Powerful pipes

A sibling to the Jordan Concert Organ at Legacy Hall in the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts has arrived at Trinity Episcopal Church, after about a year of construction.

It contains 3,621 pipes. Some are as tall as 16 feet, some as skinny as a pencil. Orgues Letourneau, a company with offices in Canada, sent six installers to put it in over a six-week period. Then a second crew came in — the voicers — who stayed another five to six weeks.

“In simplest terms they give it voice, going through to suit the room,” said Trinity organist and choirmaster Michael Snoddy. Like a tailor would alter a suit, the voicers listen for particularities in the space and fit the organ pieces accordingly.

The first test run for the congregation was Sunday, July 4 and featured a repertoire of English and American hymns. The debut for the wider community will be a concert Sept. 12. Co-Sponsored by Trinity and the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists, it will feature Bruce Neswick of St. John the Divine in New York at the console.

Neswick was formerly music director at the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta.

A yearlong series of public recitals will follow.

Snoddy relocated from Texas about 18 months ago and the project was already on the books. He was handed a folder and told: Go to it.

“It was a factor in coming here,” said Snoddy, 47, who had overseen one other organ installation — at Bentwood Trail Presbyterian in Dallas — and was enthusiastic about this one.

Donors in and outside Trinity paid for the Letourneau. Trinity matched the gift for outreach projects but declined to name the amount.

Comparatively, the Jordan Concert Organ at Legacy Hall cost $1 million. Similar in size, it was dedicated in 2002 and was also made by Letourneau. The heirs of G. Gunby Jordan named the Legacy Hall organ in honor of the late Columbus philanthropist.

Traces of the past

Trinity’s original instrument was built in the late 19th century. It was a mechanical-action organ, from a company called Hutchings-Votey. A small amount of case work from the old organ remains, near what used to be the baptismal font.

“Everything else is gone,” Snoddy said.

A second organ by the Austin Company came in the 1940s, and was basically a rebuild of the Hutchings-Votey.

Following these, a Schantz organ was in place in 1962, lasting nearly 50 years. “It did not have a whole lot of life left,” Snoddy said. At the time of its installation, the country was in a transitional period of organ construction: tonal ideas were shifting, and some were reacting to what was called the organ reform movement.

Then came the Letourneau.

“This organ is more nearly like the one built here originally. It’s more of a partner than what came after,” said Snoddy.

The musician compared the Letourneau to the one at Legacy: “They’re both very fine but they have different characters and purposes.” The Legacy organ, with 57 stops, was constructed with a 430-seat concert hall in mind. (A stop is a component of a pipe organ that admits pressurized air to a set of pipes. Stops can be used selectively by the organist, putting some in the off position.)

The Trinity organ, near the altar, most always accompanies a congregation and choir. With English-style stalls, the choir sits up near the altar in two main sections. Singers face each other in several rows apiece. Based on the organ’s position, its sound has to “turn a corner” to reach people in the pews. Adjustments had to be made for that.

Joseph Golden, organist/choirmaster emeritus at Trinity, has played both, as well as a Letourneau recently installed at a Columbus residence. All three showcase Letourneau’s range of work. Golden joked to a Letourneau executive that Columbus could be renamed “Letourneau South,” with the next-closest Letourneau organ of size in Atlanta — at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer.

He compared the Trinity one with the Jordan instrument at Legacy.

“Legacy Hall has remarkable flexible acoustics, so the organ was designed first,” said Golden.

Cubic space for Legacy was added, including a higher ceiling, to accommodate the instrument.

At Trinity, Letourneau had to work around the existing space.

There are 62 ranks, or sets of pipes. The sanctuary seats about 500 people. “It needs to be this size to fill a room like this,” Snoddy said.

The console, made of oak, contains three keyboards and a pedal board. The stops include names like contra bourbon, trumpet, and clarinet. Snoddy compared each to a box of crayons — each color with a unique purpose.

Like snowflakes, no two organs are alike — if even constructed by the same company.

“The organ is a one-of-a-kind work of art,” Snoddy said. “None is like this one. They are all different; and they can last as long as you want them to last.”

And, something as seemingly inconsequential as air temperature can affect an instrument’s sound.

“It will change its tuning so you want it as stable as possible,” Snoddy said.

“So far it’s remained really stable, which speaks highly of the organ and the work Trinity did to prepare,” he said.

To further stabilize the sound with this new instrument: the parish basement, which contains the blower, was recently reinforced with more studs, sheetrock and foam insulation. Accommodations were made in the attic, as well as a space off the main floor to accommodate pipes. “We learned some powerful lessons from the old organ,” Snoddy said. “I’m proud of what we’ve done.”

Allison Kennedy, reporter, can be reached at 706-576-6237.