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Organ curator John Shaw preparing the new harmonic flute pipes for installation at the Great Auditorium. Photo by Mary Walton

By Mary Walton
     Back in the 1960s, in what organist Gordon Turk deplores as “an unfortunate attempt to modernize” the magnificent organ in the Great Auditorium, 44 large open wood pipes were removed, cut up and used for wind ducts.
     Their absence robbed the organ of its heft and rich, deep-throated tone. The person responsible “claimed to be an organ specialist but really should have been a plumber,” said Ocean Grove’s organ curator, John Shaw.
     But when Turk puts the pedal to the metal for the opening concert of the 2012 summer season at noon Saturday, the auditorium will once again fill with the sound that organ designer and builder Robert Hope-Jones intended listeners to hear.
     Earlier this month replacement pipes made of poplar, constructed by A.R. Schopp’s Sons of Ohio and ranging in size from four to sixteen feet, were shoehorned into the tight quarters behind the choir loft by a team of Philadelphia riggers. To gain access, a wall to the building superintendent’s office had to be removed and then replaced.
     There’s more. For some years Turk had longed for a set of harmonic flute pipes such as those found in the organs of certain French cathedrals. The Ocean Grove organ has many flute pipes, but harmonic flute pipes are distinguished by a small hole which reinforces certain overtones, giving them a clear “ringing” quality.
     Until recently Turk believed they would render superlative sound only if  housed in stone cathedrals. That is, until he played the organs at halls in Zurich and Vienna with acoustics similar to the wood-lined Great Auditorium. Could such pipes be installed here?
     Turk consulted, among others, Jean-Louis Coignet, the organ curator of the City of Paris, who had once visited Ocean Grove and pronounced the auditorium’s organ “magnifique.” Over the winter they worked via e-mail to establish specifications for 306 harmonic flute pipes ranging in size from one and three-fifths to eight feet, divided into five “ranks” played from the organ’s five keyboards. John Shaw installed them just this week.
     The two installations bring the organ’s total pipe count to 11,558.
     The cost of the additional pipes is $65,000, made possible by gifts from two donors, James G. Howes of Clearwater, Florida, a transportation consultant, and Dr. Liselotte Schmidt, a retired music professor who lives in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.

Organ benefactor James G. Howes broadcasting the weekly radio program “Sacred Classics”

Howes, the grandson of  Methodist minister G.E. Lowman, a noted Baltimore radio evangelist, contributed $45,000 for the construction and installation of the open wood pipes in memory of his grandfather.  “I thought this would be a wonderful way to memorialize my grandfather and make a contribution to Ocean Grove that everyone could enjoy,” he said in an interview.

     Howes learned to play the organ in his grandfather’s church, the Baltimore Gospel Tabernacle, now an historic landmark. “I’m just good enough,” he said, “to know how much more I need to know.” He has also played and sung in the choir of the interdenominational Riverside Church in New York City.
     Howes’ grandparents were frequent visitors to Ocean Grove, as was his mother. Howes himself has been coming here since childhood and never misses a choir festival. A pilot who forged a career in airport management, Howes is also the president of Atlas Communications, which offers a weekly radio program, Sacred Classics, and produces CDs and concerts. One CD recorded in 2001 features Gordon Turk. Titled “Sacred Classics at Ocean Grove,” it has sold more than 3,000 copies, which Howes says is “very good for an organ record.”
     He will be in the audience Saturday when Gordon Turk will debut the organ’s new additions.
     Turk will also offer a July 4 recital (“Storms &Thunder, Stripes & Pipes”) and will play at a July 5 Summer Stars performance with the Philos Polished Brass Ensemble. And featuring, of course, the Auditorium organ.

One of the new 16-foot open wood pipes under construction earlier this year in Ohio

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