced. The 8 Gedeckt was revoiced and is now available at 8 and 4 pitches. We added a new Sesquialtera and Cromorne and re-pitched and voiced the former 8 Rohr Schalmei as a 4 stop to support the new 8 Cromorne. The additions of the Cornet, Sesquialtera, and Cromorne/Schalmei have opened new forays into historical organ repertoire. Another new addition, a charming Rossignol, adds a bit of whimsy to this division.

The Pedal was improved by the replacement of the previous ½-length 32 Bombarde with a new full-length 32 Trombone. The existing 16 reed was revoiced to a darker timbre, blending perfectly with the new pipes. The existing 32 Bourdon extended only to EEEE, the bottom four notes sounding a resultant of the 16 Bourdon. For better effect, four new pipes were installed speaking 1023 pitch, at the correct dynamic and tuning to deliver more satisfying 32 tone for CCCC–DDDD#. New façade pipes were made with some subtle design changes suggested by Stewart Foster, replacing the dented, collapsed old tin pipes. The old pipes were given to members of the congregation as keepsakes; in a week, all 72 pipes ranging from 4 to 16 GGG were removed by members!

In the Swell, a new Principal Chorus was envisioned, utilizing some of the existing pipework. A new 8 Principal was manufactured and the 4 Octave was re-scaled; an existing 2 Fifteenth happily fit into the scheme very well. The existing Möller Mixture had been recomposed in 1992, but was found to be shrill and ineffective some years ago, with many pipes stuffed with cotton to silence them. We used much of the original pipework, re-pitching the primary IV-rank mixture at 223 pitch (which also draws separately) and installed a new III-rank Cymbale, based at 1 pitch. The strings and flutes in this department were voiced to new pressure, dynamic, and blend. The reeds were completely rebuilt or replaced to create a chorus of independent voices at 16/8/8/4. The result is generally perceived as being a French tone color, light in weight but fiery without excessive volume. The Vox Humana is placed in an Austin “VoxBox” with independent tremulant and lid that can be raised and lowered from the console to control dynamic. Note that between Gallery and Chancel there are two Vox Humanas and five celestes with all the requisite inter- and intra-manual couplers!

The Möller Choir organ was enhanced with a new 4 Principal and a new Clarinet. The 1963 pipework was mostly original, so the process of revoicing was easier than the work required in the Swell. The overall effect was a gentle broadening of tone color with the ever-present goal of achieving perfect blend. The new Clarinet was voiced on 10 inches wind pressure, and the new chest was built with unique high-pressure section, which allowed this stop to speak on the higher pressure, while remaining on the same action. Directly behind the Choir chest we find the Solo organ, which had minimal voicing performed at this time. The Reuter English Horn remained, but the Austin Bombarde was rebuilt and revoiced, and the Reuter Clarion was replaced with Austin pipework. The existing Deagan Harp was rebuilt with electric actions and located high on a side wall to avoid being a hindrance to tuning access.

Minimal work was performed in the Gallery, being mostly intact and otherwise satisfactory. A new extension was added to the 16 Diapason, allowing it to speak as a second 8 manual Diapason, contrasting and complementing the existing 8 Principal. A new 8 Trumpet en Chamade was made in brass and installed as replacement for the existing stop of the same name. The new pipework was scaled and voiced along the lines of an Austin Waldhorn—darker in color and generally warmer in tone, similar to an English Tromba. In this somewhat intimate setting, this results in a more desirable solo voice than a very bright, fiery Trompette. Stewart Foster reports that the previous Chamade would regularly receive complaints from wary congregants. Now, the complete opposite is true, as folks often ask why the trumpets didn’t play on a particular morning: “We love hearing them!”

This instrument is the second Austin organ in Palm Beach. The other installation is our exciting organ at the Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea, located just across the golf course on the opposite shore of the island. Both instruments have unique personalities—surely identifiable as “Austin”—but each organ has its individual character and splendor that serves the very different roles these congregations demand. It is an enlightening pilgrimage to visit each church, perhaps at a worship service, or even during the week, and mark the similarities and differences.

The three-year project was made possible by funding from several prominent and generous chapel families and foundations. The organ was inaugurated by Christopher Houlihan, who played a truly unforgettable and stunning recital on April 3, 2016. Future concerts and recordings are planned along with a YouTube video series. Thanks to Stewart Foster for his assistance with this article, photos, and constant encouragement. Ad multos annos!

—Michael B. Fazio

President & Tonal Director 

Austin Organs, Inc.

 

Austin Organs: www.austinorgans.com 

Royal Poinciana: http://austinorgans.com/Op2685.html 

http://royalpoincianachapel.org/ 

More on BBTS: www.austinorgans.com/2777.html 

http://www.bbts.org/music/organ/ 

 

Royal Poinciana Chapel

60 Cocoanut Row

Palm Beach, FL 33480

Phone: 561/655-4212

 

CHANCEL GREAT 4 wind

16 Violone 61 pipes

8 Principal 61 pipes

8 Spitzflote 61 pipes

8 Violone (ext) 12 pipes

4 Octave 61 pipes

4 Rohrflote 61 pipes

2 Fifteenth 61 pipes

113 Fourniture IV 244 pipes

13 Scharff III 183 pipes

8 Mounted Cornet V (TG) 185 pipes

16 Contra Trompete (ext) 12 pipes

8 Trompete 61 pipes

Tremulant

Carillon (Tower, digital)

 

POSITIV 312 wind 

8 Italian Principal 61 pipes

8 Singendgedeckt 61 pipes

4 Principal 61 pipes

4 Gedeckt (ext) 12 pipes

2 Blockflote 61 pipes

113 Larigot 61 pipes

223 Sesquialtera II 122 pipes

13 Zimbel III 183 pipes

8 Cromorne 61 pipes

4 Rohr Schalmei 61 pipes

Tremulant

Rossignol

CHOIR 4 wind

8 Concert Flute 68 pipes 

8 Gemshorn 68 pipes

8 Gemshorn Celeste (TC) 56 pipes

4 Principal 68 pipes

4 Koppelflote 68 pipes

223 Quint 61 pipes

2 Fifteenth 61 pipes 

8 Clarinet 68 pipes

Tremulant

Harp 61 bars

Celesta (ext Harp)

Carillon (Tower, digital)

8 Trompette en Chamade (Solo)

CHANCEL SWELL 4 wind

16 Bass Gedeckt (ext) 12 pipes

8 Geigen Diapason 68 pipes

8 Gedeckt 68 pipes

8 Salicional 68 pipes

8 Voix Celeste 68 pipes

4 Principal 68 pipes

4 Flute Harmonique 68 pipes

4 Voix Celestes II (extension)

223 Twelfth (Mixture extract)

2 Doublette 61 pipes

223 Mixture IV 244 pipes

1 Cymbale III 183 pipes

16 Basson 68 pipes

8 Trompette 68 pipes

8 Oboe 68 pipes

8 Vox Humana 61 pipes

4 Clarion 68 pipes

Tremulant

SOLO 10 wind

8 Flute Harmonique 68 pipes 

8 Violoncello 68 pipes 

8 Cello Celeste 68 pipes 

4 Orchestral Flute 68 pipes

8 English Horn 68 pipes

8 Bombarde 68 pipes

4 Bombarde Clarion 68 pipes

Tremulant

8 Trompette en Chamade (TC) 42 pipes 

GALLERY GREAT 312 wind

16 Montre 61 pipes

16 Bourdon Doux (Swell)

8 Diapason 61 pipes

8 Montre (ext) 12 pipes

8 Bourdon 61 pipes

4 Prestant 61 pipes

223 Quinte 61 pipes

2 Doublette 61 pipes

113 Fourniture III 183 pipes

Tremulant

8 Trompette en Chamade (Solo)

GALLERY SWELL 4 wind

16 Bourdon Doux (ext) 12 pipes

8 Flute à Cheminee 68 pipes

8 Viole de Gambe 68 pipes

8 Voix Celeste 68 pipes

8 Flauto Dolce 68 pipes

8 Flauto Dolce Celeste (TC) 56 pipes

4 Fugara 68 pipes

4 Flute à Fuseau 68 pipes

2 Principal 61 pipes

223 Cornet II 122 pipes

1 Plein Jeu IV 244 pipes

16 Bombarde 68 pipes

8 Trompette 68 pipes

8 Voix Humaine 61 pipes

4 Clairon 68 pipes

Tremulant

Chimes 25 tubes

PEDAL

32 Contre Bourdon 8 pipes

      1023 4 pipes

16 Contrebasse 32 pipes

16 Bourdon 32 pipes

16 Violone (Great)

16 Bass Gedeckt (Swell)

1023 Quint (from Bourdon)

8 Principal 12 pipes

8 Geigen (Swell)

8 Bourdon 12 pipes

8 Cello (Great) 

8 Gedeckt (Swell)

513 Twelfth (from Bourdon) 7 pipes 

4 Choral Bass 32 pipes

4 Flute 32 pipes

223 Mixture IV 128 pipes

Cornet V (derived)

32 Contra Trombone (ext) 12 pipes

(Full length) CCCC 12 scale

16 Trombone 32 pipes

16 Contra Trompete (Great)

16 Basson (Swell)

8 Trumpet (ext Trombone) 12 pipes

4 Clarion (ext Trombone) 12 pipes

4 Cromorne (Choir)

GALLERY PEDAL

16 Montre (Great)

16 Bourdon Doux (Swell)

8 Octave (Great)

8 Flute à Cheminee (Swell)

16 Bombarde (Swell) 

8 Trompette-en-Chamade (Solo)

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