College of Wooster 2010 Winter : Page 29

by JIMMY WILKINSON MEYER PHOTOS by MAT T DILYARD PipeOrgan W O OSTE R ’ S For over a century, a mighty sound On a cold, snowy day in February 1902, 16 horses slowly pulled eight wagonloads of wood and metal from the Wooster railroad station up the hill to campus.Over the next four weeks, builders assembled the pieces into a grand new pipe organ.A few of those pieces, well-crafted over a century ago, still speak in 2010, contributing to the majestic sound produced by the Davis Memorial Organ in McGaw Chapel. The 1902 pipe organ outlasted one chapel building. It endured insect invasions, humidity and temperature fluctuations, and heated discussions over its design and accoutrements. Several College professors have sat at the console, as well as numerous Westminster Presbyterian Church staff mem- bers, students, and distinguished visitors, including organists from London’s Westminster Abbey. Thanks to the generosity of generations of College alumni and friends, notably the Davis family, reconstructions and additions along the way have helped to preserve and enhance the organ’s rich tones. WINTER 2010 Wooster 29

Wooster

JIMMY WILKI N S O N MEYER

On a cold, snowy day in February 1902, 16 horses slowly pulled eight wagonloads of wood and metal from the Wooster railroad station up the hill to campus. Over the next four weeks, builders assembled the pieces into a grand new pipe organ. A few of those pieces, well-crafted over a century ago, still speak in 2010, contributing to the majestic sound produced by the Davis Memorial Organ in McGaw Chapel.<br /> <br /> The 1902 pipe organ outlasted one chapel building. It endured insect invasions, humidity and temperature fluctuations, and heated discussions over its design and accoutrements. Several College professors have sat at the console, as well as numerous Westminster Presbyterian Church staff members, students, and distinguished visitors, including organists from London’s Westminster Abbey. Thanks to the generosity of generations of College alumni and friends, notably the Davis family, reconstructions and additions along the way have helped to preserve and enhance the organ’s rich tones.Blue pipes, superior sound Construction of Memorial Chapel was well underway before fire destroyed the The College of Wooster’s main building late in<br /> <br /> 1901. The dedication of the chapel and its organ in March 1902 offered faculty and students a respite from frantic fund-raising to rebuild the campus. Sophia Strong Taylor of Cleveland, who had attended the College’s preparatory department as a teenager, donated $5,000 for the organ. The Austin Organ Company of Hartford, Connecticut, built the instrument, its Opus 63.<br /> <br /> Wooster newspapers reported that the College’s first pipe organ, then the largest in this part of Ohio, covered one end of the choir loft.With three manuals (keyboards), and 25 ranks (sets of pipes), it represented “the highest development in modern organ construction,” according to the 1903 music Catalogue.<br /> <br /> The front pipes were light blue, decorated “in harmony” with the organ’s polished oak case and the chapel’s woodwork. As for its sound, the Catalogue enthused, “The voicing of the different registers is very superior.” By the late 1940s, though, the grand Austin was outdated.<br /> <br /> An organ reform movement of the era promoted instruments with the flexibility to produce contrapuntal music by composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach. Richard T. “R.T.” Gore, then the College music department chair and a Bach devotee, likely influenced the decision to acquire this new type of organ.<br /> <br /> Rebuilding and renovation In 1950, siblings David D. Davis, Margaret Davis, and Edward P. Davis pledged $20,000 to the College to support a new pipe organ. The southern Ohio family was well acquainted with Howard Lowry, the College’s president at the time, and knew of Wooster’s desire for an organ. The donation was added to an organ fund established by the Class of 1949.<br /> <br /> To construct the organ, the College chose the Walter Holtkamp Organ Company of Cleveland, Ohio, known for its progressive designs. Rather than create an entirely new instrument, the company rebuilt and expanded the existing one— increasing the number of ranks from 25 to 57. The work was completed in stages, as funds permitted. Along with transforming the instrument’s inner workings and pipes, the effort’s first phase included rearranging the choir loft, in part to accommodate a moveable console. In 1955 Margaret and Edward Davis gave the College another donation of $25,000 in memory of David, who had died the previous year.With these funds in place, Holtkamp worked to complete the job.<br /> <br /> Di ffering viewpoints Negotiating the modifications sometimes hit rough waters.<br /> <br /> Decisions had to be made on the console’s finish—walnut or oak? (Oak, with a few pieces in walnut.) Some protested Gore’s intention to replace the chapel’s hanging lanterns with spotlights.<br /> <br /> (The lanterns went.) The project finally concluded, and on Nov. 20, 1955, Gore played the dedicatory recital on Holtkamp’s Opus 1661. His program included Mozart, Brahms, Hindemith, and of course, Bach.<br /> <br /> Disputes continued. Should the dossal (fabric behind the altar that covered some organ pipes) be removable or permanent? Did it diminish the sound appreciably? What should be done about the moths that gathered in the pipes? The chapel’s open windows and doors gave the bugs easy access. Humidity and temperature changes in the 50-year-old stone building also presented ongoing challenges.<br /> <br /> Soaring sculpture The Davis Memorial Organ underwent refurbishing before being installed in McGaw Chapel in 1971 and again in the early 1990s. Donations from Evan E. Davis ’57, the nephew of David, grandson of Edward P., and son of College Trustee E. E. Davis, supported the work each time. The Alumni Bulletin compared the instrument’s setting in McGaw to “a soaring Brancusi sculpture,” with metal pipes of all sizes contrasting with the surrounding walnut-stained oak. Previously unseen, but now visible in McGaw, the large shutters covering some of the pipes assist the organist in adjusting the sound—and provide a visual diversion as they open and close.<br /> <br /> The organ’s current incarnation features 62 ranks, 47 speaking stops, and 3,366 pipes. At least four ranks and one pedal date from the original Austin. The College recently contracted with the Schantz Organ Company of Orrville, Ohio, to keep the instrument in fine shape.<br /> <br /> Over a century after the wagons delivered the Austin to Wooster, the Davis Memorial Organ remains the largest pipe organ in northeast Ohio and speaks mightily.

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