Posts Tagged ‘the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove’

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


By Mary Walton, Blogfinger staff.  2012.

     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.


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

Editor’s note.   September, 07, 2022.
  Below is a comment from OG historian David Fox dated today.


The Auditorium organ was purchased at a supposed discount in return for having, “Hope-Jones Organ Co. Elmira, N. Y.” emblazoned in gold on the base of the central display pipes. This ceased to appear on postcards in the 1920s.

While the company went out of business in 1910 and the present instrument is mostly not Hope-Jones, I feel it would be a nice historical touch if the name were restored.

It also had some now vanished “U”-shaped wooden ornaments running along the slanting tops of the pipe screens.


CANTILENE.      This is a Gordon Turk recording on the Ocean Grove organ.


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Best view is in the bleachers. By Paul Goldfinger.

On a hot day, the best breezes are in the bleachers. By Paul Goldfinger reporting from the Greatest Auditorium. Left click for biggest view.


Editor’s note: To explain this photograph you have to understand the work of Eugéne Atget, the French photographer who photographed the architecture and street life of old Paris at the start of the 20th century.

His images were documentary, but they also were artistic compositions that were appreciated by great artists of that time including Matisse and Picasso. When asked how he always got the best shots of old buildings, he said, “It’s where you stand.”

So, with the spirit of Atget in mind, I found myself in the back of the GA during a concert on a very warm sunny day. I simply counted 1-2-3-4 and stood in just the right place. Voila!  — PG    (This post originally published on Blogfinger in 2012. )


SOUNDTRACK:  What do you say to a topless lady? I don’t know, but here is a suggestion:


From the movie “DeLovely” about Cole Porter:


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The Great Auditorium. Ocean Grove, NJ.    By Paul Goldfinger, Blogfinger.net©


MARTY STUART AND THE CARTERS  From their album  KIndred Spirits


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By Paul Goldfinger © Autumn View from inside the GA 2013

By Paul Goldfinger © Autumn View from inside the Great Auditorium 2013

Re-post from 2014.

ELIZABETH GANTER.   Mozart’s “Clarinet Concerto in A Major.”   Gordon Turk, please bring this to the Great Auditorium.



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By Charles Layton

The Neptune Township Committee approved a resolution Monday night supporting continued use of Ocean Grove’s Great Auditorium for high school graduation. Mayor Kevin McMillan said he “didn’t feel the students should be deprived of it. They’ve worked hard.”

The American Civil Liberties Union is threatening to sue over the use of a place of worship for a public school graduation. The Neptune Board of Education has agreed to eliminate all religious content from the program, including an invocation and the playing of religious music, but the two sides are at an impasse over the presence of certain Christian symbols in and about the building, including the large white cross in front. The Camp Meeting Association, which owns the building, has refused the ACLU’s request that those symbols be covered over during the ceremony.

Committeeman Randy Bishop said, “The students themselves are quite upset about not being able to graduate there.”

As of now, it remains unclear whether the ACLU will follow through with its threat to try to block the use of the Auditorium in court. In effect, the two sides appear frozen in a game of chicken. Graduation is scheduled for June 17.

Bishop said there is no other venue available that is anywhere near as good as the Auditorium. It has been the site of Neptune graduation ceremonies for at least seven decades.

Committeeman Eric Houghtaling said he had attended several non-religious events in the Auditorium, including his own high school graduation, and had never paid much attention to the religious signs in the building. “At my graduation all I remember is the American flag” that lights up behind the stage.

For a more detailed account of the dispute, go here.

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The Great Auditorium interior during the Choir Festival. Photos by Paul Goldfinger

— UPDATED STORY: Includes interview with ACLU attorneys —

By Charles Layton

The American Civil Liberties Union is threatening legal action unless the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association removes religious symbols from the Great Auditorium prior to Neptune High School’s graduation ceremonies there.

The dispute is over the constitutional issue of separation of church and state.

Graduation is scheduled for June 17.

The Neptune Board of Education has been negotiating with ACLU attorneys and their client for some time and has made several concessions in hopes of avoiding legal action. According to Superintendent David Mooij, the board has agreed to remove all religious content from the graduation program. However, Mooij said, the two sides remain stuck over the ACLU’s claim that “religious objects” should also be covered from view. The objects at issue are the large white cross on the front of the building, the two lighted religious signs inside on either side of the stage (shown in photo above) and a religious symbol at one of the doorways.

Mooij said the Camp Meeting Association, which owns the auditorium, has offered to make some concessions but says it “can’t take down or cover those signs, and I agree with them.”

The two ALCU attorneys said they thought it would be a simple and inexpensive matter for the Camp Meeting to cover up the four signs for the night of the graduation only. “We don’t think that’s too much to ask,” said Jeffrey Pollock, a Princeton attorney who is handling the case along with his wife, Seval Yildirim, a law professor at Whittier Law School in California.

Neptune High School has been holding graduation ceremonies in the Great Auditorium for six or seven decades. Shortly after last year’s graduation the grandmother of a graduate sent a letter to the school board objecting to the ceremony’s religious content and to its location in a place of worship. She also voiced her complaint at the board’s September work session.

The board took the complaint seriously and, following lengthy discussions, decided to do away with all religious content in the graduation program, including the traditional student invocation and the playing of “Onward Christian Soldiers.”

“We thought things would be OK going forward,” Mooij said. “Some time elapsed before we heard back from this individual by way of the ACLU. The ACLU acknowledged our programmatic changes but said there were still problems with the venue.”

Pollock and Yildirim told me that if the school board and the Camp Meeting do not agree to cover up the religious symbols, they would probably recommend to their client that she file suit, either in state or federal court. The New Jersey courts might be the more likely choice. “The New Jersey constitution has more specific limitations upon the actions of a public entity like a public school,” Pollock said. However, he said, both the state and federal constitutions have a strong preference “that a public school find a place that is nonreligious, so that if you’re not of that religion you don’t feel excluded.”

Mooij said holding the graduation in the auditorium was important to the school because it “has historic significance and status” and also because of the large number of people it can accommodate. “We print 3,000 tickets every year,” he said, “so families can bring not only moms and dads and siblings but grandparents and aunts and uncles. To get 3,000 seats anywhere else, this community would have to travel a considerable distance.”

He said it was unclear how long the school has been holding its graduations there, but “our high school secretary’s father is 91, and he graduated there. And he said his was not the first class to do so.”

The grandmother who initiated the challenge has no relatives graduating from Neptune High this year, her two attorneys said, but she does have relatives scheduled to graduate next year.


For more stories on this issue, go here and here.

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