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New Organs

January 18, 2003


Hellmuth Wolff et Associés, Ltée, of Laval,
Québec, Canada, recently completed an organ for the University of
Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, Iowa. The instrument, Wolff Opus 43, is located in
one of three performance halls in the newly-constructed Gallagher-Bluedorn
Performing Arts Center on the university campus. The facility as a whole
contains a 1600-seat performance hall, a 300-seat concert hall, which doubles
as an instrumental rehearsal space, and the 125-seat hall in which the organ is
located. The organ recital hall also serves as the major choral rehearsal
space. Initial funding for the organ was provided by Dr. Emil and Noma Jebe
with additional contributions from friends of the university and lovers of
organ music.

To give the 125-seat hall a more reverberant ambiance, David
Kahn, president of Acoustic Dimensions, Inc., created a plan whereby additional
volume over an adjacent student lounge would be coupled to this space, along
with additional attic volume above the suspended, arched ceiling. The result is
a performance space that maintains utmost clarity of sound combined with a
favorable reverberation period for the organ. To accommodate the needs of
choral rehearsal, on the other hand, retractable velour curtains can be drawn
in both the primary and secondary volumes of the space to reduce the

The organ itself, a versatile two-manual instrument of 31
stops, has historic leanings toward German and French music of the 18th/19th
centuries, but has been designed to play a wide variety of literature. Casework
is solid white oak with pipe shades in butternut with gilded bevelled edges.
Keyboards are oxbone and ebony, with arcaded nosings of padouk. The pedalboard
is flat, with naturals of white oak and sharps capped with rosewood. Key action
is mechanical, while the stop action is electrical and its multi-level capture
system provides 128 levels of memory. The temperament is 1/9 syntonic comma
(A=440 Hz), a modern, unequal temperament attributed to P.-Y. Asslin (1985).
The winding system provides flexible wind, which can be attenuated by drawing
the wind stabilizer. To maximize the organ's impact in this small room
with its live acoustics, the voicing had to be done with much attention to
detail, while avoiding the vice of over-refinement--a tricky balancing
act! The immediacy of the organ's sound declares its vocation as a
teaching instrument, while its grandeur, in spite of the small room, gives
students an authentic experience of organ performance.

The project was directed by Hellmuth Wolff and James Louder
in collaboration with Marilou Kratzenstein, UNI professor of organ. Organ
builders Gérald Gingras, François Leboeuf, André Lacroix,
Marguerite Howells, Jens-Peter Petersen, Claude Paquette, and Denis Roulet worked
on the instrument. Pipe shade design was by François Beauchemin. The
instrument was dedicated by James David Christie in recital on Friday, April
14, 2000. The recital was part of an 11-day festival (April 6–16)
inaugurating the new Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center on the campus of
the University of Northern Iowa.

--Marilou Kratzenstein

Professor of Organ

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