New Organs

November 2, 2015

Dobson Pipe Organ Builders, Lake City, Iowa, Opus 92

The Steve and Judy Turner Recital Hall, Vanderbilt University,

Nashville, Tennessee

Try as we might, we can never replicate the art of a previous age—inevitably, our effort bears our own, unique stamp. Rather than meticulously copy details of historic organs, our new instrument for Blair School of Music frankly admits the impossibility of literal quotation. Instead, it seeks to interpret the essentials of several important central German organ traditions from the baroque era in a way that serves a 21st-century music program.

As in all of its history, the organ’s physical placement greatly determines its character. The location of the previous pipe organ (a rebuilt electric-action instrument), together with the university’s desire to relinquish no stage space, seemed initially to defy the placement of a mechanical-action pipe organ. After thoughtful conversations with Prof. Carl Smith and Paul Marshall, Vanderbilt’s project manager, we developed a design placing the manual divisions side-by-side—Great on the left, Swell on the right—with the Pedal behind. The console is recessed behind new doors in the rear wall of the stage, which when closed give no inkling of what lies behind. Suspended mechanical key action is provided, together with electric stop action and a multilevel combination action. This is not a historical solution, but it responds to a present-day situation in a way that is true to tradition.

Tonally, the organ draws inspiration from Saxon and Thuringian organs of the 17th and 18th centuries, the sort of instruments that surrounded and were admired by Johann Sebastian Bach. Because of the new organ’s physical arrangement, there is little spatial distinction between the two manual departments, something that is often pronounced in old instruments whose manual divisions were always placed one over the other or behind the other. To accentuate the tonal differences between our divisions, the Great pipework was made of an alloy rich in lead, while the Swell pipes are largely of tin. Together with appropriate voicing, the effect is striking, as though the Great is an older organ enlarged by a newer, second department. The tuning system, Herbert Anton Kellner’s excellent temperament, is a perfect distillation of Opus 92’s aesthetic intention: devised in 1977, it is not a historic temperament, yet admirably serves both old and new music.

The organ’s appearance is cut from the same philosophical cloth. The shape of the white oak case and the relationship of the various compartments to one another are historically derived, but the architectural treatment is simplified out of respect for the organ’s 20th-century surroundings.

With a unique perspective that brings the art of past centuries forward in a lively and engaging way, Opus 92 opens new avenues for organ performance in Nashville. We are confident that both performers and listeners will find the result rewarding.

—John Panning


GREAT (58 notes)

16 Quintadena 58 pipes

8 Principal 58 pipes

8 Rohrflöte 58 pipes

8 Viol di Gamba 58 pipes

4 Octava 58 pipes

4 Spitzflöte 58 pipes

223 Nasat 58 pipes

2 Octava 58 pipes

135 Tertia 58 pipes

IV Mixtur 113 232 pipes

8 Dulzian 58 pipes


SWELL (58 notes, enclosed)

8 Geigen Principal 58 pipes

8 Schwebung (low F) 53 pipes

8 Gedackt 58 pipes

4 Octava 58 pipes

4 Flauto Triangolare 58 pipes

2 Octava 58 pipes

113 Quinta 58 pipes

1 Octava 58 pipes

8 Trompete 58 pipes

Tremulant (affects entire organ)

PEDAL (30 notes)

16 Principal 30 pipes

16 Subbass 42 pipes

16 Quintadena (Great)

8 Octava 42 pipes

8 Gedackt (ext.)

8 Violon (Great)

4 Octava (ext.)

16 Posaune 42 pipes

8 Trumpet (ext.)



Great to Pedal

Swell to Pedal

Swell to Great


Case of American white oak

Manual keys of bone and ebony, Pedal keys of hard maple and ebony

Suspended mechanical key action, 

electric stop action

256-level combination action


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