The St. John’s Organ Society of Bangor, Maine, reached a noteworthy milepost this fall with its “silver” anniversary! The organization was established a quarter of a century ago to maintain, promote, and foster public interest in E. & G. G. Hook Opus 288 (1860), an illustrious, three-manual pipe organ in the back gallery of St. John’s Catholic Church. The society has sponsored a considerable number of cultural events surrounding this instrument, including concerts, symposia, and teaching institutes. The organ is a large, fully American Romantic organ, equal in grandeur to anything comparable in Europe, and is situated in a reverberant 1855 Gothic-revival building. The instrument has had work, especially in 1980 when it was restored by George Bozeman & Co., and more recently by Robert C. Newton and the Andover Organ Company. The society is directed by Kevin Birch, the organist and music director at St. John’s; Catherine Bruno, an advocate known for her infectious enthusiasm and organizational skills; and a loyal coterie of volunteers. The fact that this society has flourished through several pastoral changes at the church is in itself a noted accomplishment.
The Maine Historic Organ Institute
To celebrate this anniversary, the society sponsored the Maine Historic Organ Institute this fall between October 24 and 28. The institute featured concerts, lectures, masterclasses, and organ tours using St. John’s Hook and a number of historic instruments nearby. Most of those were built by the Hooks (or their successors), but we also saw an important 1849 instrument by George Stevens in First Parish Church, Belfast. What made the institute memorable was the diverse cross-section of the participants—organbuilders, performers, scholars, students, and five well-respected American teachers. The gathering provided an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas, hear and visit organs, interact, study, and consider the organ from a variety of contrasting but complimentary perspectives. A surprising guest among the registrants was the great American soprano, Phyllis Bryn-Julson, universally recognized for her iconic interpretation of atonal and twelve-tone music. Bryn-Julson happens to like organ music!
Central to the institute were a series of four evening performances by the teaching faculty: Kevin Birch, Margaret Harper, Christian Lane, Jonathan Moyer, and Dana Robinson. The repertoire varied, but one evening each was devoted to American, French, and German compositions, and the final evening was given dedicated to “Masterworks for the Organ.” The quality of the playing was impeccable, but a few of the highlights included Birch’s exquisite reading of “Andante sostenuto” from Symphonie Gothique, op. 70, of Charles-Marie Widor, and Harper’s elegant performance of “Vater unser im Himmelreich” (BWV 682) from the Clavierübung of Johann Sebastian Bach, surely one of the hardest pieces in the repertoire. To my ears, the performance honors went to the remarkable Dana Robinson from the University of Illinois at Champaign. His performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s Sonata No. 1 in F, op. 65, no. 1, and the Choral in E Major by César Franck were among the finest interpretations of those works I recall hearing. A few at the institute referred to Robinson as an “organists’ organist,” and his faultless accuracy, rhythmic drive, and musical sensitivity were astounding. Regardless of the literature, Opus 288 was convincing. Put simply, it is a really good organ; it was a privilege to hear it played so well day after day.
Students, teachers, scholars, and organbuilders
A feature of the institute was a series of masterclasses. While many of the participants opted to visit the region’s historic organs instead, the students worked with the faculty daily on old and new literature. Andrew Scanlon, organ professor from East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina (and a distinguished player in his own right), brought a number of his students. They were excited to study with the faculty, and a Friday-morning program featuring them was enthusiastically applauded.
Significant elements of new scholarship were offered. Barbara Owen’s book, Hook Organs in the State of Maine, recently published by the Organ Historical Society Press (ISBN 978-0-913499-80-1), reinforced the topic of her lecture. David E. Wallace, noted organbuilder from Gorham, Maine, gave a detailed account of current organ work in the state. He also produced a detailed handout on the known work of George Stevens in Maine. George Bozeman presented an admirable presentation-recital on the English voluntary. The Stevens organ at First Parish Church in Belfast—an organ Bozeman beautifully restored in 1975—served the purposes of this genre with distinction and was well-received. James Woodman, a composer of some note, spoke on the attributes of small organs. Vermont’s remarkable organbuilder, A. David Moore, shared some of the challenges he faced recently restoring a Hook organ, Opus 304 (1861), for Bangor’s Hammond Street Congregational Church. His discussion was illustrated, and Moore showed us different types of organ pipes, explaining how their physical characteristics influenced the sound they produced.
Other well-known organ builders were present and added immeasurably to the discussions; among them were William F. Czelusniak, Scot L. Huntington, and the great-granddaddy, the honorable Robert C. Newton. While three organbuilders brought chamber instruments to the institute, it was the superb wood-working skills of Nicholas Wallace (a member of The Diapason’s 20 Under 30 Class of 2015) that most impressed attendees. Expect to hear much more from this young organbuilder in the future.
The Organ Historical Society was much in evidence: no less than three former presidents, several former members of its national council and staff, and a considerable number of current members were present. A few “extras” at the event, such as an old-fashioned, New England chicken-pie supper, and a visit to the award-winning Young’s Lobster Pound in Belfast, were enjoyed. And Lorna and Carlton Russell’s fine and carefully planned demonstration on the elegant 1847 Hook organ in Stockton Springs was greatly appreciated.
We left the institute on Saturday wanting more. Bangor is certainly not on the ordinary traveling routes of most people, and getting there was a challenge for anyone outside northern New England. Some seventy participants came from as far away as Colorado, Georgia, and Texas. St. John’s Organ Society brought a varied group of people together for an extraordinary event that was as enjoyable as it was informative. Putting an event like this together is a lot of work. Sincere thanks and a warm salute were extended to Kevin Birch, Cathy Bruno, and the members of St. John’s Organ Society for a satisfying experience.
E. & G. G. Hook Opus 288 (1860)
St. John’s Catholic Church, Bangor, Maine
Great (Manual II)
16′ Bourdon (wood, 56 pipes)
8′ Op. Diapason (metal, 56 pipes)
8′ Melodia (TC, wood, 44 pipes)
8′ Std Diapason Bass (wood, 12 pipes)
4′ Principal (metal, 56 pipes)
4′ Flute (wood, 56 pipes)
22⁄3′ Twelfth (metal, 56 pipes)
2′ Fifteenth (metal, 56 pipes)*
3 ranks Sesquialtra (metal, 168 pipes)
8′ Trumpet (metal, 56 pipes)
4′ Clarion (metal, 56 pipes)
Swell (Manual III, enclosed, balanced Swell pedal, originally hitch-down)
16′ Bourdon (TC, wood, 56 pipes)
8′ Op. Diapason (TC, metal, 44 pipes)*
8′ Viol di Gamba (metal, 56 pipes)*
8′ Stopd Diapason (wood and metal,
4′ Principal (metal, 56 pipes)*
4′ Flute Harmonique (metal, 56 pipes)*
2′ Fifteenth (metal, 56 pipes)*
3 ranks Dulciana Cornet (metal, 161 pipes)
8′ Trumpet (metal, 56 pipes)
8′ Oboe (TC, metal, 44 pipes)*
16′ Eolina (TC, metal, 44 pipes)
8′ Open Diapason (metal, 56 pipes)
8′ Dulciana (TC, metal, 44 pipes)*
8′ Viola d’Amour (metal, 56 pipes)*
8′ Stopd Diapason (wood, 56 pipes)
4′ Celestina (metal, 56 pipes)*
4′ Flute a’ Chiminee (metal, 56 pipes)
2′ Picolo (metal, 56 pipes)
8′ Cremona (TC, metal, 44 pipes)
8′ Corno di Basetto (CC–C, 12 pipes)
16′ Dble. Op. Diapn (wood, 27 pipes)
16′ Dble. Dulciana (wood, 27 pipes)
16′ Grand Posaune (wood, 27 pipes,
Couplers and Mechanicals:
Sw. to Gr.
Sw. to Ch.
Ch. to Gr. Sub 8va.
Gr. to Ped.
Ch. to Ped.
Sw. to Ped.
Four unlabelled single-acting pedals:
Great to Pedal Reversible
Manual compass: 56 notes (CC–g3); pedal compass: 27 notes (CCC–D, originally 25 notes)
*Original label missing
The organ was first played by Boston organist John Henry Willcox on Christmas Eve, 1860. It was restored by the Bozeman-Gibson Organ Co. in 1981, and more recently has been under the care of Robert C. Newton and the Andover Organ Co. of Methuen, Massachusetts. Opus 288 received Historic Organ Citation no. 319 from the Organ Historical Society in 2005, and remains the largest nineteenth-century historical organ in the state.
E. & G. G. Hook (1847)
Community Church, Stockton Springs, Maine
Manual (GGG, AAA–f3, 58 notes)
8′ Op. Diapason (TC, metal, 47 pipes)
8′ Dulciana (TG, metal, 35 pipes)
8′ Clarabella (TG, wood, 35 pipes)
8′ St. Diapason Treble (TC, wood and
metal, 35 pipes)
8′ St. Diapason Bass (wood, 23 pipes)
4′ Principal (metal, 58 pipes)
4′ Flute (wood and metal, 58 pipes)
22⁄3′ Twelfth (metal, 58 pipes)
2′ Fifteenth (metal, 58 pipes)
8′ Hautboy (TG, metal, 35 pipes)
Pedal: GGG, AAA–E, 17 notes [no pipes]
2 unlabelled single-acting pedals: all stops above 8′ on and off
The organ was built in 1847 for the Universalist Church, Bangor, Maine. It was replaced in Bangor by E. & G. G. Hook Opus 318 (1862), a large two-manual organ. In 1864 the 1847 organ was sold for $500 to the Universalist Church, Stockton Springs, Maine, when it was moved and installed in the gallery at an additional cost of $125. During the twentieth century, the congregation became known as the Community Church.
All the metal pipework is common metal. The St. Diapason Treble 8′ and the Flute 4′ are chimney flutes with stopped wood basses. The Clarabella 8′ is actually a Melodia with low cut-ups. The bottom eleven notes of the Open Diapason 8′ are grooved from the St. Diapason Bass 8′. The organ was restored by the Andover Organ Co. of Methuen, Massachusetts, and is unaltered.