Sebastian M. Glück, New York, New York
Park Avenue United Methodist Church, New York, New York
Located at one of the busiest urban intersections in the nation, Park Avenue United Methodist Church built their present neo-Byzantine building in 1926 to the designs of Henry C. Pelton, future architect of The Riverside Church. Skinner Organ Company’s Opus 587, a three-manual, 24-rank instrument from which the case survives, was prepared for an additional fifteen ranks, a dream never realized following the stock market crash of 1929.
As the Skinner approached its half-century mark, tastes in organbuilding had changed dramatically as American exposure to European organs increased during the postwar era. Under the consultancy of Dr. Robert S. Baker, a new instrument was commissioned from the Schantz Organ Company in 1971 as their Opus 1022.
When our firm was approached to present a program of renewal for the instrument, the church made it clear that the organ was a beloved adjunct to worship, to be rebuilt and enhanced within the spirit of their mindful stewardship.
We remain impressed by the engineering and craftsmanship of the Schantz instrument, as well as the quality of the materials used to construct it. Solid, well-fitted building frames support the windchests, which feature small tuning perches at the ends of the chests as well as traditional ones centered above the whole-tone layouts. The pipework is made of fine spotted alloys and high quality zinc, carefully cut, neatly soldered, sensibly scaled, and sturdily built.
Cleaning and chamber preparation. From the spotless interior of the well-kept church, one would not imagine the accumulation of modern pollutants and natural soil deposits within the organ. All pipes were removed from the organ for careful cleaning as well as to access the internal mechanical portions. Structural components and windchests were cleaned, walls and ceilings plastered and painted, asbestos removed by qualified professionals, and new fluorescent lighting installed.
Releathering. All good electro-pneumatic actions of the past century were designed for disassembly, so that their natural materials could be recovered, leaving the instrument in a mechanically “as new” condition. Every leather membrane in the organ was replaced: primary actions, secondary note pouches, and stop actions. Although only a few leathers had reached the end of their working life, I caution clients against “spot releathering,” which causes more problems than it solves. Releathering the entire organ makes it as secure as the day it was dedicated, and the entire instrument once again ages at the same rate.
Wind supply. Reservoirs were rebuilt with new detachable heads, so that they can, in future generations, be left in situ while the ribbed and gusseted components are rebuilt as bench work in the organbuilder’s workshop.
Console. The beautiful ivory keyboards were retained, and all manual and pedal keys fitted with new contacts. The piston complement remains unchanged, since the new control system provides for a multi-level combination action. The drawknob terraces and coupler rail were replaced in their entirety to accommodate the new specification and combination action, using our standard pao ferro knobs, engraved in a font inspired by Willis. Minor modifications to nomenclature were made, usually to correlate more closely with the sound of the stop.
Wiring. All of the instrument’s wiring was replaced, leaving no questions about safety or modernity.
Every doctrinal codification of tonal architecture has a limited life span, especially if dictatorial. Its tenets may reinfiltrate the public’s taste at some future date, but its reincarnation will be viewed through a reground lens. During the third quarter of the last century, there developed in some circles a collusive attempt to eventuate a standard stoplist that would placate the expositors of the organ “reform” movement. In accord with the predictable sine wave of organ design, our own generation has a tendency to want to “re-reform,” sometimes out of genuine necessity.
Because pipe organs can (and do) last for centuries, some are subject to modification every other generation or so, as the owners’ liturgy and tastes change, or as alterations are made to the venue. The organbuilder is faced with understanding the difference between adaptive enhancement and radical modification. Charged with the task of renewing an essentially fine organ, I tried not to redirect the basic concept; the process had to be undertaken with respect.
While the Park Avenue instrument bears many of the hallmarks of its era, and could not be more different than the Skinner it replaced, it is by no means “all Gedeckts, Terzzimbels, and Regals.” The consultant never lost sight of choral accompaniment and service playing, and maintained that—despite the world’s fervent (albeit inaccurate) attempt to recreate the northern European Baroque palette—each school of established literature would rise and fall on the tides of appreciation. He had one foot planted firmly in each camp, with a lifespan from 1916 to 2005. Dr. Baker was a man whose tastes in all areas of life encompassed great variety.
When an auditorium is painted, the pores in the building materials are sealed and the surfaces hardened. This results in an increased brightness from reflected higher overtones, and an emphasis on certain “vowels” heard in the reeds. Thus the 1971 work, already brilliant in tone, had taken on a forthright vigor and an attenuated fundamental that made rich unison tone more elusive. Our mission was to make useful additions and massage some of the speech characteristics, without making the organ into something it never was, by accomplishing the following:
Adding a wooden 16′ Sub Bass to the Pedal division. While both capped metal and stopped wood 16′ flutes were duplexed from the manual divisions, they did not exude the sound pressure and tonal impact of a large-scale independent stop. This consumed much real estate within the organ, so we opted to share the lowest eight pipes of the Pedal and Great 8′ Principals, a practice not uncommon in contemporary mechanical action organs. Since these pipes were of identical scale and construction as originally built, there is no tonal break.
Completing the Swell Cornet. Like many of the period, the organ has only one tierce combination, but the 2′ rank was scaled as a principal, not a flute. Fortunately, this “interrupted Cornet” was not in the Choir division with the Krummhorn (a common mistake of the era) but in the Swell, where it could play in dialogue. Revoicing the 2′ element as a flute resulted in the coherence of the five flute pitches into a true Cornet sound with a less nasal vowel.
Replacing the Swell reeds and revoicing the Great and Pedal reed. While it was fashionable in American organbuilding at the time to incorporate very narrow-scaled reeds in the quest for the crisp and the bright, many present-day ears long for a richness and fullness achieved through broader scales, larger shallots, and resonators that are closer to true length. The Swell 8′ Trompette was replaced, and the 4′ Oboe (for which there is no known literature) was replaced by a 4′ Clairon. The 16′ reed, originally very narrowly scaled with half-length resonators, was replaced by a rich, full-length 16′ Basson, which incorporates the original 4′ reed from middle C to the top, in deference to the client’s budget.
In keeping with the organ’s style, the new reeds are quite brilliant, yet have more body than their predecessors. Toward this end, the Swell pressure was revised slightly upward, and the Swell fluework re-regulated to accommodate the change.
The Pedal 16′ Posaune, extended to 8′ on the Great and Choir, was made rounder and warmer. After cleaning, the notably soft brass tongues were recurved, and the resonators adjusted to a length that solidified and reinforced the fundamental. This moved the vowel from a short, nasal “a” to a rounder “aw.” The copper Krummhorn, bright and neo-Baroque in tone, was renamed from the original “Cromorne,” a knob that provided expectations other than its tone produced. After cleaning, it was given remedial voicing work, but its basic character, dictated by its structural design, remains unchanged.
Balancing the mixtures by leaving them alone. An exuberant, percussive attack was characteristic of all of the fluework when we first heard the organ, and the upperwork was, to most ears, unusually assertive. Nonetheless, the sound of the organ had to reach the nave, a task at which the mixtures succeeded, and it was really a question of harmonic balance, not sheer amplitude. The body of 8′ and 4′ tone had to be enhanced to meet the mixtures.
The generously scaled flue stops had relatively untreated languids, the result of a period conviction that nicking was verboten. Some pipes did not settle down to their pitches because they either had no languid treatment at all, or had been set upon by an amateur in the past, as evidenced by cuts and distortions to the lips, languids, and toe holes. When systematically voiced and tonally finished, the potential warmth inherent in the original pipes came through. By carefully and incrementally decreasing toe hole diameters, the tone gained fullness and carrying power that bloomed as a better match to the upperwork.
Capitalizing on existing unit actions. I prefer that each rank serve a dedicated function, yet the adaptation of unit actions can result in transformational effects. There was no open 8′ flute in the Great division, so I extended the Pedal Spitzflöte upward to play at 8′ on the Great, and at 8′ and 4′ on the Choir. I gradually narrowed the diametric progression, and designed the rank to lose its taper progressively as it ascended the scale, becoming a bright, cylindrical flute in the treble. I made the Swell Basson available at 16′ and 8′ on the Great and 8′ on the Choir for a subtler reed buildup, and to provide an opportunity to accompany it as a solo with stops from its own division.
Adding chimes. The 1926 Skinner had no chimes, despite the provision of knobs in both the Pedal and Echo divisions, and chimes were not included in 1971, when such effects sometimes were considered decadent. For the first time since the building was built, the organ now contains a set of 25 tubular chimes.
Reviving the tradition of
One easily loses count of the number of clients who say, “we were told to throw out the organ and start again, because nothing is salvageable.” Our nation discards hundreds of thousands of dollars each year by condemning entire pipe organs to the landfill.
For centuries, instruments have incorporated pipes and components from their predecessors, including some of the cultural monuments we most admire. Consider St. Sulpice (Clicquot, Daublaine-Callinet, Cavaillé-Coll, Mutin, Société Cavaillé-Coll, Renaud), Woolsey Hall (Hutchings-Votey, Steere, Skinner), and St. Jacobi (Scherer, Fritzsche, Schnitger, Lehnert, Ahrend). With rare exception, there are materials to be quarried from the initial investment in a pipe organ, especially when new tonal positions are found for existing ranks.
Had Park Avenue United Methodist Church still owned their Skinner organ, it might have been possible to complete it as designed, replicating known examples or even finding original pipes and mechanisms, in keeping with today’s trends. With the Skinner long gone, the trustees made an informed choice to reinvest conservatively in their present instrument, a fiscally responsible commitment to the future of their worship and cultural life.
—Sebastian M. Glück
Artistic and Tonal Director
Glück Pipe Organs
When I first came to Park Avenue United Methodist Church, Dr. Lyndon Woodside was our director of music. Through his incredible musicianship, I came to feel that our Schantz pipe organ was a living, breathing member of our church. Lyndon’s passing in 2005 affected all of us very deeply. It made me stop and think of just how much I truly loved the music at our church.
Some time later, I became a member of the Board of Trustees. It was in this role that I suggested undertaking a survey of our organ. After nearly 40 years of continuous service, it was in need of restoration and updating. The trustees had many discussions about whether to restore the organ or replace it entirely, and the idea of an electronic unit did come up. But we believed that our congregation so loved the music at our church that we had no choice but to restore our pipe organ—not an easy decision in this economy. So we set about to find just the right organbuilder to do the job.
Sebastian Glück came to us through word-of-mouth. After interviewing several organbuilders, including the original builder, we chose Sebastian. We were utterly convinced that he would bring the care and sensitivity to this project that was so important to us. And we were right. We came to learn that Albert Jensen-Moulton, the firm’s general manager who was on site throughout the project, volunteered to give a tour and demonstration of the organ to the curious day school children who were in the building. It was this level of passion about their work that so impressed us about everyone at the Glück workshop.
I subscribe to the belief that the music in a worship service is an offering to God, another form of prayer. On Christmas Eve, the first time that I heard our organ after the rebuilding was completed, the joy of hearing it moved me to tears. As a trustee, it is an immense comfort to me that we have been able to ensure that generations to come will share in this joy.
Vice President, Board of Trustees
Shortly before I began my tenure as senior pastor in July 2009, I learned that the church would be undertaking a major organbuilding project. I arrived with some “fear and trepidation” since the search for the builder was already done and the contract signed. To my joy, I found that Sebastian Glück and his crew were a delight to work with. As promised, portions of the organ remained playable (with only one week as the exception), so the people of the church had the opportunity to “hear” what was being done as it evolved. This helped build support and a greater sense of ownership until the full beauty of the rebuilt organ was revealed.
A real passion for music has been integral to this congregation’s worship for many years. Renovating or rebuilding an organ requires the church to ask some wise questions: Is music an essential worship component? Is there respect for traditional music? Is there a commitment to seeking and hiring a director of music who will foster and nurture this commitment through a strong choral program, new music programs, and the development of volunteer choir members? Does the director recognize all of this as part of their music ministry? Is the building in good condition, so that the instrument will not be impacted by water leaks or other problems? Are there memorial or endowment monies that might be used? Is there time to develop a fund before starting the renovation or should we move ahead and then find the resources—or some of each?
Thankfully, Park Avenue United Methodist Church was able to move ahead using a substantial memorial gift specifically directed to music. The church also secured a grant and developed a capital campaign that is successful and ongoing.
We plan to develop a concert series that will feature a young organist series as a way to help musicians who are starting their careers, while showcasing the organ and offering a community outreach. Our reinvestment in the pipe organ will continue to draw visitors and members who support music and the music program in the worshiping community, to be part of the vital ministry of this congregation well into the future.
—Rev. Betsy Ott
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