St. John's Episcopal Church Roanoke, Virginia Quimby Pipe Organs Inc. Warrensburg, Missouri

By Hancock, T. Daniel | The American Organist, November 2012 | Go to article overview

St. John's Episcopal Church Roanoke, Virginia Quimby Pipe Organs Inc. Warrensburg, Missouri


Hancock, T. Daniel, The American Organist


From the Builder

Although many other southwestern Virginia communities have early- American origins, the city of Roanoke was founded comparatively late. Despite this, the Episcopal Church of St. John in Roanoke has its antecedents in attempts to organize the Episcopal Church in southern rural society during the decades following the Revolutionary War, and by 1849, St. John's Church was established at Big Lick, Virginia. With the construction of the railroad in 1881 came the founding of Roanoke, and the church soon sought to move the short distance to the new town. Since 1892, the congregation has worshiped in an elegant, aurally resonant neo-Gothic structure of native limestone and sandstone on the corner of Elm Avenue and Jefferson Street.

The church's first pipe organ was a small instrument of unidentified manufacture that was installed by 1886 and subsequently moved to the new building in 1892. It was replaced in 1926 by a used residence pipe organ, also of uncertain origin. Apparently, neither was entirely successful in the fairly resonant volume of the current church, nor did either keep pace with the developing music program. In 1940, the rector declared that the installation of a new organ was more important than debt retirement, but it wasn't until his death several years later that memorial gifts provided for the installation of Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1093 of 1948, an instrument of 58 ranks, four manuals, and pedal. This substantial instrument paved the way for the continued development of the music program but fell victim to subsequent rebuilds and enlargements that were poorly conceived. The last of these, in 1991, also proved to be mechanically deficient. Then, no less than eleven lightning strikes threatened the electromechanical components of the already compromised instrument, and it was finally on Good Friday, 2006, one appropriately stormy morning, that one last lightning strike dealt a fatal blow to the mechanism of the instrument. The church, which had long tolerated ciphers, dead notes, and sometimes silence from the organ during countless services, weddings, and funerals, now faced Easter services with no organ.

A committee was formed, and its homework was done. The late Gerre Hancock, professor of organ and sacred music at the University of Texas, was invited to serve as consultant to the organ committee. A plan soon emerged for the rehabilitation of Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1093, and several organbuilders were invited to submit proposals. According to organist David Charles Campbell, "The organ committee was thrilled when Michael Quimby arrived in town and was finishing our sentences even before arriving at the church building!" In the end, Quimby Pipe Organs of Warrensburg, Missouri, was selected to do the work, and the outcome is their Opus 66, a new fourmanual, 74-rank pipe organ that makes use of a significant number of ranks from the 1948 Aeolian-Skinner. While this instrument's extant pipework was of excellent construction and was utilized in the new instrument, it was never voiced to its full potential for its chambered location. These pipes have been revoiced in order to remedy this and to work seamlessly with new pipework, which includes pipework by Quimby Pipe Organs and several ranks from Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1066 (1945), formerly of Christ Church, New Haven, Connecticut. All mechanisms, casework, and the console are new.

The resulting instrument has an identity and character of its own; inspiration is drawn from the work of Ernest Skinner and Aeolian-Skinner, and from English organbuilder T.C. Lewis, among other influences. The tonal specification, developed by Quimby Pipe Organs, organ consultant Gerre Hancock, and St. John's organist David Charles Campbell, is carefully conceived and notably avoids many of the superfluities often found in large organs. The organ is tonally diverse, yet coherent in ensemble. Every stop is intriguing and beautiful on its own, and nothing sounds unfinished; each rank is developed to full harmonic potential and richness. …

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