Taylor and Boody Organbuilders Staunton, Virginia
Opus 70, 2015
Virginia Theological Seminary Alexandria, Virginia
Virginia Theological Seminary and the Organ
It is often said, “No one ever leaves a church humming the words of the sermon.” Music in congregational worship is vitally important. The experience of worship is for many people linked with their experience of the music. So when Virginia Theological Seminary lost its 1881 chapel to fire in 2010, the board gave the administration a clear instruction—to build a new chapel that was perfect for music.
For the new Immanuel Chapel, Robert A. M. Stern Architects and acoustician Jaffe Holden (with acoustics reviewed by Robert Mahoney) produced a worship space that has a rich, vibrant acoustic. From the thick walls, heavy doors, and a heating and cooling system that is silent, the seminary made experience of sound a priority. Now we needed an organ to fit this perfect space for music.
Although we made sure that this chapel can work for informal music and for unaccompanied singing, we always knew we needed an organ. The organ remains the most dependable instrument to accompany congregational singing; even the nine-foot grand piano is drowned out when you have a seminary congregation of people who know the hymns and love to sing. And we were not even tempted by the electronic alternative. We wanted a traditional pipe organ in this chapel.
Taylor and Boody both appreciate the majesty of the pipe organ and its flexibility. They were ready to work with a demanding client. And the result is exceptional. The case is made from the two great white oaks that had to be cut down to allow the chapel to emerge. It is visually striking in its simplicity. And Taylor and Boody worked hard to create an instrument that can play the full spectrum of music needed in the Anglican tradition. The result is extraordinary. One cannot help but have one’s heart lifted by the sound of an instrument so beautiful, so resonant, and so powerful.
There is nothing ephemeral about this chapel. The last organ served the seminary over a century; this organ will—God willing—be serving the seminary for centuries to come.
—The Very Reverend Ian S. Markham, Ph.D.
Dean and President,
Virginia Theological Seminary
The Mission of Liturgical Music and the Virginia Theological Seminary
When Virginia Theological Seminary (Episcopal) lost its 1881 chapel in a tragic fire in October of 2010, the tracker organ was also destroyed. In addition to the seminary community, the chapel and organ were also used by a neighboring Episcopal parish, Immanuel Church on the Hill, with whom the seminary has a long and intimate connection. One parishioner had worshipped in this chapel for over seventy years. Both communities felt keenly the loss of the chapel, if not the organ.
Built by Adam Stein of Baltimore in 1900, this organ might be described as serviceable but not beloved. It was small, difficult to manage, and offered a limited tonal palette. Nonetheless, during its 110 years the Adam Stein led thousands of services, faithfully ushering people into prayer. I asked our director of buildings and grounds if there was any other piece of equipment of any kind on the campus that was still in daily use after 110 years. He could think of none. And so, while we didn’t mourn the loss of this organ in the same way we did the small, charming Victorian chapel, still we gave thanks for its extraordinary length of service.
It is a rare opportunity to commission an organ for a new building, giving architect and organbuilders a chance to meet, to gain respect for each other, and to develop synergy. Though I have been involved in three new organ commissions in my career, this is the first for a new worship space. While the concerns of architects and organbuilders intersect, even overlap, they come to the drawing board from completely different perspectives. A working relationship needed to develop over time, and there were some surprises. The project managers, for example, were continually alarmed at the time, attention, and expense we devoted to acoustics. They soon perceived that music is a core value for this community.
Singing is at the heart of Anglican worship. We therefore needed an instrument that supports and encourages the human voice. Seminarians are passionate about their faith, and this is heard in their robust singing, thus we also required an instrument that could sing. While we looked at a number of superb builders, we were impressed by the impeccable craft of Taylor and Boody, who, not unlike medieval artisans, begin with the raw, basic materials, and build an instrument slowly, individually, and by hand. The result is visually and tonally an impressive work of art.
Musicians often say of Taylor and Boody Opus 70 that each individual voice has its own discrete character, and that the voices combine to create ensemble sounds of rare beauty. What could be better? We are delighted with the results of our collaboration, and our dedication to these builders is even stronger now than when we selected them.
The consecration of the chapel and the organ on October 13 will be led by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. We look forward to many years with this magnificent instrument, continually discovering its many qualities, but, more important for our purposes, being powerfully led by the organ into prayer, as new leaders are formed for the future Church. Soli Deo Gloria.
—The Reverend William Bradley Roberts, D.M.A., Professor of Church Music and Director of Chapel Music
The Building of Taylor and Boody Opus 70 for the Virginia Theological Seminary
Psalm 11:6. Fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word!
Two powerful events at the Virginia Theological Seminary conspired to bring to life a new chapel and a new pipe organ: the tragic destruction of the 1881 seminary chapel by an accidental fire in October of 2010 and the destruction wrought in the mid-Atlantic region by a freak summer derecho windstorm on June 29, 2012. The fire spurred the creation and building of a new, elegant, and powerful worship space that bears witness to the dedication of the Virginia Theological Seminary to worship arts and liturgy. The windstorm felled over 20 of the old-growth white oak trees that graced the seminary campus, some of which were eventually incorporated into a new organ for the chapel.
Prior to the fire, Taylor and Boody had already met with a renovation committee to see what could be done to update and improve the 110-year-old Adam Stein organ. We were already acquainted with the Virginia Theological Seminary leadership and had been talking about a new organ for the chapel. Following the fire, an organ committee was formed, composed of Jason Abel, musician at Christ Church, Alexandria, and assistant chapel musician at VTS; Scott Dettra, consultant, organist at Washington National Cathedral [now at Church of the Incarnation, Dallas]; Ray Glover, consultant, professor of church music emeritus, editor of The Hymnal 1982; Barney Hawkins, professor of pastoral theology and associate dean; Lloyd A. (Tony) Lewis, professor of New Testament [now emeritus] (and assisting clergy at St. Paul’s, K Street); William Bradley Roberts, professor of church music, director of chapel music, committee chair; Thomas Smith, musician at Redeemer, Bethesda [now musician at Christ Church, Georgetown, Washington], and assistant chapel musician at VTS; and Heather Zdancewicz, vice president for administration and finance. This committee worked diligently, considering several builders and visiting many instruments. We were pleased to have been chosen to build the organ for this important and influential Episcopal seminary. The connections seem to fit together. We are a Virginia organbuilder who could take on this important commission. There was also an historic connection between Staunton, Virginia, and the seminary. After the fall of Alexandria at the beginning of the Civil War, the seminary moved for a time to Trinity Episcopal Church in Staunton, Virginia, home church of George Taylor and John Boody.
Over the years, Taylor and Boody have worked together with many architects and acousticians to design and build worship spaces and concert halls. This is one of the things that we do best, but our experience at the Virginia Theological Seminary was unique. We were teamed with Robert A. M. Stern Architects (RAMSA) of New York, New York, a 300-person giant of a firm with hundreds of projects to their credit, including: 15 Central Park West, New York City; Tour Carpe Diem, Paris, France; the George W. Bush Presidential Library; the Comcast Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and the Disney Beach Club Resort, Orlando, Florida. They had, however, relatively little experience in liturgical buildings. Fortunately, the chapel building committee at VTS, led by the Very Reverend Dean Ian S. Markham and the Reverend J. Barney Hawkins IV, assisted by a well-informed committee from the seminary faculty and staff, had a very clear idea of what they wanted. The creative power of the RAMSA team led by Robert A. M. Stern and Grant Marani was harnessed to bring those concepts to life in a refined building plan. There were times when the organbuilders and musicians had to state their requirements clearly, but the end result is a unique and wonderful space that is emblematic of the seminary’s purpose, emphasizing the importance of worship, music, and liturgy in the education of Episcopal priests.
The Immanuel Chapel is a beautifully crafted building. The red brick exterior is not a copy of any building on the VTS campus, but a new creation that harmonizes with the existing historic campus architecture. The RAMSA architects and the builders, Whiting-Turner Contracting of Greenbelt, Maryland, have already won awards for craftsmanship in the chapel’s construction. The building gives the impression of refinement, solidity, and grace that will be enduring. The worship space is in the form of an equal-armed Greek cross with the center defined by a large, circular, black aluminum chandelier. All the furnishings are uniquely designed by the architects and are moveable should the seminary ever want to modify the arrangement. The ceiling is divided into coffers for good sound dispersion. The floor is slate and the walls are hard plaster on concrete block. The acoustic is brilliant in the empty space, toning down to a comfortable and discernible reverberation with full congregation. The air handling is remarkably silent. Mark Holden of Jaffe-Holden was the acoustician, with a peer review done by Bob Mahoney.
The new Opus 70 organ stands 8.3 meters (27 feet) tall at the end of one of the arms of the cross. The case is solid quarter-sawn white oak finished with a clear matte-finish water-based lacquer. The 80% burnished tin Open Diapason 16′ from low F is en façade. The shape of the case is classical but restrained in complexity of moldings and decoration, allowing the organ to be at home in this clean, contemporary space. The effect is powerful and compelling, letting the worshiper know that music is important to the seminary.
The Great organ is at the impost level. The Swell box, made of heavy wood, is in the center, above the Great. The Swell pipes are in major thirds, with the treble pipes in the front. The Swell reeds are placed at both ends of the channels so that tuning can be done from both sides of the box. The Swell shutters are mechanically operated and are on three sides of the box. This makes for a dramatic crescendo and refined control of the Swell sound. The Pedal is on two chests at floor level behind the organ. It speaks directly through tracery grilles on both sides of the lower case and also into the ambulatory that is connected to the chapel acoustic.
The key action is mechanical tracker with the tracker runs done in rectangular carbon fiber 4mm x .6mm. Of all the modern materials that have been used for trackers, carbon fiber is, by far, the best. The carbon fibers are extruded through a die and embedded in epoxy. It comes on a roll a mile long. When the material is taken off the roll, it is perfectly straight and extremely rigid. This reduces the number of guides and hence friction. It is nearly impossible to break and impervious to moisture. The roller boards are made of 3/8-inch square solid aluminum rollers with black walnut bearings. The key levers are thermally treated poplar, which has great stability. All these things together make for a key action that is crisp, precise, and responsive. We do like some mass in the key action, so we make the pallet valves out of white oak. The key coverings are polished cow bone and the sharps are Gabon ebony. The stop action control is by electric solenoids with a combination action by Solid State Organ Systems using Harris drawstops with engraved knobs.
The slider windchests are all solid wood with yellow poplar grids, quarter-sawn yellow poplar sliders, Western red cedar tables 6 mm thick, Eastern white pine toeboards, and quartered white oak pipe racks. The pipe racking was done in a traditional manner with red-hot burning irons fitting the pipes to the racks. This leaves a ring of inert charcoal in contact with the lead-tin alloy pipes. All the pipes were made in the Taylor and Boody workshop of lead-tin alloys. All pipes were hammered with our 50-lb. pneumatic foundry hammer with the exception of the front pipes, which were hand scraped and polished.
The chance to use the 20 white oak trees downed in the derecho and acquiring the logs from the three large oak trees that were removed from the site of the chapel construction was one we could not pass up. We have always been interested in whole-tree utilization. Other Taylor and Boody instruments such as Opus 27 for St. Thomas Fifth Avenue, New York City, have been built from a group of trees harvested in one location. In commercial timbering, the very best logs go for veneer and we never see them. The middle grade are used for saw logs, but usually only for flat-cut boards cut around the outside of the logs. The top logs are used for industrial lumber building timbers and railroad ties. In historic European organs, because the labor-intensive cutting, transportation, and preparation of timber made the wood so valuable, the whole tree was used. There was a hierarchy of use so the best wood went into the pipes, keys, and windchests. Lesser quality was used for the case and carvings, and the lowest for the timbers and supports.
We took these logs, some up to 30 inches in diameter, and split them down the center with a 60-inch chainsaw. The half logs were then placed on our band sawmill at 45 degrees and most of the cutting was done in a radial fashion to produce the maximum amount of lumber with the year rings oriented in vertical or quarter-sawn direction. This lumber is the most stable, dries without defect, and in oak produces the beautiful flake grain pattern that we so cherish. We air-dried the wood on our yard for about a year and then finished off the drying in our dehumidification dry kiln. The results were well worth the effort. This also provides environmental economy and a connection to the saints of VTS who walked beneath those ancient trees.
What kind of organ is appropriate for a seminary? In many of our projects Taylor and Boody has used historic models in the North European style for our projects. Our Opus 65 project at Grace Church, New York City, was a departure from this Schnitger model. Particularly in the construction of the swell boxes and the voicing of the enclosed divisions, the Grace Church organ taught us how effective these divisions can be for choral accompaniment. In the development of the VTS organ we knew that this type of organ would serve the Episcopal seminary well. Coupled with this wide range of expression in the Swell organ, we wanted the Great and Pedal to retain the power and vocal qualities essential to good hymn singing. In the words of Aaron Reichert, who along with Christopher Bono voiced the organ:
Should not the organ sing with as good a vowel as one asks of their choir? The balance of the organ is based on, and in direct relationship with, the fervor with which the VTS community sings. Each division can accompany the other, a soloist, a choir, an orchestra, a congregation, or all combined; coincidentally, being so versatile in accompaniment makes the organ quite a good soloist as well.
The two-manual specification of 34 stops allows for a balanced chorus on each division. There are two mixtures and five manual reeds, giving the organ sufficient power to accompany the robust singing of the seminary congregation. There is also a good complement of string stops: a Salicional on the Great, and Gamba, Celeste, and 4′ Salicet in the Swell, makings for a string chorus. It is useful that both the Great and Swell have Trumpets and solo reeds, the Oboe in English style, and a sweet Clarionet on the Great. The Pedal Open Diapason 16′, which is transmitted from the Great, is quite round and full, having full-length wooden basses. A large-scaled 102⁄3′ Quint Bass gives a synthetic 32′ for a convincing pedal point for English choral music.
This instrument has already proven to be a stimulant to the musicians at VTS. There is often a student or visiting organist learning, discussing, and enjoying the organ. As Bill Roberts said in the mission statement for the organ search: “Procuring a fine organ will enrich the worship life of the community for years to come. It will contribute to the formation of young women and men who are being trained to lead the Church, modeling the power of music to transform lives and bring worshippers into the presence of God.” We also as organ builders believe this and we are honored to have been able to contribute to this landmark project. Soli Deo Gloria.
—George K. Taylor and John H. Boody
Opus 70—The Builders
George Taylor, John Boody, Larry Damico, Emerson Willard, Christopher Bono, Kelley Blanton, Robbie Lawson, Thomas Karaffa, Robert Harris, Erik Boody, Aaron Reichert, Bobbi J. Regi, Katina Lawson, Alessio Giacobone, Christopher Witmer, Jenna Dennison, Chris Peterson, Steven Jett.
Chapel design by Robert A. M. Stern Architects New York, New York.
Design Partner: Grant F. Marani. Senior Associates: Rosa Maria Colina, Charles Toothill. Associates: Esther Park, David Pearson, Leticia Wouk-Almino. Team: James Brackenhoff, Kevin Kelly, Marc Leverant, Marissa Looby, Katie Casanta Rasmussen, Frank Stevens, Mark Talbot, Jessie Turnbull, Chriska Wong.
Landscape Architect: Michael Vergason Landscape Architects. Liturgical Consultant: Terry Byrd Eason Design.
Inaugural Year Events
November 6, 2015, 7:30 p.m., Scott Dettra, dedicatory organ concert
January 10, 2016, 4 p.m., Janet Yieh
March 18, 2016, 7:30 p.m., Marilyn Keiser
April 22, 2016, 7:30 p.m., Dorothy Papadakos accompanies the silent movie, “Hunchback of Notre Dame”
Photo credit: Robbie Lawson
16′ Double Open Diapason
8′ Open Diapason
8′ Spire Flute
4′ Harmonic Flute
V Cornet (from tenor g)
8′ Lieblich Gedackt
8′ Viol da Gamba
8′ Vox Cœlestis (tc)
4′ Rohr Flute
22⁄3′ Quint Flute
*Some bass pipes transmitted from other stops
16′ Open Diapason (Great)
16′ Sub Bass
102⁄3′ Quint Bass
8′ Spire Flute (Great)
8′ Trumpet (Great)
Swell to Great
Great to Pedal
Swell to Pedal
Mechanical swell pedal
Mechanical key action: 58-note manuals, 32-note pedal
Electric stop action with electric solenoid solid state combination action and sequencer by Solid State Organ Systems
Bone keys, ebony sharps
Console integral with the lower case
Pallet and slider wind chests climate proof, all solid wood construction
Organ tuned in Taylor and Boody’s “Grace Church” temperament: a modified equal temperament at a=440 Hertz
2 wedge bellows
2 manuals and pedal, 2,061 pipes, 34 stops, 44 ranks