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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Mailbag: A church with two organs

January 4, 2006

Dear Michael:
I enjoy your program and really appreciate it being on the web, for I don’t have a local station airing it.

I recently attended a Saturday holiday service of lessons & carols at Saint Thomas Church in NYC. Most of the service was played on the newer organ (Taylor & Boody) in the rear of the church. The final exit selection, I know, was performed on the organ in the front of the church (Aeolian-Skinner). My question is why would a church have two organs, and why would both organs be used in one service? Clearly, they either have two organists or the one had to run from the balcony in the rear to the organ up front.

P.S. Please update the photo in your gallery of the older Aeolian-Skinner; it’s in b&w.

Thanks,

Peter Welz
Doylestown, PA

 

Dear Peter:
The music program at Saint Thomas Church is one of the jewels of New York City…fostering an exceptional tradition of choral and organ music, both during services and in concerts available throughout the year.

The young boys in the choir are enrolled in a resident school (the only one of its kind in the United States), and in addition to the music director (John Scott recently assumed that post, following the long and distinguished tenure of Gerre and Judith Hancock), the church employs several assistant organists (at present, Jeremy Bruns and Christian Lane), so there are plenty of ‘hands’ to go around.

As for the matter of two organs, although not super common in American churches, this is not an unusual situation (House of Hope Presbyterian Church here in my town, Saint Paul, MN, also has two). In France, in particular, the Grand Orgue resides in the rear balcony. Churches are ‘famous’ for these organs, which make a grand effect when played. But much of the service music is accompanied by a smaller Orgue de Choeur up front (with the choir). It’s all about variety.

At Saint Thomas, it is the large organ which is in front (an electro-pneumatic Aeolian-Skinner from 1956, which has been altered over the years in the direction of a ‘French sound’, really more Franco-American). The instrument in the rear simply provides opportunity for a different mode of expression (a mechanical-action Taylor & Boody in the ‘German Baroque’ aesthetic). By its casework alone it is an elegant addition to the sanctuary decor, and it makes beautiful sounds, too.

The church website gives more detail

JMB

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