The Sanctuary Organ
"A sanctuary organ which will be a fitting tribute to the Glory of God, and an invaluable contribution to the spiritual and cultural lives of our people."
The sanctuary organ was built by the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company of Boston, Massachusetts. In the early planning stages, the Organ Committee led by Minister of Music Lloyd Pinkerton and Staff Organist Jack Ruhl, engaged in a lengthy program of research that included a detailed study of organ building practices in the 1950s; a survey of organ builders; numerous trips to inspect new organs; personal visits and correspondence with many organ authorities throughout the country; accumulation of competitive bids; inspection of an organ that was comparable to the instrument that the committee eventually recommended for purchase; and an inspection of the factory with which the church was to deal. Before placing the order for the organ, copies of the stop list were sent to 14 of the outstanding organ authorities, concert and church organists, and educators in the country for their comments. Only two of the responses contained reservations. The remaining majority were full of enthusiasm and congratulations for the prospect of such an excellent instrument being installed in a section of the country graced by few quality pipe organs (at that time).
The organ was designed for the utmost versatility in meeting the three basic requirements of a church organ: to lead the congregation in singing, to accompany voices and instruments, and accommodate solo organ repertoire from all periods in music history.
When first installed in 1956, the organ contained 76 ranks and more than 4,500 pipes. The majority of the pipes are located in the rear choir loft, with the Great, Positiv, and part of the Pedal division exposed in a symmetrical arrangement. The Antiphonal division, containing eight ranks, is located in a chamber on the north side of the Chancel and is playable on the main console. The organ was designed in consultation between G. Donald Harrison and Jack Ruhl. However, Harrison died before the organ was completed, and his successor, Joseph Whiteford, asked if it would be all right if his name was placed on the console even though the organ is a Harrison design.
In 1958 the pedal division of the organ was considered to be light in power. The 32' Bombarde was extended, and a 16' Contrabass was added, making the organ 77 ranks. The organ was rebuilt by Quimby Pipe Organs in Warrensburg, Missouri, in 1991. At this time the entire organ was moved to Missouri for re-leathering. The original three manual Aeolian Skinner console was replaced with a four manual console and the relay equipment was replaced with solid-state. John Hendrickson, the former Head Flue Voicer for the Aeolian-Skinner Company, did a complete tonal revision. As part of this project, the Positiv and Pedal Mixtures were enlarged and the two partial higher pitched ranks from the Great IV-VI mixture were removed, which reduced the number of ranks to 75. In 2001, a vintage E.M. Skinner French Horn and a new 8' Skinner copy Tuba Mirabilis were added by Renaissance Pipe Organ Company from Ann Arbor, Michigan, thus bringing the number of ranks to 77. Also, at this time, 41 pipes were added to extend the Pedal Violone (renamed Sub Principal 16'), also making this stop playable on the Great at 16' and 8' pitches. The pedal reed was augmented with 29 new pipes to make it playable on the Great at 8' and 4' pitches. In 2012, all reed ranks except the Rohr Schalmei and the Vox Humana were professionally cleaned, restored and re-voiced by Oyster Pipe Works, Louisville, Ohio, in coordination with Renaissance Pipe Organ. The French Horn and Tuba Mirabilis were re-voiced for increased wind pressure to improve the effect of these stops from their position in the rear of the choir chamber. During the summer of 2017, the organ underwent a complete electrical system update. The keyboards also underwent much needed maintenance after years of heavy use.
National Organ Playing Competition
In even numbered years, First Presbyterian Church hosts a National Organ Playing Competition. Talented young organists from around the United States are invited to submit a recording for the preliminary competition. After local judges listen to the recordings, three finalists are selected to compete in a live competition in Fort Wayne. The competition began in 1960 after previous staff organist Jack Ruhl had the idea to form an annual organ playing competition with the intent of bringing encouragement and recognition to some of the nation’s finest organists. Since then, the competition has attracted highly talented contestants and judges. The three finalists all receive a cash prize and the winner returns to play a recital in the Music Series the following fall. Winners and runner-ups from this competition have gone on to have distinguished careers as concert organists, university professors and church musicians.
For information on the 2020 Organ Playing Competition, click here.
Acclaimed guest organists that have played a concert on the Aeolian-Skinner include Marie-Claire Alain, E. Power Biggs, Pierre Cochereau, Ken Cowan, David Craighead, Catherine Crozier, Jeanne Demessieux, Maurice and Marie-Madame Durufle, John Ferguson, Virgil Fox, Robert Glasgow, Anton Heiller, Wilma Jensen, Joan Lippincott, Marilyn Mason, Karel Paukert, Russell Saunders and Alexander Schreiner.
The Chapel Organ
After the installation of the Sanctuary Organ, McMillen Chapel was completed and in need of an organ. Dr. John Culp offered to underwrite the cost of a chapel pipe organ as a memorial to his wife. The same intensive research process used in planning the Sanctuary Organ had been used for the Chapel instrument. The result was a 13 rank instrument built by the Reuter Organ Company of Lawrence, Kansas, and installed in 1959.
In 1991, while the Sanctuary organ underwent renovations, the Chapel organ also received a complete tonal and mechanical renovation.