New Organs

January 18, 2013

Scott Smith Pipe Organs, 

Lansing, Michigan

Newman Residence, 

Clio, Michigan

When the builder was first approached about this project, the concept was merely to combine two identical three-rank Wicks organs into a single instrument. By the end of the initial meeting, and with a little arm-twisting, the owner became convinced that with a few changes, a much more musically satisfying outcome was possible.

To say that organist and choir director Richard Newman is a devoted music lover is an understatement. His ever-evolving music room contains three reproducing grand pianos, one upright, two Victrolas, a disk-type music box, and at least two harmoniums in addition to the pipe organ. Elsewhere in the house are two more reproducing grands, several other harmoniums, and more music boxes. The space, a converted three-car garage open to the rafters, has been expertly finished by the owner in a manner compatible with the historic 1860s farmhouse to which it is attached, replete with beveled glass entry doors, stained-glass windows, custom-milled paneling, and period furnishings. Acoustics are good, and the organ fills the room well, without being either mousy or overwhelming.

The two original instruments, built ten years apart, were identical in some ways, and quite different in others. Both began life with similar two-manual consoles and choice of ranks: 16–2 Stopped Flute, 8 (T.C.) Open Diapason, and 8–4 (GG) Viole. The comparative scalings of the Violes and the Stopped Flutes were somewhat similar, but oddly, it was the later instrument that contained the larger-scale Open Diapason. The older instrument, Opus 1743 (1935) from Sacred Heart Catholic Church in nearby Flint, offered a typically simple but handsome case for the Wicks Sonata line, which became the Great division. The other instrument, from the mid-1940s, was originally installed in an unknown church in Ohio, and forms the basis for the Swell.

The original Bourdon bass in the Great was a rather demure, almost inaudible set, and was replaced by another Wicks Bourdon originally installed in an unknown Flint church. In an ironic twist, this orphan Bourdon was picked up rather coincidentally by the builder during an acquisition trip in Wisconsin, and has now returned to the other side of “The Lake” to a location near where it played for many years. Being of larger scale, the Bourdon now resides outside the case, and the holes that previously held the original Bourdon now contain an orphan 8 Diapason bass; something it never had before, and as we found it, remarkably mitered to fit inside the case perfectly. The Great Viole was moved to the Swell to become the celeste for the matching set there, and replaced by a Wicks Dulciana, whose overall tonal characteristic is similar to that of a small Diapason. The middle portion of the Stopped Flute was removed and replaced with a wooden Harmonic Flute from a 1916 Aeolian residence organ in Grand Rapids. The large Open Diapason was moved to the Great, displacing the smaller set to the Swell.

Builders who worked on the project include Joe Granger, Scott Smith, with assistance from Richard Newman. Many thanks to Richard Swanson of Grand Ledge, whose advice and parts proved to be invaluable.

—Scott Smith


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