Magazine article The Tracker

Robert Noehren in Buffalo at First Presbyterian Church, 1969

Magazine article The Tracker

Robert Noehren in Buffalo at First Presbyterian Church, 1969

Article excerpt

By the year 1969, I had worked on and off in the organ business some fifteen years. Stephen Po-Chedley was the main organ service person in Buffalo. He had come to Buffalo in 1915 to install the Austin organ in First Presbyterian Church, after having installed the 1914 Austin in the Salt Lake City Tabernacle, Utah. It was in Buffalo that he met his wife and stayed to establish his own business firm. I had gone at age 18 to St. Jude's Episcopal Church as organist and choir director, and Stephen came to service the organ there. Heasked me to help in his business, and over the next few years learned a great deal, helping to install both a 3-manual and a 4-manual Ækinner, among many others, in western New York. Ækinne felt that Stephen did fine enough work that they called upon him to install their instruments. The 4-manual installed in Westminster Presbyterian Church, Buffalo, was a great learning experience for me, as it was the last contract signed by G. Donald Harrison before his death during the finishing of the organ at St. Thomas Church, New York City.

I had studied organ for some time with Squire Haskm, organist of First Presbyterian Church, Buffalo, and organ teacher at the University of Buffalo. I had nudged him several times about replacing the 1915 Austin, as it was a very heavy Romantic organ with four Diapasons on the Great, which employed wide scales. He started looking, and after hearing Robert Noehren's instrument at St. John's Cathedral, Milwaukee, decided on a Noehren organ. I was excited because I had heard the recording of this organ, and thought it very good. I asked Haskin if he thought Noehren might want me to help with the installation during the summer of 1969. Since I had acquired so much organ experience, Noehren decided to hire me.

First Presbyterian Church, Buffalo, is a large, domed brownstone building with the largest tower in the area. Along the street in front are some very beautiful flowering chestnut trees, which make a spectacular showing each spring, setting this building off from all the others around it.

The new organ arrived in a moving van in early June of 1969, along with Bob Noehren and two student helpers who had built the parts in his Ann Arbor shop. Everything was carried into the building, with the exception of the Positiv chest, which, with its casework, wouldn't fit through the front doors. Oscar Lutz, the wood shop foreman of the Delaware Organ Company, came and cut the top casework off the chest to make it fit, then doweled and glued it back on once it was inside the budding. Later, it was hoisted up to the balcony, with its top attached. Steel cables were connected to each corner, and then connected to ratcheted pulleys in the attic. The chest was thus raised to its proper height and leveled on the steel cables with a Delaware Organ Company man in the attic and Bob downstairs, with a level. This took a number of days, and much gold leaf fell from the ceiling during all this raising and lowering!

Bob Noehren became friends with Herman Schlicker when he came to Buffalo in the 1930s. After World War II, the Kenmore Presbyterian Church wanted an organ. Noehren and Schlicker collaborated on this organ, which included some rebuilt pipes from the large 4-manual Möller organ which had been installed in the Larkin Company Administration Building. Herman had acquired the organ when this building - designed by Frank Lloyd Wright - was demolished in the 1940s. The Kenmore Presbyterian organ was very successful, and Bob won the French Grand Prix du Disque for his recording of Bach Trio Sonatas on it. Bob Noehren and Herman Schlicker worked on several organs together, but in the mid-1950s they came to a parting of the ways, and it was soon thereafter that Bob began building organs on his own.

During the summer of 1969 at First Presbyterian, Buffalo, we had many discussions about voicing, organ building, and people we both knew in the organ business. One comment that sticks in my mind was that Bob felt that in order to learn to play the organ and accomplish some of its difficult music, the student had to be the one to put out the effort, and that there was only so much that the teacher could do. …

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