ST. EDMUND’S PIPE ORGAN
Fifty years ago, St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church in San Marino invested in a world-class instrument known as Aeolian-Skinner Opus Number 1323, or a pipe organ. One of 1,400 instruments produced by the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company and its predecessor, the Skinner Organ Company, in America, St. Edmund’s pipe organ is a significant historical instrument in need of restoration.
“The heart of its music program, St. Edmund’s has only been able to provide the maintenance necessary to slow the pipe organ’s disintegration,” said The Reverend George F. Woodward III, rector of St. Edmund’s. “The pipe organ is in need of restoration, revoicing, and tonal finishing to enhance and improve the instrument to the builder’s original intent.”
St. Edmund’s consulted with Thomas Harmon, PhD, Professor and University Organist, Emeritus, of UCLA, who established the potential for enhanced effectiveness of the organ through restoration and judicious additions of new pipework. In keeping with the American Classic Organ tradition of Aeolian-Skinner, restoration, under the direction of fine artisans, would provide “the church with long and continued services from its fine Aeolian-Skinner instrument and has the potential, particularly if the organ is enlarged, of regaining its place as one of the important instruments in the greater Los Angeles area,” according to Harmon.
Taking the reins of the pipe organ’s restoration is Robert Packer, whose mission is to restore significant musical and historical value to an instrument that will serve San Gabriel Valley and Greater Los Angeles residents well into the 21st century. With an initial grant of $200,000 from the Ahmanson Foundation and a $100,000 bequest from the Estate of Louisa Martineau, St. Edmund’s launched its capital campaign, “Restoring the Heart of Music” in early 2007, which has now nearly completed the funding of the initial contract price.
“New exterior pipes in the Chancel have been added to the project, providing both a fuller sound than ever achieved before and a visual enhancement to the overall concept of restoration plus enhancement of the instrument,” said Packer, who oversees the capital campaign, which is aiming at raising an additional $150,000 to fund both the additions recommended by the restorer and to provide a foundation for a music endowment for St. Edmund’s.
“Since the completion of the renovation of the church and the realization of the dramatically improved acoustics, an entirely new conception of a serious organ restoration and enhancement project began to develop so as to fully reveal the unexploited potential of what we already had in place–that is, possibly the finest pipe organ in the San Gabriel Valley,” said Packer, adding that he expects the church to be a significant intimate venue for the performance of organ, chamber, choral, and orchestral music.
“The organ is comprised of stately metal pipes, sensitive leathers, woods, and multiple moving parts,” said Packer. “When activated, the pipe organ is a virtually living, breathing organism requiring ongoing care and periodic restoration. St. Edmund’s pipe organ is the heart of our music program.”
Due to budget constraints, St. Edmund’s was only able to provide maintenance necessary to slow the pipe organ’s disintergration. Following preventative maintenance, the organ’s band-aid approach has affected the instrument.
The systems would not hold air due to cracking leather pouches that hold the base of the pipes. The noise from the aging air blower became so distracting that the entire instrument had to be shut down during Woodward’s sermon and the Eucharist. Many pipes simply no longer functioned, and for multiple technical reasons, the organ was in serious danger of being damaged irremediably, if not for the restoration underway.
“Fifty years was a long time to postpone a complete physical examination of our pipe organ,” said Packer. “We needed to prescribe appropriate restorative therapy.”
To assist with the organ’s restoration, St. Edmund’s contracted Rosales Organ Builders. Manuel Rosales, president and tonal director of Rosales Organ Builders, designed and supervised the construction of the organ at the new Walt Disney Concert Hall and is the Curator of that organ. With over 25 new instruments including large organs for Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon and St. James Catholic Cathedral in Seattle Washington, Rosales is the fine artisan St. Edmund’s needed to revive its pipe organ’s stunning voice and tone.
Examining fully the St. Edmund’s pipe organ, which is located in four chamber rooms, Rosales provided the church with a comprehensive description of its much-needed mechanical rebuilding. As space requirements and availability are clearer, Rosales is proposing the addition of a true 32′ rank in the Pedal. This is the rank that is missing from almost all smaller church organs and is usually found only in large auditoriums, like The Walt Disney Concert Hall, and cathedrals.
“All great organists want to play a 32′,” says Rosales. According to Rosales, this addition, combined with the enviable acoustics of the church, will make the St. Edmund’s Aeolian-Skinner one of the finest private church pipe organs in Southern California. “Only two or three churches have the 32′, and none have the acoustics of St. Edmund’s,” said Rosales.
As it appears, St. Edmund’s pipe organ will not only have received a restored heart, releathering, and revoicing, new pipework will be added. “The time has come to give the Aeolian-Skinner organ a new lease on life for the next half-century,” said Rosales.
“The restoration of our signature Aeolian-Skinner organ will breathe additional life into communities yearning for traditional and progressive musical experiences,” said Woodward.
To learn how you can help with the restoration, or sponsor a new pipe, contact St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church at (626) 793-9167 and visit www.saintedmunds.org.
ABOUT AEOLIAN-SKINNER COMPANY
Aeolian-Skinner was undisputedly the mostly highly respected organ builder in America, the benchmark by which the quality of all competitors was measured. Admired not only for the uncompromising quality of their workmanship, but also for the artistic inspiration of their tonal design, voicing, and tonal finishing, Aeolian-Skinner organs were greatly admired by touring European organists, and an Aeolian-Skinner was regarded as the Stradivarius of organs by most American organists. The stylistically eclectic “American Classic Organ” design conceived by G. Donald Harrison, president and tonal director of Aeolian-Skinner from its inception in the early 1930’s until his untimely death in June, 1956, was recognized around the world as the image of the mid-20th-century American organ, and its influence became apparent in the work of most American and European organ builders.