West Market Street
Opus 71, 1999
Cover Feature of the April, 2000
From the Church
When I became Director of Music and the Arts at West Market Street Church in February 1991, it was immediately apparent to myself, the senior minister and many member of the congregation and staff that our 1941 Möller organ had seriously deteriorated and needed to be replaced. Furthermore, the overly small rehearsal space for choirs was inadequate for a growing program, the chancel area within the Akron plan was restrictive and small, and that there were a number of capital improvement projects that were foreseeable. Following a long-range planning process, the church had committed itself to maintaining its downtown location and to the development of a unique urban ministry. A resulting new growth has in part taken place through a commitment to outreach programs and to highly publicized arts events-an international broadcast of Messiah on CBS and the Armed Forces Network in 1993, presentation of major works at noon each Good Friday, the integration of jazz into numerous worship offerings including the annual Jazz In June and Bending Towards The Light: A Jazz Nativity, and the increased use of drama.
The single gift by the Proctor family that made the new organ possible was the trigger that motivated an entire capital campaign that included renovation of the 1893 sanctuary, installation of a new organ, the building of a new Early Childhood Center, and the presently ongoing renovation of two dated educational buildings. Even after being advised by a prominent agency that the church could not raise the necessary funds for such a large multifaceted project, the congregation exceeded the $9 million dollar campaign goal.
Under the leadership of co-chairs Lacy Baynes and Edgar Sikes, the organ committee began its work by hearing several local instruments including the 1985 Dobson instrument at the Church of the Holy Comforter in Burlington, N.C. Subsequent travel to hear the Dobson at the University of South Carolina and the Rosales at University United Methodist Church in San Antonio, Texas brought about the concept of a collaboration. With unanimous support, the committee was authorized by the Administrative Board to move forth with the project. Jerry Marshall of KMK Associates consulted with the church regarding acoustical concerns. Terry Byrd Eason was the sanctuary design consultant and Bruce Cantrell of J. Hyatt Hammond Associates was the architect.
Music-making at West Market Street Church is quite eclectic. The organ committee gave free reign to the Dobson and Rosales companies with the understanding that the tonal palette of the new instrument would be comparable to those instruments we had visited earlier, that the new organ would work well playing a broad range of the recital repertoire, and that the instrument would be effective in an accompanying capacity of supporting congregational song.
The church is fortunate to have the artistic skill of organist Susan Bates, who gave the dedicatory recital on October 17, 1999. A series of additional recitals is planned.
West Market Street United Methodist Church is proud to have brought these two fine American organ builders together in collaboration for the first time. Personally, it was a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience that was surpassed only by the development of endearing friendships that have found magnificence in this beautiful opus.
From the Builder
With the generous gift of the Proctor family came a remarkable opportunity both for West Market Street United Methodist Church to get a new organ and for a unique experience in American organbuilding. When Bill Carroll, director of music and Susan Bates, organist, began looking at organs and interviewing builders the full impact of the opportunity did not become apparent until the very end of their search when discussions of having myself and Manuel Rosales do the project together began. The suggestion of a collaboration between us grew out of conversations about the churchs hope of building a landmark organ. Bringing the skills of our two companies together seemed like a unique opportunity to create a situation where we all could learn and be creative in a way that would not happen if we worked individually. The excitement and expectations for the project grew immensely as the decision was made to go ahead with the collaboration between our companies.
Once the contracts were signed and the overall plan for how we would work together was settled the church set several ground rules which they wanted in the organ: it should have 3 manuals, electric stop action and the organ must go in the old chamber and tonally it has to handle a wide variety of choral accompaniment since the choir at WMSUMC is very good and has a wide spectrum of music in its repertory. They then left us to do what we wanted to do. They reviewed our plans periodically and we obviously had to coordinate our work with the major renovation of the room. Yet we had a remarkably free hand to make the organ as we wanted it.
In the beginning it took some time for the major players in this project to get to know each other and get comfortable with our relationships and roles. Manuel Rosales, John Panning and I traveled to see organs in the Los Angeles area, on the East Coast and in the Midwest as well as going to the Paris ISO Congress. This experience of reacting to organs together helped us to develop a common experience upon which to build the bond which would let us work together successfully. I was pleased to find that we were all secure and mature enough in our work that we had no trouble with feelings of distrust, jealousy or one-upmanship which might have made the project a disastrous experience. Since the organ would be built in the Dobson shop, John and I had to, at the same time prepare the members of our crew to do things differently than we are accustomed to doing them. I felt that this was especially important since the point of the collaboration was, for everyone to learn something from the experience rather than to resist change and in fact resent outside influence. In the beginning when Manuel walked through my shop the crew reacted defensively to questions about our processes. At the end I think there was a welcoming of discussion about how and why things might be done differently.
Once the project started the first order of business was to create a tonal design. We had both submitted designs to the church. My original submission was for a smaller organ than Manuel's proposed project. Given the physical size of the organ space my idea was for a smaller organ which would easily fit the physical space. Manuels proposal would challenge the available space. A good year passed as we struggled with making a rather large tonal design fit physically into the space. In the end the resulting tonal design was a product of our combined skills in engineering and I dare say that neither Dobson or Rosales has ever done a project where the engineering aspect was so critical to the overall outcome of the project. In that regard, much credit goes to Jon Thieszen of the Dobson firm for the working drawings which grew out of the long discussions and brainstorming sessions.
Even though the work was being done in the Dobson shop at every step of the physical planning of the organ we were discussing details with Manuel and he came here to review all the details regarding windchest design, windlines and reservoir sizes and key action details.
The visual design was left to myself. The architect of the renovation was leaning toward recreating a late nineteenth century facade. There was a picture of the original facade which was installed when the building was built and it would have been easy to recreate it. I however wanted a facade which would reflect a different philosophy. One that would be more reflective of the tonal design we were creating and one which I felt would tie into the building's architecture better than the typical stock design from the 1890s. Looking at the details of the church's architecture and in particular the plan of the church which has round corners and balconies which flow around the room growing out of the wall at the right side of the organ and disappearing into the wall on the other side, I decided to make the facade in a Baroque design. The case like the balconies grows out of the walls and curves around the corner of the church in a series of elliptical lines and disappears again into the wall. I created a heroic classical order for the cornice mouldings which are 38" high. All the mouldings and smaller details in the casework are directly related to details found in the balcony railings and door and window trim. Manuel pretty much agreed with my design, but made some critical observations about detailing, particularly with regard to the console which led to some refinements of the design.
The organ was built entirely in the Dobson shop. Manuel came to review construction and when the shop voicing started he came and worked several weeks with John Panning in getting that underway. With a unified understanding between all of us about the overall goals, the voicing in the shop then continued for many months.
The long awaited day for installation arrived in late April. The organ arrived on one semi-trailer and two Ryder trucks and the congregation had about 35 people turn out to help unload the parts. By early June, Manuel came and the tonal finishing began. By mid-October the organ as dedicated in a morning service and afternoon recital. The voicing however was completed in November with final adjustments to the Mixtures and some of the reed stops.
Now that the project is finished I think it will be up to others to measure the artistic success of the collaboration between the Rosales and Dobson companies. However, I can make some assessments of the process of our collaboration. In an overall way I think this was a good experience for the Dobson Pipe Organ Builders and we look forward to the possibilities of further collaborations in the future. We, of course, hope that Rosales feels the same way. As it stands the organ at West Market Street United Methodist Church is one which neither of our companies would have built individually. That is not to say that either of us couldn't have built a successful organ there in that situation. But the final product is an artistic collaboration where the process itself presented new problems and new solutions to the problems which we are always dealing with. This new way of looking at, seeing and thinking about the issues of organ design has taught us a lot which we can take away as a part of our ongoing organbuilding experience. I believe that both our companies experienced artistic growth that could not occur in any other context. We thank West Market Street Church and particularly Bill Carroll and Susan Bates for placing their trust in us and giving us this opportunity.
The Tonal Design
We often find that the most satisfying and memorable pipe organs are inseparable from the spaces for which they were built. One can logically assume, then, that the room exerts considerable influence on the design of the organ, and that great organbuilders were not merely skilled at producing a material item, but were facilitators of a great and lasting conversation between instrument and space.
The design concept of the new organ in West Market Street Church mirrors the original conception of the building. Designed in a fashionably eclectic version of the Romanesque Revival style, the church structure nevertheless reflected the modern design ideals of the Methodist Sunday School Movement. It is substantial, elegant in appearance and generously appointed. Likewise, the new organ draws on earlier styles, but refashions them in an entirely contemporary way. It too is substantial, elegant and generously appointed.
The Akron plan interior of the church is a design type that arose scarcely a century ago, and as a consequence, organ placement within such a building was informed by late 19th century sensibilities. West Market Street's two previous instruments had been placed in a chamber behind the chancel area, and it was in this same chamber that our new instrument was to be placed. The dog-legged floor plan of the chamber undoubtedly caused our predecessors as much trouble as it did for us.
In-depth consideration of the chamber space led to revisions of the original, pre-collaboration specifications submitted separately by Dobson and Rosales. In the end, a two-and-a-half manual design was chosen: the Great and Swell are fully developed, while the third manual is cast as a small Solo division, honoring the churchs desire for three manuals while acknowledging the limited space. To increase the instruments versatility, the Great reeds are made playable in the Pedal, and several Pedal stops are extended to provide color at additional pitches.
Locating the divisions within the chamber was extremely challenging, given the space difficulties and the need for an uncomplicated mechanical key action. The final design places the Great/Pedal windchest immediately behind the façade at impost level, the Swell several feet above and turned at 45° to the Great/Pedal, and the Solo above and perpendicular to the Swell, near the ceiling. Both Swell and Solo expression boxes have thick, tightly-fitted shutters on two sides. Care had to be taken to leave sufficient passage area for tuners and for the sound of the grave Pedal pipes located at the back of the chamber.
In their visits to see, hear and play our work, the Organ Committee noted similarities between both companies. In many aspects, the evolutionary paths of our two firms’ tonal thinking have been on convergent trajectories that met in this organ. Both firms have antecedent instruments whose design elements find new expression in Greensboro. We share a common design philosophy and a common tonal vocabulary. As a result, it would be difficult to analyze the tonal design by saying “This is Rosales’ idea” or “Dobson suggested this,” so seamlessly integrated is the work of both parties.
The organ is framed around substantial principal choruses. The Pedal is founded upon a Contra Diapason 32' and extends to the Mixture V, pitched at 5-1/3' The Great is based on the Principal 16', which, together with the Prestant 8', fills the façade. The Swell Geigen Principal 8' serves as the basis for that division, and is built with tuning slots to encourage an incisive, rich timbre. The Swell chorus extends to the Mixture IV, pitched at 2' to complete the chorus in the absence of an independent principal stop of that pitch; it has no duplication of pitches, unlike the Great Mixture, which incorporates some double choruses. The Great chorus impresses by reason of its weight and somber color, the Swell is lighter and argentine, and the Pedals somewhat unusual 5-1/3' component gives that division a useful complexity and promptness by reason of its resultant effect.
A wide variety of flute tone is available in every division. The Great pairs a Chimney Flute of pronounced and distinctive color with a strongly tapered Spire Flute of more neutral tone. The Swell 16' and 8' bourdons are joined by harmonic flutes at 4' and 2' pitches. The Solo Harmonic Flute 8' is very slightly tapered; it and the other Solo stops have great presence in the room because of their placement near the ceiling. The Pedal Contra Diapason 32' is extended to play at 16' and 8'; the Flute 8' is capable of interesting pizzicato effects, giving a fine impression of a plucked double bass.
There are three string voices in the organ. The Gamba is made of spotted metal and is characteristically broad. The tin Salicional, like the Geigen Principal, has tuning slots that impart a very distinctive vowel to its tone. The Celeste, while the same scale as the Salicional, is made of spotted metal and is dead length, giving it a cleaner tone that blends equally well with the Salicional or Geigen Principal.
The reeds fall into two broad classes: those with tapered shallots of German or American pattern, and those with parallel shallots after the design of the French maker Bertounèche. The full-length Swell Bassoon and all Great and Solo reeds represent a hybrid of the two, possessing tapered shallots in the bass range with Bertounèche shallots to strengthen the treble. The Swell Trumpet and Clarion have Bertounèche shallots throughout. Though a Swell inspired by French Romantic Récits would normally possess and Basson-Hautbois with Bertounèche shallots, we decided that this might be a bit abrasive in our acoustic, and opted instead for an Oboe similar to 19th century American examples. We're pleased that the sweet and expressive result confirmed our thinking.
The two 32' stops deserve comment. We were not convinced that a bourdon would project from the rear of the chamber as well as an open register, so we provided an open stop whose lowest octave are wooden Haskell pipes. This design calls for a wooden partition in the middle of the pipe, lowering the pitch to such an extent that the entire pipe is scarcely longer than a bourdon. The scale is substantial: 32' CCCC is 18" x 23"; a 3" roller beard is required for proper speech.
The full-length Contra Trombone is made with leathered German shallots. The lowest thirteen pipes stand in the basement blower room, which is located directly under the rear of the organ chamber. There is sufficient height with this arrangement that only the lowest three pipes required mitering. This chest has an electric action, as do those for the other large Pedal pipes.
The Great, Swell and much of the Pedal are voiced on a wind pressure of 80 millimeters; the Solo is voiced on 115 mm, and the 32' stops on 130 mm. Wind is delivered from large, single-rise bellows. The manual divisions are provided with stabilizers that are disabled when the tremolo for that division is drawn.
We were given a remarkably free hand by Bill Carroll and Susan Bates, whose confidence in our ideas was gratifying. We thank them for giving us the opportunity to explore and expand the common ground between our two firms. We believe that their confidence has been rewarded by an instrument that can support and inspire the worshipping body of West Market Street Church, and further extend their service into the cultural life of the greater Greensboro community.
The Dobson Pipe Organ Builders are Lynn Dobson, Ronald Anderson, William Ayers, Lyndon Evans, Randy Hausman, Dean Heim, Scott Hicks, Todd Kauk, Arthur Middleton, Gerrid Otto, John Panning, Kirk Russell, Robert Savage, Meridith Sperling, Robert Sperling, Jon Thieszen, Sally Winter and Dean Zenor.
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