Cover feature

Raising the roof will not be necessary

Schoenstein & Co. Opus 147
First United Methodist Church, Birmingham, Michigan

Fact: An organ’s most important stop is the room in which it plays.
Lesser-Known Fact: Improvement opportunities exist for churches with poor acoustics that go beyond dismissing the carpet and pew cushions.

When First United Methodist Church of Birmingham, Michigan received a generous gift for the replacement of its aging Möller organ, the church quickly realized a careful study of all aspects of the sanctuary should be undertaken. It was felt the new instrument, as well as their entire worship experience, would benefit from an improved acoustical environment.

Church renovation
Our first visit to Birmingham found a 1952 building of fine materials that enveloped an acoustically dead sanctuary. Jack Bethards, Schoenstein & Co. President and Tonal Director, reported that “When I first looked at this room, I wondered if there was any hope. The room had hardly any resonance, and there were frequency hot spots that added a kind of harshness to musical tone. Worst of all, it was tough to sing in the room because people felt isolated from one another.“
The new organ could only achieve its potential if the acoustic of the building were improved. Every possible idea was discussed, including raising the roof to increase cubic volume. This would have added millions of dollars to the project, and it was hoped that significant enough improvement could be attained through less invasive methods.
Ultimately a plan of action was decided upon to:
• Install a beautiful and reflective hard-tile floor in the chancel.
• Install new chancel walls with increased organ tone-opening area.
• Change the height of the chamber ceilings to eliminate sound-defeating pockets.
• Install an Electronic Reflected Energy System (ERES) by the Jaffe-Holden Company.

The project also grew in scope to address other needs:
• Improve sight lines for the congregation by raising the chancel floor, along with other changes enabling flexibility for a variety of programs in addition to Sunday morning worship.
• Install an improved, quieter, HVAC system.
• Updates to lighting, the public address system, walls and floor coverings.

The result is one of the finest sanctuary renovations we have seen. The reflective flooring in the chancel has provided a pleasant natural bloom of resonance, and the Jaffe-Holden system has added a tasteful and subtle acoustical ambiance only otherwise possible with a roof raising. The new HVAC system is accurate, well balanced, and above all, silent. The improved temperature and humidity control will positively affect the stability and longevity of the organ. The renovation team did a magnificent job of freshening up and improving the visual elements of the room.

Fact: An organ’s most important stop is the room in which it plays.
Lesser-Known Fact: A properly designed and built organ can make a room sound better than its acoustic.

The Schoenstein organ
In the organ dedication program notes, Jack Bethards addressed the organ and its relationship to the church. “With all of the elements working together to enhance music, a logical question would be why was a new organ necessary? Certainly the sound of the old organ would have been enhanced, but would it have been enough to solve the various musical problems that faced Doris and Chris Hall (organist and director of music respectively) when they called us in to study the situation? Simply put, the old organ was designed to match a particular approach to a limited part of the organ solo repertoire; the new organ is designed to accompany the church service.”
The new organ (three manuals, 38 voices, 46 ranks) has a vastly different effect in the room from the previous instrument, despite its similar physical layout. The unenclosed Great is divided on either side of the altar and takes advantage of its favorable location, speaking down the axis of the church. The Choir is located in one side chancel chamber and the Swell in the other. A small Antiphonal division across the balcony wall complements the organ by drawing the sound of the chancel organ rearward to support congregational singing.
According to Bethards, “The biggest concern in a church organ is to have a large variety of different tone qualities. There are two reasons for this. First, the organ is played by and heard by the same people week after week, year after year. To sustain musical interest, the sound can’t be the same all the time. Second, a good choir sings just about every kind of choral music written. This demands great subtlety in accompaniment with different tone colors at a multitude of volume levels.”
Eight-foot diapasons of various types were used throughout to provide richness and warmth of tone in both melody and bass pitch. The old organ overemphasized upperwork, and the effect of the ensemble was harsh. With the goal being an effect of nobility, full choruses were maintained, but less upperwork was planned and more foundational stops were added to lower the tonal center of gravity and provide contrasting color. Note the Great with its four eight-foot stops, a Harmonic Flute and Gamba in addition to the Open Diapason and Bourdon.
True string stops of varied character complement each division, with an additional hybrid or muted Corno Dolce in the Swell. A wide variety of flutes were employed with the emphasis on full and double-length open construction rather than half-length stopped flutes that are less successful in rooms with drier acoustics.
Solo reeds, including the Oboe and Clarinet, are more orchestral in character than the old organ. There are four chorus reeds, ranging in volume from mezzo forte of the Choir Trumpet, through the Swell Trumpet and Contra Fagotto’s forte to the Tuba’s fortissimo, vital especially for festive services and weddings.
Schoenstein’s double expression system is used in the Swell organ. The softest and loudest stops of the division are grouped in the Inner Swell chamber, behind a second set of expression shades controllable by a separate shoe. This allows for very smooth and dramatic crescendos with a minimum of stop changes.
The new instrument is six ranks smaller than the old, but projects far more effectively due to its energized tone that enables more effective egress from enchambered installations. The highest wind pressure on the previous organ was four inches; this pressure is still found in the new unenclosed Great. Five inches is the lowest pressure for enclosed stops. Enchambered offset basses are on still higher pressure to further help them project, as are the unenclosed Pedal Subbass and Double Open Diapason (the bottom octave of which is an Open Wood).
The double-enclosed Swell chorus reeds and Mixture are on ten inches, as is the Choir Tuba. As Jack Bethards points out, “Pressure does not necessarily affect loudness, but it certainly affects carrying power and smoothness of tone. A selection of stops that are highly energized in tone and, therefore, can project their sound over a long distance, is one of the keys to a successful enchambered organ.”

Fact: An organ’s most important stop is the room in which it plays.
Lesser-Known Fact: The design elements that favor acoustical projection also favor the variety of tone needed in a church organ.

Todd Wilson played the organ dedication concert in November 2005. Other recent recitalists in the church’s Live at First concert series include Frederick Swann, Doris Hall, and Tom Trenney.
As is nearly always the case, the success of this project is due to the efforts of too many people to name in this limited space. We had wonderful support in every area and would like to especially thank the church staff and the dedicated volunteers who worked under organ committee chairperson Dale Parker and project manager Darrell White. We are also appreciative of the church’s fine musicians, Doris and Chris Hall, who make the new organ shine.
And raising the roof was not necessary.
—David Beck
Installation crew leader &
assistant voicer
Schoenstein & Co.

First United Methodist Church, Birmingham, Michigan
Three manuals and pedal
38 voices, 46 ranks
Electric-pneumatic action

GREAT (II – In Display)
16′ Contra Viola (Choir)
8′ Open Diapason 61 pipes
8′ Harmonic Flute 61
8′ Gamba 61
8′ Bourdon 61
4′ Principal 61
4′ Spire Flute 61
2-2⁄3′ Twelfth 61
2′ Fifteenth 61
2′ Mixture (III–IV) 187
8′ Tuba (Choir)
8′ Trumpet (Choir)
8′ Clarinet (Choir)
Chimes (Deagan in Choir box)
25 tubes

SWELL (III – Enclosed)
16′ Bourdon (wood) 12 pipes
8′ Open Diapason 61
8′ Stopped Diapason (wood) 61
8′ Echo Gamba 61
8′ Gamba Celeste (TC) 49
8′ Corno Dolce 49
(Stopped Diapason bass)
4′ Gemshorn 61
4′ Harmonic Flute 61
2′ Flageolet 61
8′ Oboe 61
Stops Under Double Expression
2′ Mixture (III–IV) H 209
16′ Contra Fagotto H 61
8′ Trumpet H 61
H = Heavy Wind
Swell 16′
Swell Unison Off
Swell 4′

CHOIR (I – Enclosed)
16′ Contra Viola 12 pipes
8′ Viola Pomposa 61
8′ Viola Celeste 61
8′ Concert Flute (wood) 61
8′ Lieblich Gedeckt 49
(Concert Flute bass)
4′ Fugara 61
4′ Lieblich Flute 12
2-2⁄3′ Nazard (from Lieblich Flute)
2′ Harmonic Flute 61
1-3⁄5′ Tierce (TC) 42
2′ Mixture (II–III) 173
8′ Trumpet 61
8′ Clarinet 61
16′ Ophicleide H 12
8′ Tuba H 61
4′ Tuba Clarion H 12
H = Heavy Wind
Choir 16′
Choir Unison Off
Choir 4′

ANTIPHONAL (Floating – In Display)
8′ Open Diapason 61 pipes
8′ Dulciana (Bourdon bass) 49
8′ Bourdon 61
4′ Principal 61
Antiphonal 4′

ECHO (Prepared)

PEDAL (In Display with Great)
32′ Resultant
16′ Double Open Diapason 12 pipes
16′ Sub Bass 32
16′ Contra Viola (Choir)
16′ Bourdon (Swell)
8′ Principal 32
8′ Diapason (Swell)
8′ Flute (Great)
8′ Viola (Choir)
8′ Bourdon (Swell)
4′ Fifteenth 12
4′ Flute (Great)
16′ Ophicleide (Choir)
16′ Contra Fagotto (Swell)
8′ Tuba (Choir)
8′ Fagotto (Swell)
4′ Clarinet (Choir)

Great to Pedal
Swell to Pedal
Swell to Pedal 4′
Choir to Pedal
Choir to Pedal 4′

Swell to Great 16′
Swell to Great
Swell to Great 4′
Choir to Great 16′
Choir to Great
Choir to Great 4′

Swell to Choir 16′
Swell to Choir
Swell to Choir 4′

Antiphonal on Pedal
Antiphonal on Great
Antiphonal on Choir

Echo on Swell
Echo on Choir

Note: Antiphonal and Echo intramanual couplers read through intermanual couplers.

Solid state capture combination action with:
100 memories
61 pistons and toe studs
Programmable piston range for each memory
Multiple Crescendo and Full Organ programs
5 Reversibles including Full Organ
Adjustable bench

Mixture Compositions
Great 2′ (III–IV)
C1 D15 B36 G#45
15 12
19 15 12
22 19 15 12
22 19 15

Swell 2′ (III–IV)
C1 B24 F#43 C#50
15 12 8
19 15 12 8
22 19 15 12
22 19 15

Choir 2′ (II–III)
C1 A22 D#52
15 12
19 15 12
22 19 15

Tonal analysis of manual voices
Pitch summary
16′ 5 13%
8′ 19 50%
4′ 6 16%
2-2⁄3′ 1 3%
2′ 6 15%
Above 2′ 1 3%
38 100%

Tonal families
Diapasons 14 37%
Open Flutes 7 18%
Stopped Flutes 5 13%
Hybrids 1 3%
Strings 5 13%
Chorus Reeds 4 11%
Color Reeds 2 5%
38 100%

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