Some notable New England pipe organs

The region is rife with some stunning instruments and their makers. Start nosing around, and you find them nearly everywhere. For starters, let me mention …

  1. Symphony Hall, Boston: Wish they’d showcase it more in performances but it really looks great.
  2. Busch-Reisinger, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Used by E. Power Biggs to advocate a then-revolutionary awareness of the classic and baroque sounds Bach was grounded in. Many new organs were commissioned with this ideal, while others were “slimmed down,” often ill advisedly.
  3. St. John Methodist/Grace Vision church, Watertown, Massachusetts: A four-manual Aeolian-Skinner instrument that escaped the Biggs’ touch, retaining what’s described as a sweet sound but in need of some serious, costly restoration.
  4. Methuen Memorial Music Hall, Methuen, Massachusetts: Built in 1909 to house the first concert organ in the United States after the instrument had been placed in storage. More than 6,000 pipes in what’s probably the largest hall built solely for an organ.
  5. Memorial Chapel, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Only the best for the best, and they do their best to maintain it. Or them, since the church has several in its space. Used daily, and visitors welcome.
  6. St. John Episcopal, Portsmouth, New Hampshire: An impressive instrument for services, but the tiny Brattle Organ up at the front right of the balcony is believed to be the oldest playable instrument in America. It was rescued from Boston and is said to have a bell-like sound.
  7. Merrill Auditorium, City Hall, Portland, Maine: The Kotschmar Organ built in 1911 by the Austin Organ company was the second largest organ in the world at the time, and it’s still a musical monster, as the ongoing series of concerts demonstrates. Organs were, after all, a mainstay of live entertainment as well as church services.
  8. St. John Methodist, Dover, New Hampshire: The 1875 Hutchings’ instrument was rescued from the old church in 1970 by two Boy Scouts when the congregation moved to a new site and then stored in a barn for 17 years until it was installed in the new sanctuary. The builder also created the first organ for Boston’s Symphony Hall.
  9. Durham Community Church (UCC), Durham, New Hampshire: A lovely two-manual baroque-style instrument, as the local guild of organists proved for a Bach birthday celebration a few years back.
  10. First Parish (UCC), Dover, New Hampshire: A hybrid machine with a classic New England core that’s been augmented several times and now includes electronics. Big sound, as the likes of Cameron Carpenter and Hector Olivera have proved in their appearances as part of an ongoing concert series. The bass notes can really make the whole house shake … notes you feel in your feet and then your ears.

~*~

Not to leave Roman Catholic churches out, let me mention the Casavant instruments built in Quebec and found throughout New England. As an example, when the Shaker Village in Enfield, New Hampshire, was purchased by a monastic order, a Romanesque chapel was inserted into the site and a marvelous Casavant was installed, as I heard on a visit to what’s now mostly a museum.

I also want to mention Houghton Chapel at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, as another fine period instrument, one with hand-powered bellows rather than electrical fan. The bellows fellows sometimes get a bow of their own at the end.

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