Martin Ott Pipe Organ Company, Inc., St. Louis, Missouri
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church,
From the builder
When a church expresses interest in a new pipe organ for their sanctuary, the organ builder will visit the client’s building and pay careful attention to the acoustical and visual environment so that the new instrument will fit both the building’s architecture and the congregation’s musical needs. Our design philosophy has always been to match the organ to the room; it is tailored tonally and visually to the space. We cannot overstate the importance of the acoustics of the building in organ design. A properly designed room yields an environment that enhances the sound of the organ—allowing stops to blend when needed yet allowing solo stops to speak above the accompaniment. The most successful design produces an instrument that complements the architecture and has just the right balance of sound.
In designing our instrument for St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Aurora, Illinois, we faced challenges from multiple unknowns: the church was not yet built.There were detailed plans from architect Richard Kalb, of Cone, Kalb & Wonderlick, Architects, Chicago, Illinois, and preliminary proposed surface response analysis from liturgical acoustician Scott Riedel, of Scott R. Riedel & Associates, Ltd., but some site-specific challenges could not be properly resolved until the building was completed. It is not uncommon for contractors to fall behind schedule during construction due to the nature of the work, and consequently the organ builder must be flexible and willing to alter the organ’s design if necessary.
We were first approached for this project by organist Rosalie Cassiday, of Aurora, who served as advisor to the organ committee. She and the organ committee had visited our Opus 89 at Marmion Abbey, also in Aurora. The abbey hosts an annual Bach concert that draws a full house. It should be noted that the Marmion Abbey organ is smaller than the one designed for St. Mark’s Church. But after hearing the instrument at the abbey, Ms. Cassiday and the organ committee were very enthusiastic about our visual and tonal proposal for St. Mark’s.
Working from the architect’s plans, we designed an organ case that would be proportional to the room. The sanctuary at St. Mark’s has primarily a linear design, which led us to introduce curves as a contrasting feature in the organ’s design. For the quarter-sawn cherry pipe shades, we designed a vine that divides into three branches and winds throughout the organ. Pipes were omitted from the façade and placed inside so that the vine appears to grow from the impost toe-boards through the three towers of the organ. Mr. Kalb adapted this motif and incorporated it into the liturgical furniture. During the design phase of the pipe shades, each leaf was individually drawn in AutoCAD so that no two leaves are alike. The file was then converted to CNC code and cut by a CNC router. The organ case is built of red oak with a clear finish. The curves of the three towers were created by gluing thin planks of solid oak around a form.
The Ott organ was delivered in early October on a Sunday after the church service, and the congregation helped carry in the organ in parts into the newly constructed nave.
One of the unforeseen challenges we faced during the organ installation was the HVAC system, which needed some fine-tuning. At start-up, HVAC system components were too loud and introduced intrusive ambient noise. Happily, this was corrected, with input from acoustical consultant Scott Riedel. After the noise difficulties were solved, we were able to focus on voicing the instrument.
A well-made organ is comfortable to play, pleasing to the ear even after lengthy practice time, and encourages the organist to grow in technique and artistry. An organist will not want to practice if the instrument is awkward to play and the stoplist does not support the vast majority of organ literature. Few organists have the time to seek out a variety of instruments upon which to practice, so they need an instrument that is artistically beautiful and stylistically practical. Literature is not the only important factor in tonal design. Today, we are seeing a resurgence in the art of improvisation. A well-made organ will encourage the organist to try new ideas and sounds in improvisation. Practicing upon a limited instrument or a poorly constructed one will limit the organist’s imagination and prevent the growth of improvisation skills.
The stoplist can adequately support a wide variety of organ literature and provide fertile ground for improvisation. Many times the same stop can be used in a chorus or as a solo voice. For example, the 4′ Harmonische Flöte could be played down an octave as a solo flute voice or used with 8′ stops for accompaniment. Our instruments reflect the varied cultural background of our American musical heritage, which is a consortium of multiple ethnicities and traditions.
We were indeed fortunate to have good working relationships with architect Richard Kalb, acoustician Scott Riedel, and music director Kristin Young. Moreover, Senior Pastor Wayne Miller, who is now Bishop of the ELCA, Metropolitan Chicago Synod, was very supportive of the pipe organ selection and design process and made the instrument a priority of the St. Mark’s building project, not an afterthought.
From the consultant
When Kristin Young, director of music, asked me to be a consultant to the organ committee in selecting a new pipe organ, I was pleased to accept. This vibrant and growing parish needed a new worship space and wisely planned for a new and larger pipe organ from the beginning of their building project. The organ would need to: 1) be an assertive and warm leader of congregational singing; 2) accompany choral and instrumental ensembles with sensitivity and flair; and 3) possess the beauty and brilliance to play a wide variety of organ repertoire.
The committee considered several builders in the United States and Canada. We visited churches in Wisconsin and Illinois, and the committee decided on mechanical action for its beauty of sound, ease of playing, and long life of the instrument. The Martin Ott Pipe Organ Company of St. Louis was chosen to build an organ of three divisions with two manuals and 32 ranks.
The new organ is a delight to both the ear and the eye. The rich and warm principals, gentle yet lively flutes, colorful solo stops, and fiery reeds create an ensemble of surpassing beauty. When the pedal reeds are added to the plenum, the effect is electrifying; heads turn in the congregation. The organ case is striking and elegant and brings visual pleasure to the listener.
As an organist, it is rewarding to hear and feel the beautiful sounds of this instrument. The console is easy to play, and 30 minutes easily stretches into an hour or more. Congratulations are due to the people of St. Mark’s and also the builder, Martin Ott.
From the pastor
“Through the grapevine”
As a parish pastor and as a former professional musician, it has always been one of my deepest hopes that I might have a chance to provide a home for a fine pipe organ. But the practicalities of congregational life in our post-modern North American environment work relentlessly to make that hope a dim and remote possibility. For those of us working to energize and renew traditional mainstream Christian life, there has been, for many years now, tremendous pressure to abandon traditional musical and liturgical styles in favor of something that feels more immediate and accessible to popular culture.
But in 1994, God was kind enough to call me to serve a congregation in Aurora, Illinois, that was not particularly attached to the idea of cutting itself off at the root from tradition. To the contrary, in fact, we found that our growth (doubling in attendance from 250 to 500 in ten years) came largely from those who were seeking the depth and breadth they experienced in a warm but distinctly liturgical worship experience.
This appreciation for “rootedness” led us to an organic understanding of the church and its ministry, which seemed to us to be eloquently expressed in Christ’s image of his relationship to the disciples as a living grapevine. The grapevine, in fact, has provided the metaphor for St. Mark’s entire organizational structure. And it has indeed proven to be fruitful. It should not be surprising then, that in 2003, as we designed and planned a new 600-seat worship space, the energy of the congregation returned to a valuing of both life and rootedness, and there was never a serious question that a fine pipe organ would be an essential element in the vision.
When our organ search team was finished with its exploration of fine organs and Orgelbaumeisters, the contract was awarded to Martin Ott of St. Louis, and Martin graciously invited our staff and me, as well as our architect, into a collaborative design process. This process led to the creation of Opus 106. The creation of the instrument was itself an expression of the ideals of life, growth, transformation, and adaptation that we have tried to capture visually in the grapevine patterns of the screening and in the organic shape of the triune casework. But for all its visual beauty, the true depth and wonder of the power of life embodied in this extraordinary instrument can only be experienced in listening to it speak, and proclaim its profound witness as it leads the people of St. Mark’s in prayer and song.
I have now moved on to become a synodical bishop in our church, a leave-taking that involved no small amount of grief and loss. But I have moved on with a great dream fulfilled and a new world of friendship and collegiality with Martin and his staff. These things now are also deeply rooted in my heart as we grow each day toward the promise of resurrection.
—Bishop Wayne N. Miller
Metropolitan Chicago Synod, ELCA
Martin Ott Pipe Organ Company
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Aurora, Illinois
26 stops, 32 ranks
16′ Lieblich 61 pipes cherry
8′ Prinzipal 61 pipes 75% tin
8′ Rohrflöte 61 pipes 60% tin
4′ Oktave 61 pipes 75% tin
4′ Nachthorn 61 pipes 40% tin
2′ Oktaveflöte 61 pipes 40% tin
11⁄3′ Mixture IV 244 pipes 75% tin
8′ Trompete 61 pipes 75% tin
Sw to Gt
8′ Viola 61 pipes 75% tin
8′ Viola Celeste tc 49 pipes 75% tin
8′ Gedackt 61 pipes 40% tin
4′ Prinzipal 61 pipes 75% tin
4′ Harmonische Flöte 61 pipes 40% tin
Kornett II 122 pipes 40% tin
2′ Oktave 61 pipes 75% tin
11⁄3′ Larigot 61 pipes 40% tin
2′ Plein Jeu III 183 pipes 75% tin
16′ Bombarde 61 pipes 75% tin
8′ Trompete 61 pipes 75% tin
8′ Oboe 61 pipes 75% tin
16′ Subbass 32 pipes spruce
8′ Oktavbass 32 pipes 75% tin
8′ Pommer 32 pipes 40% tin
4′ Choralbass 32 pipes 75% tin
16′ Posaune 32 pipes 75% tin
8′ Trompete 1–12 Gt 20 pipes 75% tin
Gt to Ped
Sw to Ped
Mechanical key action
Electric stop action, incorporating a combination action with 32 levels
Photo credit: Thorsten Ott