Builder’s Notes on St. George’s School Chapel, Newport, Rhode Island
The new instrument at St. George’s School was contracted in April of 2002 and completed in July 2005. The existing instrument was removed during the Christmas break of 2004. Although not completely finished the instrument was used for Prize day in May of 2005. An extremely challenging task for this project was the removal and rebuilding of the magnificent organ case. This casework was designed by the architect of the Chapel, Ralph Adams Cram, and the donor of the Chapel, John Nicholas Brown. It was installed when the Chapel was completed in 1927 and had not been touched since that time. The structure of the case was not designed for easy dismantling. As installed one would assume that the possibility of it being removed was not considered by the architect or donor. Having been in place for seventy-eight years the casework was in much need of repair, cleaning, and refinishing. Our crew under the direction of installation and Shop Forman John Wolf set up scaffolding to the very top of the case and slowly started taking it apart piece by piece finding many hidden dowels, nails, and screws. The detail in this case is extraordinary. Our crew saw details that had not been seen since the case was installed. The four Angels located high in the case each have fingernails, the back side of their wings (never visible from the front) are completed in great detail. Every panel and carving is full of Liturgical symbols and scripture. Once the case had been removed from the organ front and safely packed for travel to Texas the entire existing instrument was removed from the chamber. All of the mechanisms, swell boxes, windchests, electric relays, winding components, and console were discarded by way of a large dumpster placed near the chapel exterior door. The console top was rescued by the Headmaster of St. George’s and made into a desk. Upon our departure from St. George’s our truck contained most of the existing pipework (some went by way of the dumpster) and the casework.
Our first task in our shop in Texas was to clean, renovate, and refinish the casework. The case is constructed of sugar pine. We hired a chemical engineer to test the existing finish. This was necessary to obtain correct information needed for cleaning and refinishing the case. He concluded that the original finish was shellac and encouraged us to clean the case with alcohol and then reapply shellac. Our crew spent two months cleaning (sometimes with toothbrushes) each panel and grill from the case. One large member of the case, the large circle at the base, was warped due to water damage from a roof leak. Our solution was to run that member across the table saw on the back side and cut a saw cerf 1/8” wide and 3/16” deep every inch across the entire width thus allowing the installation and gluing of oak cleats across the circle on the back side to straighten and remove the severe warp caused by water. After the case was cleaned and water damage corrected we applied several coats of shellac to return the case to its original finish. As soon as the case was completed we had an open house for area organists and friends to see this magnificent work of art. Many who attended agreed that it was probably one of the finest examples of casework in the country. All were amazed at the incredible detail created in 1927 without the aid of power tools or computers. Monday morning after the open house on Sunday we packed a truck with just the casework and two of our crewmembers returned it back to St. George’s. It was a relief to have this irreplaceable work of art back on the school premises.
After the case had been returned we began building the new instrument. The acoustic of the Chapel is an organbuilder’s dream but building an instrument in the front of a room in a deep side chamber is changeling. The St. George’s chamber is much deeper than it is wide. Sound does not like to turn a corner, especially fundamental. In addition to the chamber depth the chamber opening is arched at the top creating some what of a sound trap. The previous instrument was positioned with the Pedal upper work directly behind the facade on the lower level along with the Choir and Swell. The Great was above the Swell and Choir and partially behind the arch. In the new instrument the entire Great division is thrust out on the lower level directly behind the casework, it is literally in the Chapel. Directly behind the Great is the Swell. It was necessary to keep these two divisions on the same level to ensure that they would stay in tune with each other. The Choir is above the Swell but still below the arch. The upper Pedal pipework is on top of the Choir division. In order to increase fundamental a large scale Principal 16’ and Subbass 16’ were added to the Pedal division. What was the Pedal Principal 16’ is now the Great Violone 16’. The 16’ Subbass that was in the front organ is now in the Gallery. The Great Principal Chorus is completely new including Mixtures. The existing Great chorus was enlarged in scale and moved to the Swell as was the Swell to the Choir. The Strings and Flutes incorporate both new and existing pipework, the existing being rescaled and revoiced. The Great and Swell Trumpets are new and of large scale. The Oboe, Vox Humana, and the Clarinet are from the previous instrument. In general any pipework incorporated into the new instrument from the previous was dramatically revoiced and rescaled.
All windchests are new, electro-pneumatic in design. Reservoirs are new incorporating oversized curtain valves and a combination of weights and springs to ensure steady wind. The four manual console was build by Robert Turner. This console in fact was his last, upon completion of the Rhode Island project he retired. All of the solid state equipment was manufactured by Solid State Organ Systems. The relay/coupling system is multi-plex. The console is moveable within the Chancel area.
The Gallery divisions are completely new. The casework was designed and built to mirror that in the Chancel. The Trumpet en Chamade is English in design playing on 10” of wind pressure. The Gallery is at home on the fourth keyboard but “floats” on the other manuals.
The design and building of this instrument was inspired by worship in this magnificent building. It is our strong desire that this instrument will give strength, comfort, and joy to all who experience it in this House of God.
– Dan Garland
(also see stoplist)