Highland Park United Methodist Church Dallas, Texas Dobson Pipe Organ Builders Inc

By Panning, John A. | The American Organist, April 2010 | Go to article overview

Highland Park United Methodist Church Dallas, Texas Dobson Pipe Organ Builders Inc


Panning, John A., The American Organist


From the Musician

Choosing an organbuilder is an opportunity with significant risk as well as potentially significant reward. When the church involved has had three pipe organs in its sanctuary in a period of 80 years, that risk is magnified exponentially. "Why do we need a new organ? The organists make this one sound good enough."

Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas, has always held music and its powerful role in worship in high regard. When the original sanctuary was built in 1926, the church installed a Pilcher pipe organ in chambers across a split chancel behind a proscenium arch. While this instrument was warm and rich in tone, it was not sufficient to fill the room with sound - especially after the new room's naturally resonant acoustic was deadened by horsehair acoustical material installed on the ceiling to improve speech intelligibility in an age before sufficient sound reinforcement. In 1954, the church replaced the Pilcher with AeolianSkinner Opus 1231 (??/43) in the same organ chambers. Alas, while more "up to date" for the time in terms of its ability to render Bach et al. in the performance practice of the day, this instrument suffered from the same limitation as did its predecessor: limited egress into a room not friendly to music.

In 1972, the chancel area was opened up, allowing for the installation of Austin's Opus 2558 (IV/113), which now had the opportunity to speak directly down the axis of the nave. Unfortunately, because of the extreme pendulum-swing of organ styles at this point in history, the extraordinarily narrow pipe scales and low wind pressures (especially in a dry acoustic) again prevented the instrument from filling the room with beautiful tone. Mechanical problems and providentially timed ciphers during two Christmas Eve services (with no manipulation by the organists!) helped cement the case for a new instrument.

An organ committee including Director of Music and Arts David R. Davidson, organists Bradley Hunter Welch and Christopher S. Brunt, Barbara Rutherford, and Joe Penland narrowed the list of potential builders until unanimously deciding to enlist Dobson Pipe Organ Builders to build the church's new instrument. Dobson' s success in building instruments with not only a strong classical backbone but also great expressivity in incorporating Romantic orchestrally imitative voices convinced the committee that the new instrument would have the balance of eclecticism with integrity, refinement, and fire that would stand the test of time primarily in service of the liturgy but also as a concert instrument.

Acoustician Mark Penz of Kirkegaard Associates and John Brown of Selzer Associates Architects guided us through the process of ensuring the aural, visual, and liturgical success of this installation. Under the leadership of David Davidson and Senior Pastor Mark Craig, funds were raised for the new organ and a thorough renovation of the worship space - part of which would include removal of the horsehair from the ceiling in order to improve the room's acoustics. Lynn Dobson worked tirelessly to propose and refine a visual design that would complement and accentuate the Texas-Gothic architecture, while preserving an unobstructed view of the front stained glass window.

Dobson Tonal Director John Panning and Artist-in-Residence Bradley Hunter Welch collaborated closely to develop an instrument that would succeed musically where the previous instruments had proved inadequate. The result is an instrument that not only fills the room with beautiful tone but has amazing flexibility. Depending on one's taste or need in the repertoire, a tutti can be either blazingly French à la Notre-Dame in Paris or richly English as with a great Willis. The dynamic range is enormous, from a searing ffff undergirded by the devastating Contra Trombone 32' down to and beyond the threshold of audibility. A tremendous range of color and sonic effects makes Opus 87 a thoroughly enjoyable instrument to play, hear, and with which to sing in worship and in concert. …

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