SCHNEIDER PIPE ORGANS, Inc., Kenney, IL, has completed the first of a multi-phased renovation and completion program of the Ĉolian-Skinner pipe organ in the Chapel at Lincoln Christian College, Lincoln, Illinois.
This instrument was originally built as Opus 933 for Third Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA, and was moved to Lincoln by an organ builder from Quincy IL during the 1970's. Unfortunately, this period was one that experienced a large number of organ building company failures due to inflation and lack of coverage in the form of escalation clauses. This, coupled with a grandiose project that was seriously under-bid was the demise of the former builder. Consequently, the installation was never completed as originally envisioned, although the vast majority of the Ĉolian-Skinner instrument was installed in the Chapel.
Those familiar with Ĉolian-Skinner Organ Company history are aware that the time during which this instrument was originally built was a period of embroilment, in terms of a power struggle in matters tonal between G. Donald Harrison, who had recently come from England with then revolutionary tonal concepts for the pipe organ and the firm's founder E.M. Skinner, who saw the instrument largely from the vantage-point of being the perfect "do-everything" orchestral substitute. Consequently, there are disparate elements from each of these two competing schools of thought embodied within this instrument. Later organ designs took on a cleaner, more so-called "American Classic" direction, once the rivalry between these two ingenious organ tonal architects; each with their own quite different philosophies, ceased with the departure of E.M. Skinner after his contract expired in 1935.
It is unfortunate, in a way, that this instrument did not either pre-date or post-date this volatile time, as these conflicting elements do not work as well together as if the tonal design had completely embodied the philosophies of either one or the other of the masters. Evaluating later examples of Ĉolian-Harrison examples of similar size completed only a year or two later proves to be quite an illuminating experience,in terms of demonstrating how different those latter designs depart from this instrument as relate to the increasing importance of clarity of polyphony evidenced especially in the Principal choruses that is strikingly absent here. Future plans call for study of these later examples to help formulate a basis for ADDITIONS that would sympathize inasmuch as possible with the original, yet steer the instrument, tonally, in the direction of the later works. This will be done in the Ĉolian-Skinner style, in terms of workmanship and materials and in such a manner that if future generations disagree with the prognosis herein offered, they can be reversed and nothing changed in such a way as to have the original work lost to the ages.
In its current incarnation, the instrument is located on a specially-prepared platform half-way up the wall immediately behind the stage in the ultra-modern Chapel building, constructed in 1970. The room enjoys favorable acoustics with brick and plaster walls, plaster ceilings and all surfaces arranged as to completely avoid parallel walls and floor/ceiling surfaces altogether.
The instrument currently has no facade; it having been left at its former venue in Pittsburgh. Currently, the instrument is screened by a heavy red curtain. Future completion plans call for the installation of new polished aluminum facade pipes for a 16' Prestant; shared between the Great and Pedal, in deference to the ultra-modern design of the chapel.
One of the aspects of the original re-installation of the instrument that was never accomplished due to the bankruptcy of the builder involved was that the instrument never had a functioning Combination Action system while installed in Lincoln! While an inconvenience on smaller instruments, it was downright disastrous for an instrument of this magnitude! In Lincoln, the console was made portable by placing it on a castered platform, while in Pittsburgh, it was stationary. Consequently, it was winded from the main blower static wind pressure, in order to run the pneumatic combination action. An attempt was made by another firm to install a small Meidinger blower inside the organ console to run the pneumatics, then install a "cheapie" electronic memory unit, but this "Rube Goldberg" arrangement was not only extremely noisy (having a blower right inside the console!), but the blower could not provide adequate wind pressure to properly run the Combination Action Pneumatics! The effort was finally abandoned and the firm doing the work refunded the money to the college with the result that there was still no functional Combination Action after nearly 20 years of the instrument being installed at the college!
In 1988, yet another firm was called in to install a new Peterson diode-matrix relay system to replace the instrument's failing original relay system. Unfortunately, the installation was very poorly done, with the end-result being organ cables hanging all over the place (through the air!) and many hundreds of tiny connections never soldered. Moreover, many of the "Offset" chests were never connected to the new relay system; hence they never functioned at all. One of the more curious problems was that whenever the Choir Primaries fired, the Erzähler Celeste played from Tenor C up through Treble G at all times! Most of this relay system was coupling functions, as these were installed in the organ chamber, rather than in the console, where they logically belonged!
In 1991, our firm was called upon to render emergency service, in order to try to "band-aid" the instrument together sufficiently to function for an upcoming organ recital by one of the faculty members. For a solid week, the shop staff worked day and night to try to bring the instrument into as good of shape as possible prior to this event and the results of those efforts became so obvious the evening of the recital that the college authorities not only publicly acknowledged the diligent efforts of everyone involved in the repair work during that recital, but made the commitment at that juncture that all further efforts to renovate the instrument were to be entrusted to our firm without further competition or "shopping around". This was logical in any event: our shop is located only 17 miles away from his institution.
Shortly thereafter, the college authorities requested and received a Master Plan from our shop for the complete rehabilitation and to devise a logical, incremented course of completion of the instrument as it was originally conceived to be re-installed when originally contracted-for back in 1970. The work needed to be completed in "stages" as money became available to fund the effort.
Phase one, completed in the Spring of 1995, consisted of a complete re-wiring of the instrument, as well as the complete rehabilitation of the IV-manual console. This aspect of the project included installation of all new gold Kimber-Allen key contacts, replacement of the pneumatic system with all new Harris drawknobs and tilting tablet coupler mechanisms, which were driven in turn by a new Peterson MSP-1000 multi-level Combination Action.
The relay panels installed in 1988 were completely re-configured, so that all wind chests needing relay drivers were connected and the majority of the old system was eliminated, since the Multiplex keying system contained all coupler functions in a very compact board mounted right within the console, along with all of the other boards for MIDI and the Stop Action magnet drivers. All wiring in the instrument that was poorly installed was either neatened up or replaced if it was not possible to re-install the existing in a workman-like manner.
the introduction of Multiplex digital key encoders in place of the original analog wiring between keys and the relay panel made it possible to reduce the 4" diameter flexible conduit "snake" running between the console platform and the organ chamber to a mere 1-1/2" diameter. This new Multiplex system also allowed for preparations to incorporate MIDI interface, in deference to the style and idiom of the worship experience at the college.
The console shell was completely "gutted", re-finished on the inside, and then completely re-configured with the new solid state equipment. At the same time, the console platform was stripped of twenty-year-old disintegrating "shag" carpeting and received new Oak Parquet flooring surrounded by quarter-sawn White Oak skirting to match the finish of the console.
The first official use of the renovated console was for Commencement in the Spring of 1995, which was the first time in the 20 year history of the instrument in this institution that it was possible to play the program without two registrational assistants. The new system allows for 98 levels of memory, as well as programmable Crescendo, Sforzando and Piston Sequencing functions; all of which are accessed for setting and changing via control panels installed in matching pull-out drawers to conceal their presence from normal viewing. The system is completely programmable, so that piston functions, division groupings, etc. can be readily changed should it ever be desirable or necessary without having to contact the manufacturer.
It is particularly gratifying that after so many years of the instrument being misunderstood, poorly maintained and ignored a solid road map for complete rehabilitation of the instrument is finally in place that can be carried out to its logical conclusion. The end result should be an incredible instrument that will not only enhance the musical life of this campus community, but the central Illinois community at large.