Church of the Ascension Denver, Colorado Patrick J. Murphy & Associates Stowe, Pennsylvania

The American Organist, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Church of the Ascension Denver, Colorado Patrick J. Murphy & Associates Stowe, Pennsylvania


From the Organist

The Church of the Ascension is located in the historic Country Club neighborhood of Denver. The church's sanctuary was designed in 1909 by architect (and congregant) Arthur Addison Fisher, a partner in the prominent firm of Fisher and Fisher, then one of the largest architectural firms in the Rocky Mountain region. Stylistically, the church was described as Late Gothic Revival with Mediterranean influences. Not long after construction, the chancel was severely damaged by fire and was rebuilt and enlarged. It was on this occasion that a new organ was installed in the southeast chamber by the Hall Organ Company, New Haven, Connecticut, in 1918.

The colorful interior decor of the church invited the addition of sculpture by two renowned Colorado artists: a reredos depicting the Ascension crafted by Arnold Ronnebeck and Stations of the Cross fashioned by Marion Buchan. Regrettably, the church interior later was victim to an overindulgence in cream-colored paint that only drew attention away from these artifacts and the stained-glass windows.

This organ was enlarged slightly and totally enclosed in the 1950s in the already cramped chamber. By the 1980s, there were increasing incidents of mechanical problems and tuning instability. My predecessors had solicited no less than ten proposals for rebuilding or replacing the instrument over the course of 20 years.

After assessing the conditions, an Organ Task Force was convened to determine what course of action would be appropriate for the church. Members of the task force familiarized themselves with the purposes and operation of both pipe and electronic organs and prioritized the needs as well as the constraints of the project for prospective organbuilders. Proposals from several builders thought to be up to the task of such a project were solicited. Eventually, onsite visits by five organbuilders were arranged on the merits of their proposals and estimated costs. Patrick J. Murphy & Associates listened with particular care before submitting a proposal - we weren't simply handed a "stock" specification for a larger two-manual instrument. I was also intrigued by the firm's reputation for judicious restoration of late-19th-century American organs and the historical perspective that they might bring to the sound of a new instrument in Denver.

I most appreciated being genuinely included in the tonal design; trips to Philadelphia and Baltimore were taken to determine the character of specific stops by listening to representative examples of the work of Patrick J. Murphy & Associates in various installations, as well as the work of other builders. Once details of the contract were finalized, the firm worked closely with the church to ensure that preparations would enable the organ to sound its very best.

The interior of the church underwent a sensitive process of reconfiguration and restoration to welcome the new instrument. The acoustics in the nave were significantly improved through installation of reflective gypsum panels between the exposed beams and purlins of the nave ceiling. This also imparted an inspiring loftiness to the space and boosted the effect of improved lighting. Portions of the floor were structurally reinforced to support a new "thrust" altar and Communion rail at the front of the nave, as well as the weight of the new organ at the east wall and southeast chamber. Sufficient thermal insulation was installed behind the Great and Pedal division cases and throughout the Swell chamber. A wrought-iron rood screen was removed from the chancel arch and reinstalled as a "baptistry screen" in the narthex. Finally, the choir ceiling and east wall were repainted to their original royal blue color with ceiling florets gilded to match the pipes of the facade.

The visual collaboration of the organ brings everything together. Symmetrical oak casework, designed hy Frank Friemel, embraces the rhythm of and lends new prominence to details of the reredos sculpture. …

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