St. Louis Pipe Organs
Rapid growth in North Austin made it imperative for the parishioners of St. Louis Church to build a much larger place of worship. In 1970, the new 900-seat sanctuary was dedicated with great celebration; at the same time, the newly-installed 29-rank Wicks organ was heard for the first time. Having arrived some months before the completion of the new church, the organ was put in temporary storage until such time as the church was ready to receive it. The congregation, accustomed to the sounds of a 1950’s Baldwin electronic instrument, required a bit of time to adjust to the bright and cheerful tones of the new organ, which was designed and voiced on neo-classical principles.
The revival of 17th and 18th-century music was at it’s peak at this time, and the new organ was designed and voiced in a manner supportive of Baroque music. Benefitting from the generous acoustic of the new church, the instrument soon attracted the attention of the music faculty of the University of Texas; it soon became the instrument of choice for student recitals. The first parish organist in the new church was Dr. Frank Speller, who had been recently appointed at UT. It was during his tenure that a few modifications were made to the organ, the most dramatic being a new set of trumpets, dedicated to the memory of his father. Also installed at this time was the low-pitched Contra Bombarde, whose speaking length was thirty-two feet for the lowest pipe.
When Fr. Larry Covington arrived as Pastor in 1993, he consulted with Parish Organist Eleanor Page, Dr. Speller’s successor. Together they determined a number of upgrades and improvements which the instrument needed, and in the same year the organ was cleaned for the first time since installation. The existing electrical system was having reliability problems, and in 1995 the electro-mechanical switching system was replaced with a solid-state system, and the console was at the same time rebuilt by Richard Geddes of Geddes Pipe Organs. A new mixture stop was added in honor of Eleanor, and later in 1995 R. Geddes installed another mixture stop and two new reed stops, along with the lowest 12 notes of a 16’ Dulciana originally from St. Mary Catholic Church in Waco and manufactured by Pilcher.
During the tenure of Dr. Jon Stuber as Director of Music, it became apparent that the organ needed further additions in order to broaden its capabilities, especially for the accompaniment of choral repertoire. Dr. Stuber was made aware of the 1951 Moller organ being removed from St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington D.C., and quick negotiations procured for St. Louis a few excellent ranks of pipes. A party of willing individuals drove to our nation’s capitol for a 3-day organ ‘extraction’. At around the same time, a parishioner, Mrs. Paul Joseph, made a donation of a rank of tuba pipes in memory of her husband who had passed away the previous year. Voiced on very high wind pressure, these English-made pipes make a commanding impression in the church! John Ballard of Ballard and Associates in San Antonio was subsequently named curator of the organ, and he added a large-scaled flute (Moller, 1906) which was mounted on a wind chest with the new Tuba, along with the Harmonic Trumpet from St. Matthew’s in Washington.
The year 2000 saw not only a new millennium but also the addition of a vintage Aeolian-Skinner console. Boasting ivory keys and a fourth manual (keyboard), the new pipes were given a home of their own. With the acquisition of a Kilgen organ from the town of West, TX, additional ranks were added. However, the most distinguished pipework now installed can be found on the Great division. The Gamba and the 4’ Flute Ouverte come from the French Firm of Aristide Cavaille-Coll, and they date from the mid-1860s. (Another rank by this builder can be found in the Gallery Organ).
In 2009, the Great and Pedal divisions were removed and rebuilt during a major renovation of the sanctuary. This was the first phase of a complete rebuilding which, when completed, will provide new wind chests, swell shades, winding system and 17 additional voices. There are also plans to have the 85-rank chancel organ and the 44 rank gallery organ made playable from either the gallery or the chancel consoles.
A decision to move the Parish Choir to the rear gallery created the need for another organ. The current instrument has its basis in an organ originally built by Otto Hoffmann for Trinity University’s Ruth Taylor Recital Hall. Removed during a renovation, this organ was pieced out with the exception of a few ranks and chassis. These were purchased from Ballard Pipe Organs and restored. The swell box, originally from a Pilcher organ in San Antonio and later at the recital hall at Southwestern University was also purchased and restored. Much of the pipe work comes from the 1956 Kilgen organ that once stood in the Assumption Catholic Church in West, Texas. Additional pipe work comes from the 1951 Moller organ mentioned earlier, as well as from the Otto Hofmann instrument recently removed from the recital hall at the University of North Texas. The Harmonic Flute is Cavaille-Coll, and dates from the 1860’s. The remaining pipes are Aeolian-Skinner. The recently installed Rodgers Trillium console brings with it a multiplicity of digital voices and control options, thereby greatly increasing the instrument’s flexibility, especially as regards the accompaniment of choral music.
This instrument is comprised largely of pipework from two older Wicks organs, both dating from the ealy 1950’s. The first was originally in the First Church of Christ Scientist in Baytown, TX, while the second comes to us from St. Paul Lutheran Church in Baytown, TX. A new principal chorus designed for our building has been installed, along with some additional ranks sourced from Pilcher, Kilgen and Hiltree-Lane instruments. The console, a Holtkamp-style minimalist design is new, as are all the electronic components. As of February 2012, the instrument is mostly finished, with much of the work carried out by the Miller Organ Company of Louisville, KY.