The Masonic Lodge Pipe Organ: Another neglected chapter in the history of pipe organ building in America

July 31, 2008

R. E. Coleberd is a contributing editor of The Diapason.


This article is the second in a series exploring the role of the King of Instruments in American culture. The first article, “The Mortuary Pipe Organ: A Neglected Chapter in the History of Organbuilding in America,” was published in the July 2004 issue of The Diapason.1 (Others to follow will discuss organs in hospitals, hotels, soldiers’ homes and war memorials.) The era of the Masonic Lodge pipe organ, embracing close to 700 instruments, began in the 1860s, reached its zenith in the first three decades of the twentieth century, and with certain exceptions ended shortly after World War II.2 In the religious, ritualistic format of the Masonic movement, the pipe organ made a statement. It was deemed essential to crown the ambiance of the journey through the several chapters of the order (Blue Lodge, Royal Arch, Scottish Rite, Shrine and other “Rites”), and it complemented the majestic buildings, often architectural masterpieces, which contributed significantly to an attractive urban landscape. A closer look at the market, the instrument, and the builders reveals key features of this fascinating epoch, which surely belongs in the rich and colorful history of pipe organ building in America.

The Masonic Lodge
The Masonic Lodge was a broad-based, worldwide social and cultural movement with origins in antiquity, which counted the St. John’s Lodge in Boston, established in 1733, as its beginning in this country. George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were Masons.3 Encompassing immigration, urbanization, social solidarity and individual identity, it satisfied a desire to belong. Lodge membership was a mark of recognition and status in the community, and a transcending emotional experience in ritual and décor in the otherwise anonymous atmosphere of urban life. A noted German sociologist, Max Weber, visiting America in 1905, spoke of voluntary associations “as bridging the transition between the closed hierarchical society of the Old World and the fragmented individualism of the New World” and saw them performing a “crucial social function” in American life.4 The well-known social commentator and newspaper columnist, Max Lerner, in his epic work America as a Civilization, saw one of the motivations behind “joining” as “the integrative impulse of forming ties with like-minded people and thus finding status in the community.”5 Ray Willard, organist at the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Joplin, Missouri (M. P. Möller Opus 3441, 1922), observes that membership embraced all walks of life: from business and professional men, many of them community leaders and perhaps well-to-do, to everyday citizens.6 Masonic membership paralleled population growth and reached a peak in the first three decades of the twentieth century. New York State counted 872 lodges and 230,770 members in 1903.7 Pre-World War II Masonic membership in the United States totaled 3,295,872 in 1928.8
Of special interest is the long-recognized connection between the railroad industry and the Masonic Lodge. Railroad men were lodge men, and railroad towns were lodge towns. The railroad was the predominant conveyance in freight and passenger travel in the first decades of the last century. In 1916, railroad mileage in this country peaked at 254,000 miles, and in 1922, railroad employment reached over two million workers, the largest labor force in the American economy.9 These totals reflected the number of trains and crews, station, yard, and track workers, and the maintenance demands of the steam locomotive. The comparatively well-paid railroad workers were no doubt important in building Masonic temples. In 1920, average wages in the railroad industry were 33 percent above those in manufacturing.10 In one of what must have been numerous examples, Masonic employees of the Big Four Railroad in Indianapolis donated eight art-glass windows on the east wall of the second floor foyer of the Scottish Rite Cathedral there (q.v.).11

The market
The Masonic Lodge market differed significantly from other pipe organ markets. For the larger facilities in metropolitan locations, the Masonic building was typically a matrix of rooms, often on several stories, and each with a different décor, e.g., Corinthian Hall, Gothic Hall, Ionic Hall. Each chapter room required a pipe organ to support the ritual proceedings. The centerpiece of the building was the auditorium, manifestly different from a church sanctuary. Typically square in layout, it featured a large curtained stage in front, cushioned opera-chair seating on the main floor, and perhaps side and end balconies. The pipe chambers were quite often in the proscenium above the stage, with other divisions almost anywhere—in back of the stage, above a side balcony, in a rear balcony, etc. Occasionally, chambers with a pipe fence flanked either side of the stage. The organ console was on the floor in front of the stage.
It was especially important that the auditorium instrument look large. Just as an upright or spinet piano would have been out of place on the stage, so too would a two-manual organ console be inappropriate on the floor in front of the stage. It must be a concert grand piano on the stage and a three-manual, better yet a four-manual console on the auditorium floor, with lots of drawknobs or stop tabs for everyone to see. To achieve this image of “bigness” within the limitations of chamber space or perhaps budget, builders often resorted to extensive unification and duplexing.
The Masonic Lodge pipe organ era began in 1860 when E. & G. G. Hook built one-manual instruments for temples in Massachusetts: in Lawrence, 14 registers, Opus 275, and in New Bedford, 12 registers, Opus 281.12 In 1863, William A. Johnson built a one-manual instrument of nine registers, Opus 144, for the lodge in Geneva, New York.13 In 1867, Joseph Mayer, California’s first organbuilder, built an instrument for the “Free Masons” in San Francisco.14 The three organs built by Jardine in 1869 for New York City, in this case for the Odd Fellows Hall, marked the beginning of what would become a salient feature of the lodge market: multiple instruments for one building, often under one contract and several with identical stoplists.15 (See Table 1.) One particularly interesting example was the three instruments Hutchings built for the Masonic Lodge in Boston in 1899. The stoplists were identical (q.v.), but each one was in a different case to conform to the décor of the room. Wind from a single blower was directed to one instrument by a valve opened when the console lid was raised, turning on the blower.16
The pinnacle of the multiple contract practice came first in 1909, when Austin built twelve organs for the Masonic Lodge in New York City; in 1927, when Möller built nine for a temple in Cincinnati, Ohio. Eleven of the twelve Austins were identical two-manual instruments, eight of the nine Möllers.17 An Austin stock model that found its way into the Masonic market was the Chorophone, introduced in 1916. Austin sold nine of these instruments to Masonic Lodges. Opus 896 was exported to the lodge in Manila, the Philippine Islands, in 1920.18

The instrument
R. E. Wagner, vice-president of Organ Supply Industries, points out that the Masonic Lodge pipe organ followed closely—tonally and mechanically—the evolution of the King of Instruments in this country: from the one- and two- manual classic-style tracker organs of the nineteenth century to a brief sojourn with tubular-pneumatic action at the turn of the century, followed by the symphonic-orchestral tonal paradigm and sophisticated electro-pneumatic windchest and console action in the 1920s. It also followed a return to the American classic style beginning later in that decade.19 The liturgy-based nature of Masonic ritual would suggest a church-type instrument, one in which eight-foot pitch predominated. This was true in the beginning and in smaller instruments.
The three Hutchings instruments in Boston (q.v.), Opus 475–477, were each fourteen ranks.20 The eleven identical Austin instruments for New York City in 1909 had five ranks: an 8? Open Diapason on the Great with four ranks duplexed from the Swell (8? Stopped Diapason, 8? Dulciana, 8? Viol d’Orchestra, and 4? Harmonic Flute). There was no pedal. The twelfth organ on this contract was a 17-rank, three-manual organ with the Choir manual duplexed entirely from the ten-rank Swell manual. The seven stops of the Pedal organ were all extensions of manual stops.21 Austin’s two-manual Chorophone comprised four ranks—Bourdon, Dolce, Open Diapason and Viole—unified into 27 speaking stops from 16? to 2?.22
By the 1920s, the Golden Age of the Masonic Lodge pipe organ, the three- or four-manual organ in the lodge auditorium was frequently an eclectic instrument, embracing theatre stops and even toy counters in addition to traditional liturgical stops. Add to this a “quaint” stop now and then, i.e., a bugle call. Did you ever hear of Solomon’s Trumpet? (See 1926-2000 Kimball, Guthrie, Oklahoma q.v.) As Willard points out, these instruments were designed to play the marches, patriotic selections, and orchestral and opera transcriptions used in ritual work, as well as theatre organ and popular music of the day when the auditorium was used for entertainment.23
The mixing of liturgical and theatre stops reflected the fact that in the 1920s the concept of organ music was broadly defined, and with the introduction of the theatre organ, the distinction between liturgical and theatre voicing and sound was blurred. If anything, the eight-foot pitch tonal palette of the church organ, characterized then by wide-scale diapasons and flutes, narrow-scale strings, high-pressure reeds, and the absence of mutations and mixtures, served to further obscure this distinction.
Two stops particularly symbolic of this era and that disappeared until recently, the Stentorphone and the Ophicleide, were found in large lodge organs. Manuel Rosales, well-known California organbuilder, believes they can best be explained as items of fashion. “As the Hope-Jones ideas influenced the times with very large diapasons, the idea of the Stentorphone being a sort of superstar of the diapason family found its way into legitimate specifications. It was placed on the Solo manual rather than being put on the main divisions, and in that capacity wouldn’t destroy the balance between the stops on the Great. Couple the Solo to the Great and it works to beef things up.”24 With the tremolo on the Solo, the Stentorphone could also be used as a solo stop.
The ophicleide, a 19th-century brass orchestral instrument, was said to have been invented in Paris about 1817. It was popular in symphony and opera orchestras and in military bands of the 1830s and 1840s, being eventually replaced by the modern tuba. As a fashionable organ stop, the Ophicleide might appear on the Great manual as a powerful, high-pressure reed, a double tuba which, when coupled to the customary 8? Tuba on this manual, formed a chorus.25
The predominant characteristics of the three- and four-manual Masonic Lodge pipe organs, with the exception of those built by E. M. Skinner, seem obvious when viewed from the stoplists discussed below. They confirm our assumption that the Masonic Lodge instrument differed markedly from other pipe organs. Beginning with extensive unification and duplexing, the number of stops is double or more the number of ranks of pipes. Pedal divisions with only one or two independent ranks were typical, and duplicate consoles, the second perhaps a two-manual to control two divisions, were found. Sometimes second touch and a roll player were added to the console. The high-pressure reeds of the day, Ophicleide and Tuba, found on the Great division, required higher wind pressure than the flues to achieve their desired tone quality and power—ten inches versus six inchePs—and therefore were placed on a separate windchest. The Vox Humana was often placed in its own enclosure. Each manual division had a tremolo, and often individual stops such as the Diapason, Tibia and Vox Humana had separate tremolos. The entire instrument was often totally enclosed. Duplexing and unification were made possible by the complex and sophisticated switching in windchest and console innovations that marked the American builders during this period and that made their product by far the most technologically advanced in the world.
The three-manual Kimball organ, Opus 6781, in the Denver Scottish Rite Cathedral, now Consistory, with 19 ranks, 50 stops and 1,459 pipes, illustrates these features (see stoplist). On the Great division, five ranks comprise eleven speaking stops—four ranks with extensions—and only the 8? Tuba is an independent (one pitch) voice. The Diapason and Tuba each have their own tremolo. The Solo (second) division comprises 10 ranks and 20 stops, with the Gedeckt unified into six stops, from 16? to 13?5?. The third division, designated the Accompaniment manual, counts four ranks and seven unit stops duplexed from the Great. The organist, Charles Shaeffer, comments that the English Horn on the Accompaniment manual is unique to Kimball, voiced closer to the Oboe in contrast to an English Horn on theatre organs, which resembles an English Post Horn. He adds that the Marimba on the Solo is “reiterating,” meaning that it repeats rapidly and therefore contrasts with the single-stroke Harp on the Great.26 The String Mixture is wired from the Salicional, and the Orchestral Oboe from the Gedeckt and Viol d’Orchestra. The Tibia Clausa is independent and has its own tremolo. The nine-stop Pedal organ is entirely duplexed from the Great and Solo divisions. The bugle call is played by buttons above the keyboards. The manual compass is 73 pipes, adopted by many builders during this period to forgo upperwork and achieve brilliance through the 4? coupler, a primary registration aid.27 All divisions are enclosed, and each manual has at least one tremolo. The toy counter and pedal second touch complete the instrument.
The 8? Wald Horn on the Great, a departure from traditional pipework nomenclature, requires an explanation. A Wald Horn is customarily a chorus reed with English shallots, voiced somewhere between a Trumpet and an Oboe.28 In this example, unique to Kimball and employed briefly, 1922–1924, it is a spotted-metal tapered (one-half) open flue rank of medium scale. With more definition than a stopped flute, but with limited harmonics, it is horn-like and perhaps best described as a heavy spitzflute.29 Noteworthy in Kimball organs, and a lasting legacy of this builder, are the superb strings, the work of the legendary voicer George Michel. As the late David Junchen commented: “Michel’s strings set the standard by which all others were judged. Their richness, timbre and incredible promptness of speech, even in the 32? octave, have never been surpassed.”30

Four and five manuals
The four- and five-manual Masonic Lodge era began in 1912, when Hook & Hastings built a 53-rank, 62-stop, five-manual instrument for the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Dallas. Far less unified than later work and with a 61-pipe compass for manual stops, it reflected the church organ background of this eastern builder. But it did contain a Stentorphone and Ophicleide, two consoles, and a player mechanism.31 The next year, 1915, Austin built a five-manual, 74-rank, 89-stop, 4,860-pipe organ, Opus 558, for the Medinah Temple in Chicago. Now in storage, this instrument was for many years the largest Masonic Lodge pipe organ in America and was, perhaps, the best known among the organist fraternity.32
The four- and five-manual market was largely the province of the nationally known major builders Austin, Estey, Kimball, Möller and Skinner (see Table 2). They used large lodge installations in their sales pitch, and buyers were no doubt influenced by them in their choice of builder. Describing their four-manual Möller, Opus 3441, 1922, in Joplin, Missouri, the Scottish Rite Cathedral states: “There were five four-manual organs built by Möller in the early 1920s similar to the Joplin organ. They are in the United States Military Academy, West Point, N.Y., the Scottish Rite pipe organ in San Antonio, Texas, Temple Beth-El, New York City, and the Masonic Building, Memphis, Tennessee.”33 Michael Brooks, recent Sovereign Grand Inspector General of the St. Louis Scottish Rite Cathedral, points out that his temple is the proud owner of one of four Kimball four-manual lodge organs. The others are Guthrie, Oklahoma (q.v.), Minneapolis (now in storage), and Oklahoma City.34
The lodge market also reflected the work of John A. Bell (1864–1935), a prolific designer, who in 1927 was said to have drawn up specifications for over 500 pipe organs in the eastern United States. Bell, a Mason, was organist at the First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh for over 40 years.35 Allen Kinzey, Aeolian-Skinner veteran, says Bell’s stoplists typically included a large-scale, heavy-metal, leather-lipped, unenclosed 8? Diapason on the Great. Also, all manual stops of 16? and 8? pitch (excluding celestes) had 73 pipes, while stops of 4? pitch and above had 61.36 Bell designed instruments for Masonic temples in Cincinnati and Dayton and the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Indianapolis.37 (q.v.)
The Skinner/Aeolian-Skinner five-manual, eight-division, 77-rank, 81-stop, 5,022-pipe organ in the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Indianapolis, Opus 696-696B, is the largest instrument in the Masonic movement in America today (see stoplist). The building’s title is appropriate because it is most likely the largest such edifice ever built in this country and is beyond doubt the most lavishly appointed, replete with Masonic symbolism at every turn: stone carvings and figurines, 70 art glass windows, and elevator door decoration. This architectural masterpiece is crowned by a 212-foot main tower, housing a 63-bell Taylor (Loughborough, England) carillon. The Medieval Gothic interior features imported Carpathian white oak, Russian curly oak, and Italian, Tennessee and Vermont marble.38
This signature instrument was built in 1929 by E. M. Skinner, with four manuals, 65 ranks, 68 stops, 4,365 pipes.39 Skinner had defined his instrument in building church organs and he stayed very close to this paradigm in his lodge installations. With comparatively limited unification and duplexing, this organ features a mixture, mutations and principal chorus on the Great. This organ reflects the influence of John Bell (q.v.). Manual compass is 73 notes for foundation stops, 8? and below, and 61 notes for 4? stops and above. The First Diapason on the Great is 38 scale, heavy metal and leather-lipped. The Second Diapason is 40 scale, a customary scale for the first diapason. These two stops plus the 16? Open Diapason and 8? Gross Flute are unenclosed. The tremolo on the Great is described as high and low wind, reflecting the difference in wind pressure between the flues and the reeds. The Great reeds are on 12-inch wind as is the entire Solo manual, the latter likely because of the Stentorphone there, also 38 scale, heavy metal, and leathered. The Solo Tuba Mirabilis is on 20 inches of wind and not affected by the tremolo. The Diapason on the Swell is also 40 scale and leathered. The 4? Celestial Harp on the Great is subject to sub and super (octave) couplers. The Cathedral Chimes on the Echo has 25 tubes, from tenor C. A description in The Diapason commented: “Couplers and pistons will increase the number of playing devices at the command of the performer to 158.”40 In 1949, Aeolian-Skinner enlarged this instrument with two new divisions of four ranks each.41 A new five-manual console by Reisner was installed in 1969.42

St. Louis
The four-manual Kimball in the Scottish Rite Cathedral in St. Louis, now awaiting restoration, illustrates other features of the lodge pipe organ (see stoplist). With 113 speaking stops from 54 ranks of pipes, a virtually complete toy counter plus piano, marimba, xylophone, harp, chimes and orchestral bells, it is perhaps the apex of the four-manual lodge instrument, a veritable music-making machine. In this organ, the basic manual stop compass is 61 notes and the 8? pitch dominates the tonal palette. Among the 24 stops from ten ranks on the Great, the Principal Diapason is wood and the Twelfth and Fifteenth are taken from the Waldhorn (q.v.). This instrument doesn’t have a mixture on the Great or pretend to have a principal chorus; it is a collection of orchestral colors, including the luxury of three 16? open flues on the Swell, all oriented to fundamental tone as illustrated by the Phonon Diapason there, which emphasizes the eight-foot tone.43 The unit Gedeckt on the Swell speaks as six stops, from 16? to 13?5?. The Swell has separate tremolos for the Tibia Clausa and the strings. The Vox Humana vibratos on the Swell and the Echo are a tremolo. The Pedal organ counts 25 stops derived from two ranks; a 32? Bourdon, and a 32? Bombarde with three extensions. The rest are borrowed from or extensions of manual stops.

The builders
The lodge market was important to American builders in new installations, repeat sales, replacing trackers with modern instruments, additions and upgrades. The bulk of these organs were, not surprisingly, two-manual instruments, and some were stock models, designed to accommodate what we have elsewhere called the commodity segment of the market.44 For small instruments, there was scarcely any brand preference or real or imagined product differentiation to the buyer. To these lodges an organ was an organ and the sooner the better. As in other markets, a second-hand trade emerged with instruments sold to Masonic Lodges from elsewhere.
Table 3 portrays the work of thirteen builders, names familiar today. The larger firms—Austin, Estey, Kimball and Möller, well known coast-to-coast through numerous installations and with aggressive sales representation—accounted for the majority of lodge instruments. Factory production dominated the industry during this period, and these builders could meet any requirement: budget, placement and timetable. Regional builders Hillgreen-Lane and Pilcher also enjoyed lodge business, as did many local firms. In 1917, Reuben Midmer & Sons counted six organs for the Masonic Temple in Brooklyn. Lewis & Hitchcock built instruments for Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.45 In California, an early last-century firm, the Murray M. Harris Company, built lodge organs for Fresno, Oakland, and San Francisco, California as well as for Santa Fe, New Mexico.46 In 1928, the Rochester Pipe Organ Company built two identical three-manual, 20-rank instruments for the Masonic Temple in Rochester, New York.47 In 1908, the Adrian Organ Company rebuilt a nine-rank, one-manual organ, from two prior locations, for the Masonic Temple in Adrian, Michigan.48
The lodge market also figured in the locational history of the American organ industry. In 1859, the Pilcher Brothers, then in St. Louis, built a one-manual organ for the Golden Rule Lodge there. In April 1863, perhaps in search of a market opportunity, they moved to Chicago where, in September, they contracted to build a one-manual organ for the Oriental Lodge there.49 In 1919, the Reuter-Schwartz Company of Trenton, Illinois built an instrument for the Masonic Temple in Lawrence, Kansas. This prompted their move to Lawrence, having found a source of capital in the Russell family who, in turn, found a business opportunity for their son Charlie, just graduated from the University of Kansas. Charlie Russell became the bookkeeper at Reuter, and the Russell family owned Reuter for many years.50
Many of the larger instruments, sources of pride for these lodges, are regularly serviced and updated as needed, perhaps with major funding from prominent members. When the signature 1926 Kimball in the Scottish Rite Masonic Center in Guthrie, Oklahoma (four manuals, 67 ranks, 72 speaking stops, 5,373 pipes)51 required renovation in 1990, Judge and Mrs. Frederick Daugherty financed the project. The work, by long-time curators McCrary Pipe Organ Company of Oklahoma City, included solid-state switching and relays, new keyboards, and new stop and combination action. A digital recording and playback unit was installed, so the instrument can be played for tours of the building—a common practice in large temples. Completing the project was installation of a full-length 32? Pedal Bombarde, built by F. J. Rogers in England, and a horizontal trumpet, dutifully called Solomon’s Trumpet, reflecting the role of King Solomon and his temple in Masonic ritual.52

Summary and conclusions
The Masonic Lodge pipe organ is another illustration of the role of the King of Instruments in American culture. The Masons, a culturally and socially prominent feature of American life, found the instrument an economic and efficient vehicle in meeting the musical needs of their ritual proceedings. The tonal resources of the larger instruments afforded almost unlimited capabilities in the full spectrum of instrumental music. This was made possible by technological advances in organbuilding, which mark a singular achievement of the American industry. In many locations, these magnificent instruments enjoy the respect and admiration of today’s Masonic membership, and in the larger organ world are recognized as a vital segment in the rich and colorful history of pipe organ building in America.

For research assistance and critical comments on earlier drafts of this paper, the author gratefully acknowledges: Jack Bethards, E. A. Boadway, Michael Brooks, Mark Caldwell, John Carnahan, Ronald Dean, Dave Fabry, Steuart Goodwin, Keith Gottschall, Allen Kinzey, Fred Kortepeter, Dennis Milnar, Rick Morel, George Nelson, Albert Neutel, Orpha Ochse, Don Olson, Louis Patterson, Michael Quimby, Michele Raeburn, Robert Reich, Gary Rickert, Manuel Rosales, Dorothy Schaake, Kurt Schakel, Alan Sciranko, Charles Shaeffer, Jack Sievert, Richard Taylor, R. E. Wagner, Martin Walsh and Ray Willard.


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