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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Mailbag: “Home is Where the Pipes Are”

September 25, 2012

Dear Michael,

Your intro each week on Pipedreams refers to APOBA serving…residences. Are there recordings (CDs) taken in people's homes of their pipe organs?

Technically,the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (aka Mrs. Jack Gardner's Palace) was her home. Whether her husband, the infamous Jack, approved of the project or even lived there has been long debated. I attended University near the Fens in Back Bay Boston in the late 1950s. Her quirky art collection fascinated but the music was magnificent. There was a music room seating 100-150 and at one end a raised stage and a pipe organ. Small by cathedral standards it was well played and a noble Sunday afternoon destination for a poor student during a long New England winter.

Frank Lloyd Wright's classic Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, IL also has a music room. The living room or parlor could be converted for recitals. My recollection is that organ pipes adorned the walls. I can't determine whether they ever functioned. The structure housed a local law firm most of its post-WWII life and was extensively modified (wrecked) before being donated to a conservancy during the last 20 years.

Wherever there are residences with pipe organs I assume access would be a problem. Few owners with the necessary wealth want commoners in their abode. Likewise, the challenges of decent recording conditions I imagine are daunting.

But back to my inquiry about private residences with organs and recordings – what's available commercially?

Clark Andrews

Dear Clark,

Before the advent of hi-fi, the most over-the-top 'home entertainment system' was the self-playing house organ, though some of the very wealthy could afford to have a resident organist, too.

For a period early in the 20th century, the house organ was all the rage, though there were a number built in the pre-electric age, too (at the James J. Hill House in Saint Paul, MN, you can find an elegant Hutchings organ, with mechanical action, still functional).

These days, many of the 'grand homes' have been converted to other uses, and the organ often removed. But here in Minnesota, in addition to the Hill Mansion we have the Louis Hill Home (son) with a three-manual Aeolian, and the former Watkins Home (now a Methodist nursing home) in Winona, with a huge 80+ rank Aeolian.

More typically these days, home installations are recycled theatre organs, and the American Theatre Organ Society might be a source for extended information. Though there are still classical-style pipe organs made for homes. Here's a home organ for sale ($350,000):

And two others:
In Dallas, Texas ($150,000)
In Berkeley, California ($236,000)

This instrument, built for a wealthy businessman (now deceased) near San Francisco, is being moved to the Indiana University:

Jasper Sanfilippo, CEO of Fisher Nuts, had this remarkable organ built for an extension of his home in Barrington, IL:

Your best source for recordings is the Organ Historical Society Catalog:

They may even have books on the topic.




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