Cover Feature

August 14, 2015

Austin Organs, 

Hartford, Connecticut

Opus 2344 (1961 and 2014)

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church,

New Canaan, Connecticut

In New Canaan, Connecticut, just north of a town landmark known as “God’s Acre,” an imposing edifice rises from the staid landscape. St. Mark’s Church was erected in 1961. Approaching from the south, the church beckons your creative spirit as it heralds the artistry that pervades its sacred space. The entrance of the church, facing an elegant, grassy commons to the south, is easily accessed from the street. Entering the two large, intricately carved doors one finds oneself inside an impressive sanctuary that evokes the feeling of a Gothic cathedral. Triangular vaults rise up majestically from towering concrete columns. The altar is clearly the focal point of the room, but behind the altar stands an equally impressive reredos approximately 35 feet wide, standing some 40 feet in the air, displaying 184 intricately carved figures. It was designed by sculptor Clark Fitz-Gerald, whose works can be found in Columbia University, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Carnegie Hall, and Coventry Cathedral in England. 

Behind this acoustically transparent screen stands Austin Organs’ Opus 2344, dedicated by John Weaver in a concert on January 7, 1962. In 2014, Austin installed several new stops and completed an extensive tonal redesign of the instrument.

 

From the musician

In 2000, we started discussion about completing some major work on the organ. We thought it important to return to the company that gave birth to the instrument, so we called Austin Organs in Hartford for an evaluation and recommendations. Unfortunately the church was not ready to proceed with the project at that point, so the plan was placed on hold. When we revisited the project in 2008, I was surprised and pleased to reconnect with my former schoolmate from Westminster Choir College, Mike Fazio, who was now president and tonal director of the Austin company. 

As fate would have it, the company, now reborn under the auspices of the new owners, has revisited some of the original Austin organbuilding and voicing practices—their mindset moving beyond the so-common trend of “what’s happening now” and going back to some of the venerable earlier ideals. This philosophy is happily right in line with my own personal vision for this organ. I think that this key point in our collaboration helped lead to the successful rebirth of this instrument. Further, I believe that the combination of the talents of the outstanding Austin craftspeople, some who have been with the company for many years, along with the new administration, who respect the past but also embrace the future, to be a winning combination without equal. Working on this project, I was always confident in our conversations about the direction of the instrument, and I was pleased with the outcome, because we were consistently in sync. They always listened to my vision, and it felt like we were always on the same page with the ultimate goal.

When I arrived in 1998, it was already an organ to be proud of, and I was very happy to be playing this Austin, because it essentially worked well in this space. But today, with the tonal work and expansion, it has become much more versatile. While the organ certainly could have been defined as “American Classic,” I would now say that, while that character remains, we now have the impression of an “English Town Hall” instrument. The organ can handle a broader spectrum of literature, and I find that I can accompany the service in a much more exciting way. When I use the term “exciting,” I am not just talking about louder sounds, I am talking about the inclusion of some softer voices imparting more interesting nuance than there was previously. Utilizing the new timbres available in the pedal organ, the organ has developed a new undergirding that has truly helped its effectiveness in hymn accompaniment, among other things. The inventiveness of the Austin company in finding a creative way to add real pipes (installing a full-length 16 reed in the Swell, and a full-length 32 reed in the Pedal, and of course, the 32/16 Pedal Bourdon) was amazing! The 16 Bourdon is also an excellent addition, as it helps support the lower voices in the choir and congregation. I am so proud to be able to boast that all of our additions are real pipes, real chimes, and a real harp, without having to resort to the digital versions. I am convinced that these real voices do add significant richness and quite amazing harmonic underpinning. I am therefore able to play the organ in a much fuller way than I could previously. This has improved both my musical creativity and the choir and congregation’s singing in response. 

—Brian-Paul Thomas

Organist and Choirmaster

From the builder

The organ has excellent tonal projection from its lofty position on the central axis of the church. Its tonal disposition is somewhat reminiscent of the late work of Austin’s most famous tonal designer, James Blaine Jamison (1882–1957). He began with the Austin Company in 1933, and his impact was rather dramatic. Early in his relationship with the company, he redefined the Austin Diapason scaling system and introduced his concepts for ensemble structure and voicing, which were quickly adopted and became common practice for a generation. Richard Piper (tonal director from 1952–1978,) continued the same trend, but imparted his own stamp on the company’s work. Piper had apprenticed for nearly a decade under Henry Willis III, working on many of England’s monumental instruments, his final work being the Dome Organ at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. Coming to Austin, he was able to impart a bit of English nuance to the Austin version of the American Classic tonal ensemble, but that nuance did not seem to be present in this instrument. My predecessor at Austin Organs, Bruce Buchanan, visited the organ in September 2000. His impression was congruous with my own, in that he proclaimed, “St. Mark’s organ is a version of American Classic with North-European leanings. This means brightness has been preferred to brilliance, and clarity to body.” It was interesting to find his notes some months after I had submitted my own assessment to the church with similar findings.

The St. Mark’s organ had been an interesting platform for Richard Piper’s tonal experimentation. The Great and Positiv were voiced on low pressure (2¾′′ wind). It would appear that the Great Organ had the strongest North-German influence: light Prinzipal scaling, heavy mixture scaling, and the foundation apparently based on the 16 Quintaton. Overall, the division exhibited bright ensemble tone and the Positiv was much like it. The Swell was designed with somewhat stronger English influence. It, like the Choir, was voiced on 4′′ of wind presure. It was built with colorful flutes, and lush string tone; it also had a full reed chorus, yet not a proper Oboe; there was a high-pitched Plein Jeu, yet the department lacked a full principal chorus. The Choir flue chorus is made up of flutes, independent cornet mutations, and a Gemshorn and Celeste. The Choir reeds included a rather thin Krummhorn (3/4′′ scale) and an 8 Trumpet, voiced on 6′′ of wind pressure. In the style of many fine Austin instruments of the period, this organ’s Pedal division had nine independent ranks of pipes, beginning with a generous 16 Open Wood Contra Bass, through a Pedal Mixture and reed chorus. At some point in history, an electronic 32 Bourdon extension was added, but had failed and was disconnected several years ago.

Approaching the organ’s tonal redesign, we had some specific goals in mind: improve the Diapason chorus, revoice/replace some existing reeds, and supplement the Pedal department. Other enhancements became possible as the project developed. For example, while we would have liked to build a new, movable, drawknob console for the instrument, a decision was made for the present time to maintain the existing console. It was certainly showing its age, but we decided to add new stopkeys in situ for the new voices. This approach would allow us to use more available funds for tonal work as a first step. It would seem that God had other thoughts. Within a month of signing the contract for the tonal work, the church was hit by an electrical storm that disabled the console, along with the church’s sound system. We removed the console to the factory, and installed a new multiplexed console and organ control system, featuring a fiber-optic connection between the console and the organ’s Universal Air Chest. While back “home” in the factory, the manual and pedal claviers were refurbished, all new wiring and stop controls were installed, and the elegant black walnut casework finish was also restored. 

 

Tonal matters

The first matter to address was the wind pressure. To achieve the aural presence we collectively desired, we recognized that the pressure needed to be increased. To that end, we chose to increase the wind pressure to 4′′ water column for the entire instrument. Next, we needed to make a decision regarding the disposition of the Great Organ’s 16 Quintaton, which had been partly replaced (from 8 C) several years earlier with Bourdon pipes. The breakpoint from the 8 to the 16 octave was abominable, and the effect of the Quintaton in general was counterproductive to our desired ensemble. The Great Mixture was overwhelming and the rest of the chorus was anemic. Our sweeping decision was to remove the entire Quintaton from the specification, and to achieve a manual 16 voice, install a new Austin Internal Borrow action in the chest that would play the Pedal 16 Spitz Flute as a Great stop. Previously, this stop was only available in the manual at 8 pitch, and 16 in the Pedal. Austin’s voicer Dan Kingman revoiced these pipes to create an excellent Viole de Gamba. Being mildly conical (1/2 taper), we adjusted the nomenclature to reflect that construction, calling it a Spitz Viole. As a manual 16 and 8 borrow, it has proven to be extremely successful. While we were sweeping through the organ, we chose to “wash” the 1960s voicing out of the Great Bourdon, which resulted in a flute with more warmth and fundamental. The Diapason and Principal were rescaled, and the Spitz Fifteenth replaced with a new set of Principal pipes that work well with this new chorus. The existing Fourniture was also replaced with new pipes, scaled and voiced to fit perfectly with the new scheme. The final element was the inclusion of a new reed stop for the Great. After much discussion, the choice was made to install an English Horn. Rather than yet another Trumpet, or something from the Clarinet family, we concluded that an English Horn would serve equally well as either a gentle solo or ensemble voice. 

In the Swell, we regret that we were unable to add a new Diapason, as space would not allow it. However, the large scale Viola and Flute are rather successful, evoking “synthetic Diapason” tone, to quote the late G. Donald Harrison. A vintage 4 Wald Flute was installed to replace the original, which was removed several years ago, having been replaced with the Koppelflute from the Positiv, where it was subsequently returned. The 8 octave of the Rohrflute was moved off the main chest, and in its place we located the 12 lowest pipes of the 16 Waldhorn (full-length). The rather pleasant 8 (French) Trumpet was revoiced to blend well in the ensemble, and a new 8 (English) Oboe was installed. As a compromise to allow the installation of the Oboe, we removed the 4 Clarion, (which was rather thin) and extended the Waldhorn to 4 pitch to complete the chorus. Also added to the organ was a vintage Austin Vox Humana. This particular type is affectionately known as a “Vox-in-a-Box,” as the pipes are entirely placed within an encased chest that hangs directly in front of the Swell expression shades and can be adjusted for dynamic by opening or closing the top cover of said box. The effect of the Vox Humana in this church is extremely successful—it shimmers like a “chorus of voices in the distance!” Finally, the high-pitched mixture was removed and replaced with a new IV–V Plein Jeu, starting at 223 pitch. It provides a measure of gravitas to the ensemble, whether flues or reeds. 

In the Choir, we removed the thin, baroque Krummhorn, and replaced it with an 8 Cremona, which is a hybrid stop that is constructed as a Clarinet in the lower registers, then it morphs into our Cromorne scale in the treble. This treatment delivers the color of a rich Clarinet in the tenor range and the brightness of a French Cromorne in the right hand. As a matter of course, the existing high-pressure Trumpet was reconstructed (new tuning inserts, etc.) and revoiced.

The changes to the Pedal division were rather dramatic. We were able to redesign the offset chests at the sides of the main organ to allow the installation of a 32 and 16 Bourdon. More dramatic yet, we chose to extend the Swell 16 Waldhorn (a time-honored tradition) to become the 32 Pedal reed. Organist Brian-Paul Thomas was very clear in his vision for this voice: he did not want a jackhammer or clatter, but smooth dark tone. Using this thought as a guideline, we scaled this stop moderately, and consequently, the 12 full-length resonators fit nicely in the space occupied by the former Quintaton, located in a split arrangement on either side of the Great chest.

The other two voices added to the organ were a set of Deagan Class A chimes, and a vintage Austin Harp. These two percussions also work very nicely in this space.

 

Conclusion

We find the new instrument is exciting, rich, and versatile. It has a delicious, smooth crescendo from pianissimo to fortissimo, never missing a step! These changes were made possible because of the amazing flexibility of the Austin Universal Airchest design. Having been at the helm of Austin since 2005, I am still constantly in awe of the versatility of the Austin system. 

In a future article, we would like to discuss the transformation of a few Austin organs. These instruments were built in the same time period (the mid-1960s). The tonal disposition of each organ was very similar, and they were stereotypical of the period, and desperate for change! The study of the resulting specifications will serve as empirical evidence for any church with an organ, especially an Austin, thinking that there is no hope for a rather bland tonal ensemble. The transformation of each organ was completed with remarkable success—each one unique. We are also embarking on a plan to make a collective recording of these instruments.

While history furnishes a wealth of motivation, we are confident that new avenues and designs are only just around the corner that may enhance earlier efforts. As surely as we are inspired by the triumphs of the past, we face the challenges of today by building organs that will continue to inspire interest beyond today, beyond tomorrow, and into the next generation. Art is only art when it represents the best efforts of the Creator, with both eyes open to even greater possibilities. We aim to create something significant for worship and the performance of great music, and in the greater sphere, to offer our own illumination of how music might be made.

—Michael B. Fazio

Austin Organs, Inc.

President and Tonal Director

 

 

Austin Organs, Opus 2344
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, New Canaan, Connecticut

GREAT

16 Spitz Viole (ext) 61 pipes

8' Open Diapason 61 pipes

8 Spitz Viole 61 pipes

8 Bourdon 61 pipes

4 Principal 61 pipes

4 Nachthorn 61 pipes

2 Fifteenth 61 pipes

113 Fourniture IV 244 pipes

8 English Horn 61 pipes

Chimes (Deagan Class A, 25 tubes)

 

SWELL (enclosed)

8 Rohrflote 68 pipes

8 Viole de Gambe 68 pipes

8 Voix Celeste (low G) 61 pipes

8 Flauto Dolce 68 pipes

4 Principal 68 pipes

4 Wald Flute 68 pipes

2 Octavin (from Plein Jeu)

223 Plein Jeu IV–V 268 pipes

16 Waldhorn 85 pipes

8 Trompette 68 pipes

8 Horn (ext Waldhorn)

8 Oboe 68 pipes

8 Vox Humana 61 pipes

4 Clarion (ext Waldhorn)

Tremulant

8 Trompette Royale (prepared)

 

CHOIR (enclosed)

8 Gedeckt 68 pipes

8 Gemshorn 68 pipes

8 Gemshorn Celeste (TC) 56 pipes

4 Spitz Flute 68 pipes

223 Nasard 61 pipes

2 Block Flute 61 pipes

135 Tierce 61 pipes

8 Cremona 68 pipes

8 Trumpet 68 pipes

Tremulant 

 

POSITIV (exposed, floating)

8 Nason Flute 61 pipes

4 Koppel Flute 61 pipes

2 Principal 61 pipes

113 Larigot 61 pipes

1 Sifflote 61 pipes

23 Cymbal III 183 pipes

Harp (Austin, 61 bars) 

16 Trompette Royale (prepared)

8 Trompette Royale (prepared)

 

PEDAL 

32 Sub Bass 32 pipes

16 Contra Bass 32 pipes

16 Spitz Viole (Great)

16 Bourdon (extension 32) 12 pipes 

16 Gedeckt (Choir ext) 12 pipes

8 Principal 32 pipes

8 Bourdon 32 pipes

8 Gedeckt (Choir)

4 Choral Bass 32 pipes

4 Nachthorn 32 pipes

2 Flote (ext Nachthorn) 12 pipes

2 Mixture III 96 pipes

32 Contra Waldhorn (Sw ext) 12 pipes

16 Bombarde 32 pipes

16 Waldhorn (Swell)

8 Trumpet (ext 16Bombarde) 12 pipes

4 Cremona (Choir)

Chimes

 

 

 

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