Cover feature

April 1, 2015

Quezon City, Philippines, is the largest and most populated city in metropolitan Manila, with a population of over 2.5 million; at one time it was the capital of the country. In this city is the Central Complex of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ), registered in the Philippines in 1914 by Felix Manalo, and at present administered by the Executive Minister Eduardo V. Manalo. The church has grown to millions of members with congregations in over 100 countries. 

The INC Central Complex includes the central office for the church administration, Tabernacle Hall, College of Evangelical Ministry for future ministers, New Era General Hospital, New Era University, and prominent and rising towards the sky is the largest Iglesia Ni Cristo Temple in the world. Designed by Filipino architect Carlos A. Santos-Viola based on the conception of the then Executive Minister of the church, Eraño G. Manalo, the Central Temple is famous for its Gothic-Moorish architecture, intricate interiors, and its 7,000-seat capacity.  

Under the leadership of Executive Minister Manalo, the church administration set forth in 2012 to study, build, and install a special pipe organ at the INC Central Temple to coincide with the church centennial. The purpose was to further raise the level of worship services, and to praise God with a higher form of hymn singing. This is the first custom pipe organ built for the Iglesia Ni Cristo. We recognized the importance of such a commission and the care and reverence it accorded.

A project of this magnitude required a tremendous amount of planning and coordination. We were pleased to have had the help and assistance of the United States offices of the Iglesia Ni Cristo, coupled with the church administration in Quezon City. Through the course of planning this installation, there were numerous trips, e-mails, faxes, and phone calls that involved the offices in California and Quezon City, Philippines. 

During my first visits, I was able to attend worship services at the Temple. With the members of the congregation and choir in full song, I was able to gauge the acoustics and begin designing a specification that would support their worship. The hymns and music of this church are exclusive to Iglesia Ni Cristo. This is a congregation that worships with full voice; experiencing their services is to be enveloped in worship and praise.

For many years, the organ used by the church was a Hammond electronic organ with its sole flute-biased generator. As opposed to how the organ is typically played in gospel churches, the typical organ registrations emphasized unison pitch and the organ played in a “classical” style with use of the Leslie speakers and mutation drawbars for variation rather than reliance. The organ was used to gently undergird the church music. 

The Central Temple is a massive worship space by any standard. Its architecture is, in a word, stunning. Rich carvings, tracery, and filigree abound in this edifice. Underneath richly brocaded chandeliers, the center core of the Temple seats several thousand; two side chapels alone seat over 1,000 each. Large doors can be drawn closed to divide the Central Temple into three separate spaces. During services, male members of the church are seated on the left, with the women on the right side. The choir loft in the center of the building seats 170. Each of the side chapels contains smaller choir lofts that are utilized for each service and seat 50 choristers each. The organ console sits in the middle of the choir loft with the organist facing outward, without a choir director, during the services. The choirs and musicians are disciplined and well trained to work from music cues honed from rehearsal.

The acoustics of the room are very good due to the hard surfaces, though these are not cathedral acoustics with a long reverb time, but those of a space that is favorable for music and the spoken word. The previous electronic organ was providing enough support for the choir and congregation with two Leslie speakers in this large space. 

When we started to lay out the tonal design of the very first pipe organ for the Central Temple of the Iglesia Ni Cristo, several key points would determine the success of the organ. We needed the traditional resources and chorus structure of a pipe organ for religious use; it would be important to support the flute-biased sounds and dynamics that the church had always known; and most of the organ resources should be under expression for full dynamic control of sound. The organ would also need to play common literature with a main support of resources used for choir and congregational singing. Our task was to supply them with enough variety using the different families of principals, strings, flutes, reeds, and solo voices, and then to fill this large worship space with leading sound.

When the Central Temple was built it did not include a location for a pipe organ. We knew that this required major construction alterations within its building and infrastructure. There was a physical limit to the space that was available for organ chambers without adversely impacting the building’s architectural design. During our visit to the Temple, we completed studies of the sightlines and probable chamber elevations as they related to the organ placement to develop a plan for the organ chambers and the façade that would cover the chamber openings. Working with the architect and other members of the church, we formed a plan for the placement of the organ in the building, so that it would look like it had always been there. This task would need to visually complement the grandeur of the current worship space. 

We knew that if we did not support the two choirs and over 1,000 members in each of the side chapels, the organ would be a failure. We also had a situation where the main choir and central console were around the corner from the chapels. The congregants and the choir in the chapels would need to hear the same dynamics that were heard around the corner at the main console. To solve this problem, we chose a unique solution to the organ division placement. We placed the left and right organ chambers between the main hall and the side chapels. We designed large sets of expression louvers that open to the chapels and the main hall. The organ has 56 swell shade frames that hold 290 individual expression shades operated by multiple motors. These motors were addressed through a programmable expression shade software interface, which allowed an acoustic linear progression with the movement of the expression shoes that was balanced between the main hall and the side chapels. This allows a seamless level of expression. In addition to providing dynamic control of the organ stops, we designed the expression shades to direct the sound to various angles of incidence in the building and through refraction uniformly cover the huge space with sound. (The expression shades were regulated so that the registrations for the organ divisions are acoustically balanced between the Main choir loft and the
side chapels.) 

The unique position of the organ chambers in the room opened the possibility of using the left and right stop resources to provide independent instruments for the side chapels. Through careful stop placement and our scaling choices, we were able to provide a duality of voice for the stop registers. The chapel specifications differ from the main console and are designed to support these spaces when the doors are drawn closed and the chapels become independent worship spaces. When the chapel organs are turned on, the division shades for the main core of the Temple close and only express to the chapel. Both chapel organs can be played at the same time. The left chapel is used for weddings. The specification for this instrument is drawn from the resources of the Swell and String organs. The right chapel is used for practice and rehearsal and draws its resources from the Great and Pedal divisions. 

To cover the large organ chamber openings, the choir loft is flanked with matching façade pipes from the 16 Principal and 16 Violone. The building is in a known earthquake area, and there was a concern to assure that the pipes would remain in the organ case. As a redundant safety measure, we designed decorative bands in the case design that retain the pipes in their vertical racks even if there were a failure of the retaining hardware. We built the façade pipes out of a polished metal. Their finish takes on the colors and hues of the lighting and architecture and has a softer look that would not have been possible with painted or poly-chromed pipes. The pipes were built with over-length bodies and toes to fill a 24 height and sit on a 7 ledge. The façade is fed with transmission tubes from action boxes located in the enclosed chambers. The construction crew completed all of the millwork and tracery. 

To scale an instrument, we generally bring pipe samples into the room to gauge the necessary scales, wind pressures, and pipe treatments that need to be employed. The planning for this instrument was no different. We took over several pipes that were voiced in the Temple, with several members of our staff gauging the carrying ability of these voices in the room. There was remarkably little acoustical fall-off of these voices, even into areas of the rear balcony. These pipes became the guide in our voicing room halfway around the world. This was an instance where your eyes did not want to believe what your ears would tell you about scaling due to the sheer size of the space. The sample pipes represented the reality of what we had to trust in our tonal design of the organ. Before our final week of voicing on site, 4,000 ministerial students and choir members were invited in so that we could get a crucial sound check. This enabled us to finalize voice strength and gauge the shade openings with a room full of people.

To accommodate the gender division in the Temple, the organ divisions are placed so that they provide the proper weight and color to support the men and women’s voices. The Great and Pedal are in the right chamber with the resources focused towards the men. The Swell and String organ in the left chamber focus their voices towards the women. The Choir/Solo chamber area is in the center behind the choir. The middle of this space contained a large LED screen, which is integral to worship here. The Choir/Solo division has three shade openings that open to the right, left, and above the screen. The expression shades in this division are horizontal, with the first points of reflection being the hard ceiling above the choir and organist. The ceiling acts as a diffuser so that sound envelops the choristers without subjecting them to the large dynamics of this division. This allows the organ and choir to uniformly blend their collective voices for support of worship.

We employed generous scales along with an 8-weighted specification. Wind pressures range from 6′′ to 16′′, with the highest wind pressures in the Solo division, where the large scales and increased wind pressures allow robust voicing for the flue solo stops, such as the Stentorphone, to sing out over the full organ resources and yet be fully contained with closure of the expression shades. We determined that the woodwind-class reeds would be very important to texture the ensemble. The 8 Clarinet and the 8 Oboe add color without being aggressive or too tonally forward. All the organ’s reeds use English shallots, which, with their darker, rounder voices, are more appropriate in this acoustic. 

There was a desire for a large solo reed in our tonal design. The organ is tonally capped with the high-pressure 8Tromba Heroique. This stop is placed so that it speaks out into the Temple through the center Choir/Solo expression shades. This stop is extended full-length down to the pedal for the supreme 16 cantus firmus voice.

To pay homage to the flute sounds that the church previously knew, we included a Wurlitzer-patterned Tibia in the Choir/Solo on 10′′ of wind pressure. The String organ has a Tibia Minor and the Great a Flauto Major. Ubiquitous to the sound of these large, stoppered flutes are the manners in which they are affected by tremolo. Unique to the instruments we have built previously, we provided the organ with dual speed tremolos that could independently be regulated for maximum effect with the flue and reed voices. Again, these stops’ style features their unification across multiple pitch registers, which we included in our specification design.

The String Organ was conceived as an extension of the Swell division that can separately be a floating division via couplers. Its multiple timbres range from the pungent Viole d’ Orchestra to the more neutral Violone with pitch registers from 16 to 4. Included in this division was an 8 Flute Celeste II built in the form of a Ludwigtone. It provides the softest ethereal voice in the organ. The multiplicity of strings in this (the String Organ) division not only are of a singular beauty when massed together and colored with the 8’ Vox Humana but importantly with their edge tones provide a harmonic bridge (without their celesting voices) between the flutes and principal stops. This allows a seamless buildup of the stop resources in this organ.

The organ windchests are a combination of pallet and slider windchests and unit electro-pneumatic windchests. There are a total of 45 windchests throughout the instrument, fed by 26 wind regulators. Dual-curtain ribbed and floating-lid reservoirs were used for the winding system. The wind is raised through four blowers that generate static wind pressure in excess of 22 water column inches.

The main four-manual organ console is mahogany with ebonized mahogany key cheeks and is in a fixed location in the choir loft. The two chapel consoles were built to be lower profile and are two-manual terrace drawknob consoles. These consoles include inbuilt casters and detachable plugs to allow the consoles to be moved and stored when their use is not required.

With an instrument that had three consoles, three separate specifications, differential expression shade control tables, two-speed tremolos, and a requirement for fiber optic data transmission, we turned to Dwight Jones and Integrated Organ Systems. They worked tirelessly to customize their Virtuoso control system to fulfill the specialized requirements of this instrument.

Preparing the organ for its safe transit required careful disassembly and packing. It was very important that the load centers of the packed shipping containers be carefully calculated. This required that every part of the organ be weighed and a packing plan developed for the shipping containers. There was a narrow window to pack each shipping container so that all of the organ materials would be in transit on the same ship. We built an outline of a shipping container in our factory and virtually “packed” each container within that footprint. This allowed us to rapidly pack each container as the four trucks showed up in order at our shipping dock. The “virtual” containers were purposely staged in the reverse order to facilitate quick loading of the four actual containers, which arrived in succession over a four-day period. The organ weighs 43,543 pounds and required almost 8,000 pounds of packing materials. In all there were 608 individual packages and crates ranging from 5 to 1,380 pounds. There are a total of 3,162 individual pipes in the instrument, which were packed into 87 trays and 39 crates. The organ was packed into four shipping containers to begin its route from the port of Savannah, Georgia, to Manila. Our staff, led by Art Schlueter, Jr., arrived just ahead of the shipment to receive it at the Temple. 

The first challenge to the installation was getting the organ parts into the Temple. The primary worship space is actually on the third story of the building. The stairwells and elevators were too constricted to allow the movement of large items such as the multiple consoles, the main chests, and the façade pipes. Early in our first visits it became clear that the only method for the movement of the mass of organ parts would be to open a large hole in the upper rampart of the building and bring in an overhead crane to hoist these materials. A large scaffold deck was built outside, to allow a landing area for the organ parts that were then manually placed in the building. 

As we arrived to install the organ, major portions of the building were still under renovation to be ready for the centennial celebration of the Iglesia Ni Cristo. Over 100 workers labored around the clock to complete all of the tasks at hand. The members of the Iglesia Ni Cristo administration worked with us to develop a plan where our work could be congruous with their work schedule and provided considerable assistance with the movement of materials from the containers to a marshaling area in the side chapels. Adding to the complexity of the work in the Temple, the scheduled services were ongoing, with only the side chapels taken out of service. We want to thank the Iglesia Ni Cristo for their considerable assistance to assure that we were able to complete our work with the ongoing construction and renovations in the edifice. Without coordination, communication, and support this project could not have been accomplished.

The work to install and voice the instrument was completed in multiple trips that spanned several months of time. The work was completed with two separate teams, with staff members in Georgia providing technical support. The members of the church construction crew assisted with the installation. This allowed us to teach how the organ was installed and how to adjust and regulate the organ parts and actions. Several members of this group showed a specific aptitude for the organ work and were further trained about the pipe organ and its systems. This team now serves in a support role for basic tuning and adjustments at the Temple. With each return tuning trip, our staff has worked to further their skills and abilities.

Members of our firm that traveled overseas to complete this project included Art Schlueter, Jr., Arthur Schlueter, III, Rob Black, John Tanner, Marc Conley, Pete Duys, Bud Taylor, Patrick Hodges, Jay Hodges, and Jeff Otwell. Considerable shop assistance to the completion of this project was provided by staff members Shan Dalton, Barbara Sedlacek, Bob Weaver, Ruth Lopez, Kelvin Cheatham, Mike DeSimone, Al Schroer, Dallas Wood, and Steve Bowen.

When we arrived onsite to begin the installation, members of the church told us that the administration had requested them to treat us like family. Nothing could have been truer. While we were away from family and friends, the Iglesia Ni Cristo worked tirelessly to support us as we worked to install the instrument in their Temple. 

Three weeks before the centennial of the Iglesia Ni Cristo, Executive Minister Eduardo V. Manalo officiated on Saturday, July 5, 2014, at a special worship service at the INC Central Temple In his homily the Executive Minister said, “The installation of the new pipe organ at the Central Temple is in line with the church’s desire to fulfill the biblical teaching that God should be praised and glorified.”

The organ was played by Dr. Genesis Rivera, who said it was a great blessing for him to be the first one to play the pipe organ in that special worship service. The church very generously hosted Art Schlueter, Jr., and Pete Duys to be in attendance. We would like to publicly thank the Iglesia Ni Cristo and its leadership for their beneficence. 

We are humbled to have been chosen for such a grand commission, to build a one of a kind instrument to the worship and praise of God, for the Central Temple of the Iglesia Ni Cristo. 

—Arthur E. Schlueter, III


Cover photo: Courtesy of Iglesia Ni Cristo