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Christ Church Organ

Overview of Christ Church Pipe Organ

“O come, let us sing unto the Lord. Let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation.” These words from the opening of Psalm 95, known as the Venite, are incised upon the lower case of the organ at Christ Episcopal Church, unequivocally proclaiming the spirit in which it has been built. This instrument represents the ongoing growth in the ministry of Christ Church to the community of Greenville and the parish’s involvement in the local arts community.

Noted composer Robert Powell, who faithfully served the congregation as organist/choirmaster for nearly thirty-five years, took the opportunity of a new instrument as an impetus to move the organ and choir to the rear gallery, and the balcony was expanded to accommodate its new purpose. The organ stands against the back wall in the gallery, ideally suited to lead both congregation and choir in song.

The oak case which surrounds the instrument was designed and built entirely in the Goulding & Wood, Inc. shop. Picking up on the late Victorian style of the building which dates from 1854, the organ contains much Gothic detail, including many carved elements. Twenty-seven basswood shields adorn the case, each carved with a symbol representing the Trinity, a liturgical concept or an Apostle. The committee was able to “sell” the individual shields to donor families as a method of fund raising, which also built strong emotional ties between congregants and the instrument. During the installation and tonal work, several families visited the balcony to find “their” shield. Carved roses line the pipe feet in each of the flats and towers, and three angel musicians preside over the horizontal flamed-copper pipes of the Trompette en Chamade.

The layout of the organ is efficient, wasting no space while allowing easy navigation and access for tuning and maintenance. The Great and Pedal are on the top level near the peak of the ceiling, which allows their sound to emanate freely throughout the room. The Swell and Choir sit side by side below the Great, providing a close aural link to the musicians while speaking enough over the heads of those in the gallery to prevent an overbearing presence.

Tonally, the organ exhibits the house style which has evolved over the years, but this instrument carries the basic philosophy a step forward in a few significant areas. The basis of Goulding & Wood, Inc.'s approach was liturgy and the musical needs present in a worship service. While this includes playing standard repertoire in the opening and closing voluntaries, it focuses on hymn playing and choral accompaniment. The prime resource for leading hymnody is a strong, incisive principal chorus which is nevertheless broad and rich in sound. The tone must have clarity, but it should never be edgy or shrill. The organ has complete, balanced plenums through the Great, Swell and Pedal, and the Choir chorus, beginning at 8' pitch, is designed specifically for choral accompaniment. In playing plenum literature, the Swell acts in relief to the Great in the manner of Rückpositiv—Hauptwerk, and the Pedal has its own completely independent chorus built on 16' pitch. The Great 8' Principal is a full 44 scale (155 mm), and the scaling throughout the organ is generous.

Supplementing the principal choruses are a wide variety of color ensembles and solo voices. The flutes of the organ range from the powerful 8' Flûte Harmonique on the Great to the dark Flauto Dolce and Celeste in the Choir. Both Swell flutes are wooden stops with crisp articulation. The flute chorus in the Choir composes a complete six-rank cornet ensemble which is mild and gentle, contrasting with the searing Principal cornet of the Great.

The Swell division is designed specifically to build in a seamless crescendo, a ubiquitous effect in Anglican service playing. The strings in that division are rich but not edgy, and the 8' Geigen Diapason, while its scale was generated in relation to the Great 8' Principal, has a slight sharpness in its sound, blending well with the 8' Viole.

All Swell reeds have parallel open shallots and generous scaling. The independent trumpets at 16', 8' and 4' comprise a commanding chorus, with the 8' and 4' placed at the front of the chest just behind the shade frame. The Choir Tromba, which is based on the construction of an extant Willis Tuba, has a large, 5" scale and hooded resonators. Its heavy voice, rich in fundamental, carries well in all registers, yet with the Choir box closed it is mild enough to use with choral voices. The Great Trumpet and Fagotto have tapered shallots, maximizing the difference in tone quality with the Swell trumpets and blending well into the principal chorus. Crowning the manual trumpet chorus is the brilliant Trompette en Chamade, voiced on a relatively light 6" of wind pressure to avoid overpowering people in the gallery but with sufficient development to cut through the full ensemble. The Pedal Posaune has wooden resonators throughout its compass, and only the first four pipes of the 32' octave are half-length. Even then, low C is a full 15 feet in length, and low E, the first full-length pipe is 24 feet tall. The thick wooden walls of the resonators encourage generous fundamental tone.

Beyond the trumpet family, the organ contains several solo reed stops, including some very Romantic voices. The Swell Voix Humaine is appropriately throaty and bold, and it is placed in its own box with a variable lid. The Choir has a full-bodied Cromorne and a smooth English Horn.

The mechanics of the main chests are all unique designs of electro-pneumatic slider chest. This style of action maximizes the tonal benefit of common key channel while allowing for the flexibility of remote key action, thus all pipes of a single pitch within a division receive air from a common source, allowing them to “breathe” together. Further, the pneumatic motors which pull the pallets are highly efficient, imparting a gentle speech throughout the pipework. The remote key action allows for a moveable console, essential in many ecclesiastical situations where choral and instrumental forces change on a weekly basis. The console can move easily from the center of the gallery, as for solo recitals, to the farthest edge to accommodate large choirs, brass and timpani. Visually, the console complements the Victorian Gothic style of the case with its shaped key cheeks, Gothic relief panels, scored bone keyboards and walnut burl music desk. Abundant registrational aids support the pragmatics of playing and the issues around multiple organists in this large parish church.

Written by Jason Overall, Organ Builder, Goulding & Wood, Inc.