April 2019 TAO Feature Article

Central United Methodist Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas
Buzard Pipe Organ Builders
Champaign, Illinois

by John-Paul Buzard

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It has been a privilege and honor to have designed and built this new organ for Central United Methodist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Particularly humbling was that music director Frode Gundersen and organist Scott Montgomery selected our firm after lengthy auditioning tours to instruments made by many other fine organbuilders. I believe it was a combination of outstanding constructional quality, tonal sophistication, honorable business practices, and personal “chemistry” that won the day for us.

In addition to selecting an organbuilder, Frode and Scott were charged by the church to renovate and improve the acoustics of the sanctuary and to design and construct a comprehensive new two-story music suite, which wraps itself around the chancel end of the church building. The mantle for these tremendous responsibilities was placed on them in addition to their regular tasks of creating music for inspirational worship before, during, and after construction.

The results of their labors are a visually and acoustically stunning sanctuary and an elegantly functional music suite that supports the large and growing music program. And of course, there is the new organ! The main portion of this three-manual and pedal instrument features 34 stops and 40 ranks of pipes. A Solo division of eight stops was prepared for future addition to meet the church’s initial budget. Thankfully, a contract for it was signed during the main organ’s installation. The Solo will be completed in mid-2019.

Yes, this three-manual organ will have a Solo division instead of a Choir division. Buzard Pipe Organ Builders has always been committed to providing the wide variety of rich tone colors so desirable for sensitive accompanying, while at the same time very much respecting the classic concepts of proven tonal design required for authoritative rendering of solo literature. In part, this has meant the lessening of what might be considered redundant or duplicated tone colors. Classic design and tonal integrity (for us) dictate the use of slider and pallet windchests, the discipline of which challenges a builder to satisfy these seemingly competing requirements. The easy way to accomplish this would be to take the “unit organ” approach in which, at its worst, no stop is properly “at home” on any division, and the result is severely compromised integrity and increased homogeneity to the point that the “colors” become varying shades of gray.

Our 28-year-old organ at the Episcopal Chapel of St. John the Divine in Champaign, its “sister” at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Oklahoma City, and our recent organ at Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Carmel, Indiana, enclose more of the organ in independent expression boxes than is typical. The new organ at Central United Methodist Church in Fayetteville encloses more than half of the Great in an independent expression box and slider windchest, which allows this portion of the Great to couple to all other manual and pedal locations. The enclosed Great includes a flute chorus, a string, and four colorful reeds, so it can function like the unison basis of a Choir division. Additionally, by modifying and adding to the Swell division’s principal chorus, the Swell can serve as both a Choir or Positiv division in the context of the classic secondary foil to the Great principal chorus—as well as the enclosed powerhouse of the organ.

Therefore, with an enclosed portion of the Great, and suitable treatment of the Swell, we are free to consider a different way to approach the third manual division. This Solo division is loaded with tone colors at both higher and lower volume levels than the Great or Swell, so that it can be a material contributor on the pianissimo and fortissimo ends of a seamless crescendo/diminuendo. When approached with this idea, organist Scott Montgomery embraced this vision—this next logical step in the evolution of the Buzard sound and contemporary American organbuilding. Because the enclosed Great and the Swell can move everywhere independently, Scott began to dream and consider the manifold ways in which such a tonal scheme could be used. Accompanying receives the first consideration of importance, because the rich choral program under Dr. Gundersen’s direction regularly performs literature from literally every tradition. The organ can accompany the entire body of choral literature, and it can support hymnody and musically render just about any piece ever written for the organ. This is our goal. You can accompany Stanford and then play Vierne successfully; you can play Sweelinck for the opening voluntary and Sumsion for the closing voluntary, each with the effects the composer intended. And, because the instrument speaks clearly to the listeners in the nave—even though installed in off-axis chambers—the entire organ has an uncanny single voice, no matter how soft or loud it is registered.

In addition to exercising our evolving tonal style, tonal director Brian Davis and production director and chief engineer Charles Eames overcame what had seemed an impossible off-axis installation situation. Special scaling and voicing techniques, the addition of reflective panels above the pipes in the chambers, siting the divisions strategically for their best projection, utilizing slightly higher wind pressures, and other techniques—and the tremendous improvement in the church’s acoustics—gave the organ the best chance of success.

Scott Montgomery confessed his fear to me that, because of these severe physical limitations, this would be “the one organ of ours which we wouldn’t want to show to people.” But when he heard the organ’s first sounds in the church’s vastly improved acoustics, and as the entire organ came to life, he knew this would be a very special and important organ in the American lexicon. We rise to challenges and consider them opportunities to learn and improve. We’d love for you to visit this organ! Just call ahead!

John-Paul Buzard is founder, president, and artistic director of Buzard Pipe Organ Builders. He is a certified master organbuilder with the American Institute of Organbuilders, a member of the Associated Pipe Organ Builders of America, and a member of the Worshipful Company of Musicians of the City of London.

From the Tonal Director

Great Viola da Gamba, Flûte à Biberon, and English Horn

Before I dive into talking about the instrument at Central United Methodist Church, I feel it is important to clarify where I personally see myself in the organ world today and how that affects Buzard Pipe Organ Builders. You see, I am a product of the neo-Baroque era that transpired back when God was a little boy! I am proud to say that I was able to learn organbuilding during a time in which I feel the best work of that era was being done. (Regals are still my favorite organ sound!) It is of utmost importance to me that an organ of at least two manuals have two well-developed and contrasting principal choruses and that the stops contained therein blend with one another to form new sounds when they are combined!

Times change as do styles of organbuilding. To deny such has been the downfall of some otherwise good organbuilders. George Santayana was one of the people who mused that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. In looking back at organbuilding history I cannot help but see a pattern of us throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Rather than letting the stylistic pendulum dictate what we can and can’t use in a “modern” organ, why not keep the best of past styles and incorporate them into something new? Pipe organs are increasingly expensive in a time when fewer funds are being put aside for music. Making less be more useful is a must. But how do we get past our own inhibitions and stubbornness? We have a rich tradition in organbuilding, but tradition for tradition’s sake—at the expense of innovation—is a dangerous course no matter what style is currently all the rage. If our passion for this instrument is to remain relevant at all in modern society, our instruments must be able to musically play an ever-greater variety of music, and our organists must be able to make music people can relate to, as well as teach us about the past! That is quite a challenge.

Central United Methodist’s instrument is a direct result of Buzard Pipe Organ Builders’ developing style with the concepts mentioned before, as well as others, always in the back of my mind. Our company style is founded upon the instrument being able to play a church service and accompany a choir first and foremost. This has served us well but produced instruments that were challenged to play traditional polyphonic music, since the mixtures in the Swell were lower-pitched than the Great. This grated on my training and led me to challenge my dad’s expression that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Why not? Just think outside of the box! Don’t throw the box away, but realize it for what it is.

The Buzard divided Swell Mixture is the direct result of this way of thinking. Yes, two Swell mixtures, even in this decidedly more Romantic phase of organbuilding. One lower-pitched mixture can accompany choral anthems without being too strident. The higher mixture will fill out the lower one for full-Swell effects with the reed battery, or it can be used to echo the Great in a more traditional function. Sorry, Dad, I can have my cake and eat it too!

This two-mixture concept is very important, but it is only one part of our strategy to make smaller instruments more versatile. A partially enclosed Great that contains not only the softer Great stops but also a chorus of reeds is a critical component. Suddenly, you have in a two-manual organ the ability to register choruses in many different ways: The Swell can echo the Great principal chorus in a Bach prelude; the Swell can be used as the forte division against the Great by the use of the expression box in the Great or through simple registration; choruses within choruses are easily obtainable; three or four distinct dynamic levels can be easily had, simply by jumping from manual to manual with registration changes in between—or, more importantly, a seamless crescendo can easily be created. Solo colors abound on both manuals with abundant reed and flue colors.

But this is only a two-manual concept. Where does this leave us in a three-manual concept? I dare to say it leaves us in a position to say that the Choir organ is dead! A properly oriented two-manual instrument can do everything that a three- or even four-manual organ can do—without the expensive duplication of stops in other divisions. This leaves the organbuilder free to explore stops with colors that would otherwise be found only in much larger instruments. Add a third keyboard and stops that you might have on a four-manual or larger instrument and suddenly you have exponentially increased the potential for registrational variety!
How well does this work? I have been amazed already at the possibilities of the two manuals initially installed in this organ under the capable hands of the talented Scott Montgomery. Join us this summer to see how the organ transforms into a new and even more useful worship tool when we add the Solo to Central Methodist’s new Buzard organ!

Brian K. Davis

From the Organist

Swell 2′ Octavin (bottom octave and the harmonic portion upscale)

Life is full of rarities. Two years ago, I received a phone call asking to visit and interview for the position as associate director of music and organist for Central United Methodist in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I wasn’t actively looking for a new position at that time, but the temptation was too good to pass up. Central was embarking on a massive project to improve its music tradition, including building a new music suite and renovating the sanctuary, and a donation had been made for a new pipe organ. I began dreaming of what type of organ to choose even before accepting the position. Being a concert organist, I have heard and played a full spectrum of instruments. Who to choose to build the instrument, and why?

It is rare to have an amazing music school in your own backyard. Growing up in central Illinois, I had the influences of the University of Illinois, where I attended performances by Michael Farris and his students. I would hide in the balcony of the hall during summer music camp listening to the large Casavant organ in awe of its impressive sound. I would even sneak in to play the organ until the secretary would kick me out for not being a student!

It is also rare for a well-respected organ company to reside in your hometown. I remember my first organ crawl as a twelve-year-old, hearing the then new instrument (Opus 7) built by John-Paul Buzard at the Chapel of St. John the Divine in Champaign. It is an instrument of beauty with its dramatic floating case and warm and lush sounds. This instrument, along with a few others in town, continued to shape my love for the organ throughout my high school and college years. The Buzard sound was what I became familiar with and expected to hear in organbuilding. While Central UMC auditioned many builders, I always knew I had to push for a Buzard organ.

Opus 46 is a longtime want and dream. Having an organ built before your eyes and watching the installation is a once- in-a-lifetime event. The facades are stunning and crown the renovated chancel. This instrument is extremely flexible and expressive with only the Great principal chorus and Pedal unenclosed. The full reed battery whispers when the expression box is closed but commands attention with the box open. The principal choruses are bright, clear, and articulate for contrapuntal music and for leading hymns. The strings are full-bodied and ethereal. The flutes are colorful with just the right amount of breath and harmonic development. Every flute, string, and reed stop is completely different from the others, full of character, yet blending together in a harmonious sound. Full organ is thrilling, yet one could spend hours playing the strings or the small Gedeckt Flute with its gentle tremulant with complete contentment.

The organ has proven itself in worship with inspirational leadership as well as playing every genre of music successfully without compromise. This instrument is one of kind in northwest Arkansas, and I’m proud to bring this instrument to the area to inspire everyone who encounters its visual and aural beauty.

Scott Montgomery

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