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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Mailbag: “Revoicing”

January 01, 2008

Dear Michael,

I have some recordings of Virgil Fox which were made in the time when he was organist at Riverside church, and they were made on that organ. And my question is, is that instrument still roughly the same as far as pipework and things, from when he was there? I’d done some research on the instrument, and found that it had been revoiced at one point, does that necessarily mean that it’ll sound the same today, as it did back then in those recordings I have? What can a revoicing do to an organ? Can it make it sound totally different from before that was done?

Thanks for your time, and keep up the good work with the pipedreams broadcasts, they’re awesome!

Not sure if there’s a station in this part of Canada that caries them, so I usually listen online.




The New York City chapter of the American Guild of Organists maintains a very good web listing of instruments in Manhattan. For the Riverside organ, go here for more information:


You will note that the instrument has undergone numerous expansions and revoicings. The recordings by Fox (those originally issued by Capitol Records, now available from EMI Classics) are of the Aeolian-Skinner installation of 1953-54 and predate the major 1964 Aeolian-Skinner work in the gallery and the Gilbert Adams tonal revisions a few years later. In addition, the room itself has been changed in a major way with the sealing of the absorbent acoustical treatments, adding a resonance to the room which was not there during the Fox era.

And it should be noted that the Capitol label recordings were made with microphones very, very close to various divisions of the organ, creating an impression which was not altogether realistic (when compared with in-the-flesh listening at the church). Also, few subsequent organists have demonstrated quite the same ‘personality’ of registration as is evident in Virgil’s albums, particularly in the more dulcet ‘character pieces’ and transcriptions, upon which much of his fame was based.

Yes, revoicing a pipe can radically alter its character and quality of tone, sometimes for the better. :-)

And, no, no stations in Canada carry PIPEDREAMS.


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