Builder’s Notes on Arborlawn United Methodist Church, Fort Worth, TX
Arborlawn United Methodist Church is an extremely active and thriving congregation in the West side of Fort Worth. It is a remarkable church with an outstanding staff both in regard to theology and music. With a choir of 160, music plays an important part in the life of this church. The organ installation began in May, 2011 and was completed in April, 2012, the instrument first being used for worship during Advent 2011. This new instrument of 106 ranks was installed in the new Arborlawn sanctuary currently under construction which seats approximately 1000.
Our firm was contracted to build the instrument while the new facility was in the design phase. This was extremely fortunate allowing our input into the placement of the organ and the acoustic of the room. The organ committee consisted of the Organist Dr. Jerry Westenkuehler and Mr. Tom Stoker the Director of Music. Both are excellent musicians and fully understand requirements necessary for a successful new instrument in a new building. Before his current position at Arborlawn Mr. Stoker was Director of Music at Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth and was instrumental in the designing and installation of the 191 rank Casavant in 1996.
I designed the specifications of the new instrument with considerable input from both musicians. This project is unusual in that I was advised that the church had no desire for a conventional organ case but would rather as they said “see a lot of pipes”. I interpreted this as desiring the unenclosed divisions to be free standing in the organ with casework only up to the bottom of the pipes. This allows the designer to take advantage of the natural lines created by the varying lengths of each rank of pipes. Some would say that this makes the instrument easy to design by simply placing windhests at various positions in the unenclosed areas allowing the pipe lengths to create the visual effect. Just the opposite is true. Pipework and windchest elevations must be laid out in such a manner as to allow the instrument to come together as one cohesive visual ensemble. This is a difficult task involving varying pipe foot lengths and sometimes raising an entire rank only a few inches within a large windchest. In order to ensure this effect we used the services of Mr. Frank Feiemel to design the layout of the instrument. Mr. Friemel has extensive knowledge in all areas of organ design. When we first visited concerning this project he was quick to say that this type of design was much more difficult than an instrument with a façade enclosed in casework. It takes extensive design and engineering. While he was working on the unenclosed pipe layout he called and advised that he had to have an additional stop on the Great, a 2 2/3 Twelfth. He explained that the Great needed this extra visual line in order for the chorus to appear complete. The Contract was already signed. The church will have a Great Twelfth as a gift from the Organbuilder.
The organ has four expressive divisions, Bombarde, Solo, Swell, and Choir. The entire Great and Pedal are unenclosed. The four manual drop sill console interior is walnut, the exterior is oak. The drawknobs are rosewood with white inserts for engraving. The manual and pedal sharps are also rosewood as is the frame for the coupler rail. The action of the instrument is electro-pneumatic with the control system being multi-plex.
The specification includes a full length un-mitered 32’ Contra Ophecleide, a half length 32’ Bassoon and a large scale 32’ Bourdon. The instrument has two high pressure Tubas, one hooded and the other normal construction. There is a principal chorus in each division as well as a large variety of flutes, strings, and mutations. The expression enclosures are constructed with 1” MDF with 2” thick expression shutters. All four expressive divisions have 32 stage swell engines. The front panels of the façade cases hinge outward from the bass and with the aid of steel cables form a platform for tuning the pipework in the front façade. These panels open from the inside with no need for ladders from the floor below. Every pipe in the organ will be accessible for tuning with out the need of additional ladders or other equipment.
I would describe the overall tonal design of this instrument to be American eclectic but leaning toward English romantic style. Even though this is a significantly large organ we kept our focus on the fact that this instrument first and most importantly is an addition to the Sanctuary to be used in worship.
Leading the congregation in the singing of the hymns will be its primary duty. With the many colors found in the specification it will also work extremely well playing organ literature from all periods. It is our desire that this will be a significant addition to Arborlawn United Methodist Church and the musical community in Fort Worth.