Lawrence Phelps & Associates, A Corporation for Organbuilding

Trends in North American

Organ Building

Lawrence Phelps

Delivered at the International Organ Festival, St. Albans, June 28, 1969.

THE BASIC IDEAS behind the reforms in organ building for which Albert Schweitzer so earnestly and eloquently pleaded more than sixty years ago are at last finding a larger measure of acceptance in North America. The most fundamental of the reforms he advocated were the return to the use of key-chambered or slider chests and direct mechanical action for controlling the wind-chest valves from the keys. These are fundamental because they affect the manner in which the individual pipe speaks, the manner in which groups of pipes blend together, and the manner in which the organist controls his instrument. They therefore affect the musical essentials of the instrument which transcend such considerations as tonal design, voicing or acoustical environment. Schweitzer was convinced that a keychambered chest was essential for really musical voicing and a well integrated ensemble, and that truly musical playing was not possible without mechanical action.

It is astonishing to observe the persistence and ingenuity with which organ builders in America, for more than three generations, have attempted to avoid these basic issues either by argument or by the contriving of cunning devices supposed to give equally good results. Indeed, the crass commercialism of which Schweitzer mercilessly accused the builders of his day is still one of the more obvious characteristics of a majority of their present-day American counterparts.


It is interesting to note that, while the movement toward mechanical action was very slow in gaining momentum, some of the other reforms demanded by Schweitzer were present in the revival in Germany when it finally got underway in the mid-20s, and were also present early in the work of the American revival which began a few years later. Among these now very popular features were the use of lower wind pressures, the placing of the instrument more out in the open within the room it is to serve, more organ-like specifications in the manner of the old masters with less orchestral influence, the establishment of the integrity of the individual divisions through both tonal design and placement, and the limiting of the application of expression shutters to not more than one division.

It is unfortunate that so much time and money had to be spent in proving that these improvements, although very necessary, were not enough to bring about the state of perfection that was so earnestly sought by idealists both in Europe and America.

After World War II, the Europeans were quick to acknowledge the supremacy of key-chambered chests and mechanical action, and these soon became important features of the post-war continuation of the organ revival. Also, the more sophisticated concepts of variable scaling, nickless voicing with full open toes and complete encasement for each division of the organ, were added to the Schweitzerian points of reform.

All of these points together have constituted the platform for the main stream of the European organ reform for the past twenty years. Although it has taken somewhat longer for the American revival movement to embrace the more sophisticated points of the modern European reform, the movement in this direction is growing every day and the trend of the developments in America for the next few years is now quite clear.

THE LAWRENCEVILLE SCHOOL, Lawrenceville, New Jersey: Three manuals, 32 stops; mechanical key action, electric stop action; setter-board combination action; installed 1969, by Andover Organ Company.


The future is indeed quite bright. However, America being more cosmopolitan and with a culture which is a mixture of cultures, we cannot for long continue to meet satisfactorily the requirements of our own environment with ready-made formulas imported from abroad. Furthermore, some of the most recent developments in Europe are questionable, to say the least. There are trends towards higher wind pressures, larger scales and higher mouths. Inaccurate and insensitive actions are sometimes encountered now in the work of builders who only a short time ago built reliable and responsive mechanisms. The use of electric coupling in some large mechanical instruments is a clear indication that some Europeans have already lost the way. Furthermore, not every recent European instrument has been an unqualified musical success.

Apart from the simple explanation that decadence is often the hand-maiden of affluence, it would require a deep study to produce a meaningful analysis of the artistic decline in some segments of European organ building. Even if we blame that old demon commercialism, it is nonetheless difficult to understand how a decline can be going on in some rather large areas, while at the same time the work of a few other builders continues to reach ever new heights of perfection. In view of all this, it is necessary that Americans, and perhaps also our English colleagues as well, take a very careful look at every aspect of the art and attempt to understand as much as possible in depth. It is also necessary, I feel, that the issues involved be intensively studied in our schools as a regular part of the curriculum, and that evidence of understanding the basic ideas be as requisite to the graduation of an organist as good organ playing.

While, as I have said, the future is bright for the revival in America and the trend is very clear, the major builders have been inexcusably slow to heed the writing on the wall.


Let us look briefly at a few of the factors which have retarded the progress of reform in America. Perhaps some of you have read my Short History of the Organ Revival, either in Church Music 67.1, or in the Concordia reprint, and are already acquainted with these:

  • The essentially English orientation of Donald Harrison and his colleagues which led him to reject a really classical orientation for his work and led him instead to a kind of neo-romanticism based on an attempt to combine elements in the work of Cavaille-Coll with those of Gottfried Silbermann;
  • the complacency with the results of early attempts to produce classical results with what were essentially romantic scaling and voicing practices and a lack of early examples from a better period to serve as guides; and then, of course,
  • the natural resistance to change and the difficulties of making real progress without first-hand knowledge of the techniques required.


After World War II, the progress of our purely American reform speeded up and if we do not look too far below the surface we can say that the superficial aspects of purely tonal matters became generally much improved over a period of only about ten or twelve years. The stop-lists certainly provided better resources with which to work, and the brighter pipework, where the brightening was not carried to extremes, certainly provided more interesting and generally clearer sounds. Unfortunately, the key-chambered chests pioneered by the late Walter Holtkamp Senior did not produce startling enough results to initiate a trend in that direction, and we can say that, as things stood some seven years ago, reform in America had gone just about as far as it could go without basic and more far-reaching changes. The conventional American wind-chest in all its various types had been pushed to its limit, and the capacity of the American approach to voicing had been exhausted. The fact that the sound of the organ was not an end in itself but really only a functional thing whose sole purpose for being was to present musical ideas in a clear, expressive, meaningful way to the listener, was grasped by very few. Most of the builders who were producing better sounds had no real idea of why they were doing this except that it was considered fashionable or was better for sales. Very few indeed ever thought, or indeed now think, in terms of the music their instruments are created to present. Fewer still think of their instruments as a means for communicating musical ideas. How many organ builders can discuss knowledgeably the basic repertoire, let alone its traditional and appropriate registration? This is surely a sine qua non, for otherwise we are building blindly to no logical purpose.


My own early attempts to explain the effects of windchest design on the speech of organ pipes in an article for the Organ Institute Quarterly in 1953 brought forth a series of articles by others to the effect that if I had really been a competent voicer, I would not have experienced the difficulties I reported in voicing on individual-valve chests, and that there was really no scientific evidence to prove that my explanation of the problem was correct. In spite of strong urges to rush into print, I kept silence, maintaining that if the hearing of these various writers had not been impaired they would have been able to observe the results I reported since they exist everywhere and under all conditions in which individual-valve chests are used. My views on the subject are no different today from those I held fifteen years ago. What I described in that article was perhaps the most basic of the problems facing the American reform. While the expansion chambers I added to the pitman chests for tbe organ for the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston in 1952 and in other more recent instruments solved the problem concerning the speech of the individual pipe, the more general problem of producing a beautifully integrated ensemble can be solved only with key-chambered chests. Hermann Schlicker, the well-known builder in Buffalo, New York, acknowledged this about five years ago and has discontinued the use of individual-valve chests entirely in favour of slider chests. In my own work, the transition from individual-valve chests of the pitman type to chests of the key-chambered type in electrically operated instruments is underway and should be completed within a few months. I have already produced several instruments with electrically operated slider chests, and just about everyone in our organization is completely convinced of the superiority of these chests in every way over the best possible electro-pneumatic pitman chest. The easier speech of the pipes and the better blending characteristics are easily observed even by the uninitiated, and we have had many opportunities to prove this in our plant when we have had instruments of both types standing in our assembly rooms.


Perhaps the main retarding influence in the American reform is the reticence of most of our builders to take the bull by the horns themselves and start finding out how to make successful, modern slider chests and sensitive, responsive tracker action. They have been willing to expend any amount of effort in argument and rebuttal in order to avoid their responsibilities in this direction. Yet, some of them will, if pressed, admit that they know that this is inevitable. It will not be an easy task and it will be expensive, and it cannot be solved by simply farming out the problem to European builders. The demands in America are such that no single European builder could meet the requirements of any of our major builders who might make a conscientious effort to convert the possibilities in their regular electro-pneumatic sales into mechanical-action instruments. At Casavant, we recently estimated from information in our files that, even now, we could easily sell about twenty-five good size mechanical-action instruments a year if we were in a position to make them. I am personally pleased that we are not able to produce this number of instruments at this time; otherwise, I might not be able to devote as much time as I do now to the careful planning of these instruments so that each one may be improvement over the last and a responsive musical instrument comparing very favourably with the best obtainable in Europe. Even so, it is clear that in the foreseeable future, we at Casavant Freres will be producing mechanical-action organs exclusively and at a rate at least equal to our current total production of about 1200 stops per year.


Compromise in organ building at best produces inferior instruments for, after all, what is there to compromise except those principles which produce superior instruments? When all is said and done, the degree of compromise required in the rebuilding of an old instrument of doubtful original value seldom does much else but preserve the questionable taste of a by-gone era and produce an obsolete instrument. Quite apart from the harm this causes to the musical life of the community by the loss of the opportunity to have a much better instrument, it causes harm in various ways to the organ builder himself, in that although this sort of activity provides work, it also deprives those who engage in it of the opportunity to develop their art and their abilities through practice at the highest level. One cannot be all things to all people. The techniques that produce a fine modern organ are subtle and elusive. One needs all the practice one can get. To be forced to relapse into obsolete practices is to retard progress. In North America those builders who have not allowed themselves to be distracted by the obvious financial advantages of the rebuilding trade and the comparative ease with which this work is obtainable, but instead have concentrated on developing their technique in the production of better modern musical instruments, have naturally become the leaders in their field. It would be unrealistic to expect otherwise for practice makes perfect in organ building as well as in organ playing. One does not become a great Bach player by practising only Liszt. Fortunately, most of the major builders in America have begun to recognize this and some of them are now taking a firmer stand, so the rebuilding work may eventually become the exclusive province of small local builders and repair establishments working entirely out of supply house catalogues -- a condition which will reflect more closely the relative importance of this type of activity to our cultural development.

FIRST ST. ANDREW'S UNITED CHURCH, London, Ontario: Three manuals, 36 stops; mechanical key action; electric stop action; setter-board combination action; installed in 1969, by Casavant Frères Limitée.


Another thing that is keeping American organ builders from taking the requisite steps to meet the new challenge is a wide-spread, deep-seated though completely erroneous notion that organ building through the centuries has gone through a series of cycles of shifting artistic fashions in which history has repeated itself. There is what we might call a conservative reaction which, incapable of understanding the true nature of the organ, prefers to think of it as a machine for making lovely sound effects and takes the attitude that the present organ revival is only a fad and cannot possibly long endure. Nothing could be more false. After so many years of progress it is hard to understand how this idea still persists. Anyone who takes even a little time to look into the matter will see that, at least up until the turn of the century, the history of the art of organ building is the story of one continuous evolution through the various periods of musical and technical developments, and that while we generally consider that the organ went through a decline in the romantic period, this is not to say that the best of the instruments of even that period were not the logical result of the continuity of this evolution, both from a musical and technical viewpoint. The extreme decadence which marked the instrument through the first quarter of this century would indeed never have taken place if it had not been for influences quite outside the organ and the church, and if the exhortations for reform by Albert Schweitzer had been heeded. The truth is that the decline of the instrument under first German and then, regrettably, English, influences which culminated in the horrible machines we knew in America until long after the beginning of our reform in the late 20s was completely without context. The irrefutable evidence for this is the fact that, although some of these instruments were in existence for quite a while, no worthy literature ever resulted for them; and indeed, even though some of the worst of them were in churches, they were in fact instruments built purely for entertainment and need not ever have been taken seriously. To take them seriously now in our musically enlightened age is an unpardonable intellectual error.

TRINITY LUTHERAN CHURCH, Worcester, Massachusetts: Three manuals, 41 stops; mechanical key action, electric stop action; setter-board combination action; installed in 1969, by The Noack Organ Co., Inc.


The current organ reform is not without context. It is an attempt to go back to first principles in the production of thoroughly modern instruments In order to be able to progress, some experimentation has been necessary, but no mature musician should be confused as to what is experimentation and what is the main stream of reform, or as to the probable direction of future developments.

There seems to be general acceptance now of what, for want of a better term, we call classical voicing, but I am not convinced that this reflects a deepening appreciation of the functional transparency produced by this technique, rather than simply a desire to do the "in" thing. I wonder how many really understand just what produces tonal transparency, what chiff is, what "sizzle" is, how they are important, and what happens to the music, to the transparency of texture, if one tries to remove these constituents of the tone through nicking or raising cut-ups, or closing toes. Why was nicking introduced anyway in the early 18th century? Was it really because of a changing taste? I think not. I have suggested that the practice of nicking was introduced to make new pipework cohere better with the pipework of previous builders; older pipework that had lost its sizzle due to the aging of the metal and the wearing of the edge of the languids by the passage of a few decades of wind. This aging and the change it produced in the sound of pipes was a perfectly natural physcial phenomenon. Making small nicks on the edge of the languid was found to bring about a similar effect artificially in new pipes, but the effect was of course compounded with each generation of builders. Thus, the practice of nicking eventually, though very gradually, brought about the change of taste that produced the smooth, lifeless, opaque tone so common in the flue-work of even the best of the romantic builders and which reached ridiculous extremes in the early decades of this century. We, moderns, having been re-exposed to the natural sound of undoctored new pipes, have found that it restores meaning to the music and the instrument we love so much, and we know that this sound is here to stay. Indeed we know that if it should again disappear, the organ as we know it will disappear along with it, for it will once and for all have lost its relevancy for our age.


Those persons are few and far between who having had the experience of playing a sensitive mechanical action remain unimpressed. When an organist plays on such an instrument for any length of time, he becomes completely addicted: it is a one-way trip with no return, and he will be forever after unhappy with anything else. And certainly for the listener the gradual revelation of hitherto unsuspected subtleties in performance can be spectacular. Thus the trend towards mechanical action must continue to grow, if organ builders generally continue to fulfill their obligation to produce a responsive and thoroughly useful mechanism from a musical point of view.

A good mechanical action cannot be produced inexpensively, and the very large difference in price between some of the low-cost European instruments which are now being imported into America and those of the better European builders should be evidence enough to anyone who gives any thought to the matter that the cheaper instruments cannot be comparable to the more expensive ones in quality. The European labour rates are pretty uniform, or at least as uniform as the regional rates in North America, so a price difference of several thousand dollars between similar proposals by two European builders cannot be accounted for by labour rates alone. Furthermore, the prices of the better European instruments, when finally delivered and installed in North America, are quite comparable with the prices of similar instruments by North American builders when one sets out seriously to make comparisons. Thus, an exceptionally low price should signal to prospective purchasers that something is amiss.

I have recently seen some of the low-priced European instruments, and while the sound was not outstanding, the pipework generally was not bad enough to complain much about. But the actions were atrocious. Yet organists with whom I had discussed the instruments prior to visiting them seemed not to object to the fact that the actions were stiff and unresponsive. Subsequent inspection of the actions showed that they were made of materials which could not survive hard use for more than a few years at the most. What bothers me most about this is that many organists who are quite in favour of mechanical action do not really seem to know the difference between a good one and a poor one. There are some today who feel that a poor mechanical action is better than the best electric action, but I am not of this opinion. There is no point at all in building mechanical-action instruments if these are not of sufficiently high quality to provide the expressive means which is its whole raison d'etre.


This does not mean that touch must necessarily be light to be satisfactory. It does mean, however, that as in all other musical instruments, the depth and weight of the touch must be proportionate to the work to be done, that it must not be excessively heavy and that it must be responsive. What do we mean by responsive? First of all, we mean that the organist must be able to feel what he is doing. This is especially important when the mechanism no longer has a time constant of its own over which the player has no control, as happens in all electric and pneumatic mechanisms, for now the fingers are in control and timing becomes a truly expressive device as it is in all other instruments. Also, it is in being able to feel the valve, and thus to some extent being able to control the rate of its descent, that the organist influences the attack of the pipe. Thus, a responsive action will not have a spongy or stretchy touch with lost motion between the point where the finger encounters the valve and the point where the valve actually opens. In a responsive action, the key rises freely and the valve closes with the same precision with which it opens. Nothing is worse than a sluggish return. Yet, this is the most common fault in mechanical actions and often the last to be detected. We must worry less about the weight of touch and become more concerned about the more subtle components that determine the quality of touch. I have found that some organists who prefer mechanical action do not really know how to get the most out of it, and I believe this is not so much a matter of lack of skill as a lack of understanding of all of the nuances of which a good action is capable.


While there is evidence of much more mature thinking about tonal design everywhere in America, the simplicity of the straightforward approach presented in D. A Flentrop's excellent article in the two-manual edition of The Diapason for September 1967 imposes a measure of discipline which only a few Americans are advanced enough to accept. Yet, the ideas contained in Mr. Flentrop's article are those which have in fact produced all of the fine instruments throughout the centuries. The idea that the tonal design of the organ should grow out of the environment in which it is to be placed offers perhaps the only valid means of arriving at a stoplist. It really means that the stoplist must be worked out while standing in the church with a tape measure in hand, and nowhere is this utilitarian, functional approach to tonal design more evident than in the work of the old masters, an especially good example being the work of Arp Schnitger, whose new instruments had often to be fitted into already existing cases. I highly recommend Mr. Flentrop's article to all of you, as it brings up important points which have not been very much discussed in print, and perhaps never before in English.

THE FIRST CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH, Los Angeles, California: Four manuals, 84 stops; slider chests, electric playing action; installed in 1969, by The Schlicker Organ Company.


Of course, the modern organ is a total concept and must be realized in its entirety if the desired results are to be obtained. A fine organ is the reward for doing everything right. It is not just mechanical action, or just slider chests, or just nickless open-toed voicing which produces the complete functional sound; a properly designed case is also a prerequisite. The movement towards properly encasing this modern instrument is growing every day, and I like to think that this is not just an epidemic of me-tooism but evidence of a real understanding of the issues involved. The general idea that the case serves to project the sound of the organ now seems to be quite well understood. The resonant effect of the case and the effect of this resonance on the sound of the organ, referred to by Mr. Flentrop in the article just mentioned, is something which is only beginning to be understood in America, but is, in fact, perhaps the most important contribution the case makes to the overall musical effectiveness of the instrument. Indeed, I think it is so important as to be worth devoting a whole series of lectures and articles to it, and I am beginning to work in this direction.

My work with encased instruments -- and I have worked more with this type of instrument than any other builder in America -- has led me to a way of thinking about the organ and its tonal resources which is quite uncommon in America but which is implied in some of Mr. Flentrop's remarks. In his article, Mr. Flentrop points out that two 4' principals of identical scale, one placed in the Positiv and one in the Great, will have quite different sounds in the church by virtue of the one in the Positiv being placed in the facade of a 4' enclosure while the one on the Great is placed as the third rank in an 8' enclosure. I have had the experience of placing two very different 4' principals in enclosures of the same size, and finding that it was very difficult to distinguish between these two stops at some distance from the instrument. Now that encased instruments are becoming more common, it is necessary to understand that in this type of instrument the pipework is not the only tonal element and the sound of the individual pipe is, therefore, not so much the end in itself as in an exposed organ. The design and proportioning of the case has important tonal implications as well as its visual aspects. In fact, the pipework has about the same relationship to the case in an instrument of the type we are now discussing as do the strings to the sounding board in stringed instruments or in the piano. It is the cases of the instruments which actually produce the final tonal format that differentiates not only the divisions within a single instrument but differentiates the sound of one instrument from that of another. Therefore, the design of the case is as important as any other aspect of the design of the instrument, and perhaps more important to the final effect in the church than is the design of the stoplist. There is certainly a very big difference between the sound of an encased instrument and an unencased instrument, and from the observation of many visitors to our plant in the past few years, there can be no doubt as to which effect is more appealing, both to musicians and musical laymen.


One of the frequently heard criticisms of mechanical action organs is that, with the console arranged in the conventional attached manner at the bottom of the main case, it is difficult for the organist to hear and judge what he is doing. The answer to this is evident to those who have experienced one of the fine modern masterpieces in Europe. When playing any good instrument in which the builder has kept faith with those who have commissioned his work, it is not necessary for the organist to hear the organ in a detailed way in order to play it. The balance between stops and divisions is built in, and although I fear it may be a long time before this principle becomes commonplace in American building, it must certainly come. The organist need then only use the instrument according to the time-honoured principles of registration and the sound will arrive in the listening area with perfect balance and blend. Freed by this complete confidence in the integrity of this instrument, the organist may devote his entire attention to the music itself. However, it is very important to a fine performance that the organist hear the organ sufficiently well to be stimulated by the excitement of the sound. Thus everything possible should be done to arrange the instrument so as to make this reciprocal influence possible.


America is not a homogeneous society, nor does it have a homogeneous culture, and heaven forbid that it ever become so. Therefore, there is no conglomerate instrument that will universally satisfy all of our various requirements. The sooner we face this fact, the sooner we can stop bickering and speculating and turn ourselves from the lost cause of trying to produce an instrument that will be all things to all people, and get on to the more serious task of providing instruments that will fulfill the unique functions for which they are planned with a measure of perfection until now unknown.

After forty years of activity, the organ revival movement has not produced, either in Europe or in America, one single center where a young person can acquire a complete organ education. A typical student, if he is lucky enough to work under the best conditions America has to offer, will spend his undergraduate days working on an instrument of moderate size with an eclectic tonal design put together from bits and pieces of tonal concepts from here and there by a well meaning but naive committee of faculty members who, prior to the building of the instrument, were certain that this approach would produce a flexible enough instrument to allow all of the literature to be taught on it in a stylistically correct manner. No sooner had the instrument been constructed when most of the better informed members of the faculty realized that the instrument fell far short of its goal and so the student spends most of his days listening to his teacher apologize for the shortcomings of the instrument and explain that this or that registration in which couplers, and maybe even octave couplers, play an important role is something akin to what he could expect to hear on a North German or French instrument. The student is assured that, after graduation, when he goes to study with Marie-Claire Alain or Anton Heiller, or some other European notable, he will hear the correct sounds and then will understand the music completely. The fact is that very few of the notable teachers of Europe have much better equipment than our own teachers, and so, unless the student is in a position to travel extensively throughout Europe, he comes home from his European study, which more typically is centralized with a certain teacher, only slightly broadened so far as his knowledge of tonal concepts is concerned. This is an impossible situation, and must be corrected.

WHEATON COLLEGE, Norton, Massachusetts: Three manuals, 39 stops; mechanical key action, electric stop action; electronic solid-state magnetic-core combination action; installed in 1969, by Casavant Frères Limitée.


We have reached the point where there is a definite need for a certain number of instruments in America in the strict North German style, and also for a number of instruments in a strict classical French style, so our young people can find out what a real organ sounds like and how it works in the performance of the literature, without being constantly dependent upon aid from Fulbright scholarships. Since these two conflicting classical concepts underlie the bulk of the organ's great literature, it is essential that our students understand every aspect of both literatures, and the organs and traditions that produced them, as well as if they were born in those periods and in those places. This is essential, and in my opinion it should be the basic goal of all undergraduate organ study. With this basic knowledge as a background, we can then, and only then, start thinking of a modern tonal concept for today which is broad enough to cover all that is basic and really essential in the production of a thoroughly modern instrument for today. This type of instrument will be something quite different from what is generally thought of at present in America as a general purpose instrument.

There was a time when I felt that the basic differences between the French classical concept of the organ and the North German style were quite irreconcilable. But after several years of building instruments in these two strict styles, I have found a style of my own which seems to combine the requirements of these two schools remarkably well and, as a very agreeable by-product, provides extremely successfully for the romantic literature also.


We need better instruction in listening for our young people. Of course, the instruments outlined above will in themselves provide this, but we must stress what I call proper voice leading, that is the correct balance between voices in a polyphonic texture played on one keyboard. There is a strong tendency to mistake tonal brilliance for clarity and to overlook such common weaknesses as a recessive treble, obscure middle voices, a too dominant tenor or an over-heavy bass. These are of course defects in organ building, probably attributable to scaling, and although the organist can do little about them once an organ is built, a wider appreciation of what is required will at least avoid perpetuating this defect and compounding the error.


Although there seems to be a small decline in the number of purchases of organs by churches in recent years, this has not noticeably affected the total number of organs being built. This is due to an ever increasing and very encouraging demand for new instruments by schools and universities. New music buildings have been springing up on campuses in all parts of the U.S. and Canada for several years, most of them being built with substantial government assistance. Indeed, only six months ago, more than three-quarters of the contracts for mechanical organs I had in hand were with educational establishments. Some recent large church contracts have changed the statistics of the balance in our backlog somewhat, but I do not believe this indicates a change in the trend for the immediate future.

I predict that the first university that installs the proper equipment to give a complete organ education will be so swamped with undergraduate and graduate applicants that it will have to run its equipment day and night. Never have I seen such a thirst for a deeper knowledge in young organ students as there is today in campuses throughout America, and never have I seen such an awareness among students that they are not getting what they really want and need to become complete organists. This is undoubtedly equally true of England; the considerable talent of our students is being hopelessly frustrated by lack of instruments and professional conditions of study.


I have not touched on the typical multi-purpose concerthall project, a field I have as yet been reluctant to enter. It is hard to justify the amount of time required to do battle with ballet masters, opera managers, musical directors, operating managers and acousticians, as is necessary to win even reasonable conditions for a worth-while instrument. However, I have recently been persuaded by a group of seriously minded architects and their equally seriously minded clients that they really do want and need an organ of serious proportions in their recital hall. They have already proven their sincerity by fighting and winning all the storage and operating battles. It remains only for me to provide the organ and devise a means of moving it about. So, if all goes well, we may soon see for the first time an organ of major proportions weighing some 40,000 to 50,000 pounds with complete mobility and with the total load distributed so well that it can be supported, without any special provisions, on the resilient type floor so loved by and so necessary to the ballet dancer. The organ will be completely encased, with mechanical key action, and will move about on a cushion of air. So you see, my answer to modern technology and electronics is more modern technology and mechanical action.

In a recent lecture entitled "Where do we go from here?" by a well known American organist, this question as to the future of the organ was answered by the suggestion that, very soon, perhaps within ten years, there will be only two kinds of organs available in America. Mechanical-action encased pipe organs, and "electronics." Mechanical-action instruments for musicians and electronic instruments for the rest. To this I say a hearty Amen!

ST. JOHN'S LUTHERAN CHURCH, Summit, New Jersey: Two manuals, 23 stops; mechanical key action, electro-pneumatic stop action; installed in 1969, by The Holtkamp Organ Company.