From the builder
In December of 2011, my long-time friend and colleague Irv Lawless informed me that Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1472 would soon be available for relocation. Though the dialogue made clear that the organ’s location was not to be revealed, it only took an Internet search to reveal it as the organ located in the Concert Hall of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, home for the National Symphony Orchestra.
My first contact with this organ took place in summer of 1996 during the removal of the organ for a complete renovation of the Concert Hall for both visual aesthetics and acoustical renovations. Jack Bethards was enlisted as the consultant for the project, and Irv Lawless, installer and long-time curator of the organ, was to carry out the removal and re-installation of the organ. Those were early years for our company and it was a thrill to be involved with such a job. Though many of the recommendations of Mr. Bethards and Mr. Lawless were followed for the removal and re-installation of the organ, the Concert Hall had presented several acoustical issues over the years and the organ never achieved its intended success.
The gift for the purchase of the Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ came from the Filene Foundation under the direction of Mrs. Catherine Filene Shouse in memory of her parents and was known as the Great Filene Memorial Pipe organ. The grant was given in 1965 and due to economic inflation, the size of the original organ specification was reduced considerably by the time of its installation in 1971. Many of the delays were due to funding of construction of the Kennedy Center itself. Sadly, despite the corrections of chambers and straight-line egress made for the organ placement, the organ was moved physically further out of the room and the prospects of reverberation chambers offstage proved to only further hinder the acoustics of the room.
During the re-installation in 1997, I personally noted the peculiar characteristics of the Concert Hall. Sound projection from the performance stage was weak, but while taking photographs of the installation I observed that people speaking in the balconies could clearly be heard and understood at odd locations throughout the room—not the desired acoustical results of the space. The ultimate attempt to improve the sound projection from the stage into the hall was to hang an acoustical reflecting cloud over the stage area, prohibiting the egress of organ sound even further.
Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1472 featured an extensive specification, including the signature Skinner strings in the Swell and Flauto Dolce and Celeste in the Positiv division. Many reed stops and Pedal stops often duplexed or unified in smaller instruments were complete and straight in this instrument. Conversations among our crew during the re-installation concerned the challenges still confronting the organ and its limited success in the Concert Hall. However, we all agreed the organ offered a substantial range of possibilities as a church instrument. Thus, the decision was eventually made to move another organ into the Concert Hall and relocate Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1472. It was noted, however, that no acoustical changes were made to the Concert Hall for the introduction of the next organ.
As the chapter of life for Opus 1472 with the Kennedy Center concluded, Mr. Lawless contacted us regarding the options of a new home for the organ. Our personal list of clients provided us with three very viable options for Opus 1472 and contacts were made. Responses came immediately from two of the clients expressing an interest in the instrument. Ultimately, Providence United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, would become the new home for Parkey OrganBuilders Opus 14—from the core of the instrument of the Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1472.
We were fully aware that the organ was due for mechanical renovations to the chests and winding system and that the chances of finding the perfect “fit” for existing chests would be slight. The console and relay systems had been renovated several years prior and were in excellent condition. The scaling of the organ was perfect for the church of 800 to 1,200 seats rather than the Concert Hall of 2,700+. With that, we explained to the clients the benefits and changes that would ensue to repurpose the organ as a church instrument.
The organ was completely removed from the Kennedy Center in June of 2012 and shipped to our company in Duluth, Georgia (a suburb of metropolitan Atlanta). The stop list was revised to complement the new installation. New cases designed for the Williamsburg-style sanctuary were part of the new installation. The organ was placed on all new electro-pneumatic slider and unit wind chests. Some minor changes were made to the stop list to reduce the number of mixtures and replace several reeds for a better match to the new location. The original console was retained and refinished with several upgrades to the current Solid State Organ Systems capture and relay systems.
The organ still reflects many of the strong traits that made the Aeolian-Skinner reputation what it is. The organ possesses colorful, complete principal choruses in each division. The Swell offers a large battery of reeds with no unification. The 8′ Vox Regal from the original Aeolian-Skinner installation was retained for the other organ installed at the Kennedy Center. With that, the door was open for a new English-style 8′ Vox Humana featuring separate tremolo. Dr. Adam Ward, director of music ministries at Providence United Methodist Church, was instrumental in providing directions for the tailoring of the instrument to be a strong leader in worship music.
Our Opus 14 replaced a much smaller and failing pipe organ that was built and installed by a local Charlotte firm in 1964. The previous organ’s design was strongly rooted in the neo-Baroque style of organ building. Our Opus 14 has a much warmer and richer sound, providing a strong foundation to lead congregational singing. The benefits of the concert specification still provide endless potential for the performance of an extensive range of literature.
On the surface, the organ is at most a compilation of wood, metal, and wire constructed in a fashion to create sounds for making music. It is the organist and musicians that lend it life and passion to make music for the masses. The original organ served as the leader for a national performing arts center and paved the way for many to experience and hear the sounds of the pipe organ. Countless international organists performed at the Kennedy Center on the organ. Every president since 1973 has been in the audience at some point to hear the organ, and it served to ring in the Christmas season for nearly 41 years with performances of Messiah. Opus 1472 served as the ambassador for the pipe organ and its music.
Providence United Methodist Church will usher in the next chapter in the organ’s history by continuing its strong presence and contributions to music through its ministry in Charlotte, North Carolina. As an active force in missions and community outreach, the church appreciates the history and envisioned the potential in this organ to make an impact on its community in Charlotte. Many of us are glad to see the opportunity for the organ to finally realize its potential of surviving in the “right” location for size and acoustics. The mechanicals, new look, and careful restoration of the pipework have blended together seamlessly for a resoundingly successful organ. The palette of sound will allow organists to paint and weave their magic, and provide support for singing. This will follow the decades of famous organists who have already graced the keys of this organ. Alan Morrison played the dedication recital in September 2013 and provided the Charlotte AGO chapter with a wonderful masterclass during the dedication weekend. Parkey Opus 14 has proved to be a solid selection to complement the music and worship for the congregation of Providence United Methodist Church.
It is a distinct honor for Parkey OrganBuilders to have led this project. The visual and aural aspects of the instrument and its new look and casework are products of Parkey’s experience and understanding of the instrument and the church’s space. The pairing of the Parkey expertise with the passion of the church staff and membership for enhancing the quality of music in worship has produced a phenomenal instrument that will remain a cornerstone to the Charlotte community for years to come.
From the director of music
Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle wrote: “Listen, and for Organ-music thou wilt ever, as of old, hear the Morning Stars sing together.” We at Providence United Methodist Church now have the opportunity to hear the morning stars join their chorus in our worship as we pray, sing, listen, and celebrate the sacrament together. It is a rare and wonderful opportunity and privilege that a church can take on a project as vast as an organ installation. I count myself and our church as fortunate to have had this opportunity to watch what is, in essence, a living and breathing entity take shape in our worship space.
When I came to Providence, I was excited to know that the church was in the process of procuring an organ. While the former instrument had given the church many years of uninterrupted service, it was no longer functioning as a leader in worship. Through the diligence of our congregation and its unfaltering support of the finest music in worship, we now will be led by an organ that will undergird our song, whisper with our prayers, sigh in our mourning, and offer fanfare for our celebration.
We are thrilled to have the opportunity to preserve an American treasure. Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1472, now Parkey OrganBuilders Opus 14, could have been repurposed in a variety of ways; however, we have taken it, given it a new home that is appropriate in every way for its unique identity—and we are the benefactors both visually and sonically. Parkey OrganBuilders’ casework has melded perfectly into our chancel area, looking as if it were original to our room. Furthermore, the commitment to the tonal concepts of the Aeolian-Skinner “sound” have been preserved or, in many cases, restored. It has been exciting to see and hear the progress take place each day.
As we worship at Providence United Methodist Church, we will benefit from the strong support that this instrument will offer. The artistic community of Charlotte will benefit from the musical beauty that will emanate from this organ. Young musicians and old alike will benefit from the education that will be provided by this teaching tool. For the gifts of worship, art, and education, we at Providence United Methodist Church are grateful. We are proud that this instrument will support these endeavors for many years to come.
Dr. Adam Ward—Director of music ministries, Providence United Methodist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina
Dr. James Dorroh—Technical consultant, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church Birmingham, Alabama
Irv Lawless—President, Lawless and Associates Pipe Organ Company, Hagerstown, Maryland
David Nelms—Pipe Organ Services of the Carolinas, Monroe, North Carolina
Parkey OrganBuilders staff
Phillip K. Parkey, President and Tonal Director
Josh Duncan, office manager, installation and wiring
Kenny Lewis, voicing
Michael Morris, case and windchest design, installation, tonal finishing
Philip Read, shop supervisor, construction, installation
Mike Quinn, windchest and case construction, winding and installation
Victor Thomsen, case construction and installation
Otilia Gamboa, chest actions, wiring, installation
Aaron Cobb, onsite installation
Dominique Wilson, onsite installation
Charlie Talmadge, onsite installation