August 2015 TAO Feature Article

Trinity Episcopal Church, Mobile, AL
Goulding & Wood Organ Builders, Indianapolis, IN

By Jason Overall

TAO-August-2015-Cover Feature-consoleMobile, Alabama, saw severe, unusual weather on Christmas Day 2012, culminating in a destructive tornado. This Gulf Coast town, more accustomed to dealing with hurricanes, suddenly faced dealing with the precision damage unique to tornados.

The storm’s path led straight to the front doors of Trinity Episcopal Church, and the winds lifted the entire roof of the historic church building completely off the walls, setting it back at an angle. In the weeks that followed, the congregation struggled to recover from the emotional impact of the damage while also finding solace in the fact that, given the time of the storm, no one was in the building. The church had undergone renovations previously in recent years, a project that included reconfiguring the chancel and moving the choir to the rear gallery, and they were on schedule to retire the debt from this work the following spring. The congregation now faced another extensive construction venture, this one not of their choosing.

Kevin Davis, organist and choirmaster of the church, contacted Goulding & Wood after the New Year to begin exploring the future of the organ. At the time of the previous renovation, they used components from the Wicks pipe organ located in the chancel chamber, reorganizing them into a two-manual instrument. The aim was to enter into an organ replacement campaign once the parish paid off its initial loan. During the days following the storm, the organ was exposed to sustained rain and weather. Further, in the initial cleaning, workers damaged pipes and other elements. The organ was nearly a complete loss. Church Insurance worked diligently and intelligently to identify an accurate, fair, and complete adjustment for the organ. Dave Mistick, the adjuster, spent a significant amount of time on site and on the telephone, asking questions and learning about the various aspects of the organ and their status, in order to reach a reasonable settlement amount.

Goulding & Wood office manager Phil Lehman showing Opus 51, under construction, to a visiting school tour group.

Goulding & Wood office manager Phil Lehman showing Opus 51, under construction, to a visiting school tour group.

Our task as organbuilders became somewhat unusual. We were given the task of designing an organ that, far from a literal replacement, fulfilled the aspirations of the musicians for an instrument designed specifically for the gallery space while working with the allotment designated from Church Insurance as the basic budget. The parish was able to augment this amount with the awareness that they were achieving a preexisting goal, yet the budget constraints were more binding than in most organ design projects.

We ultimately settled on a design that speaks to the strong Anglican choral tradition to which the people of Trinity Church are accustomed. Within the span of a fairly small number of ranks, we attained a broad palette of colors without losing a strong sense of ensemble throughout the organ. Kevin Davis visited several of our instruments, carefully considering voices and combinations and bringing a high level of understanding and creativity to our conversations about tonal design. The result is an organ that distributes the core colors anticipated on any organ in a balanced scheme. Abundant 8′ voices available on both manuals provide a large variety of foundation hues, and combine in a warm richness supportive of vibrant singing. We kept scaling broad throughout the organ, particularly in the diapason ranks, to fill the generous cubic volume of the church. Mixtures are bright yet voiced fairly lightly. They provide sheen and sparkle to the principal chorus, allowing the power to derive from the 81 and 16′ line. This pyramid approach is repeated in the Swell chorus reeds. While we frequently feature robust and powerful Clarion stops that break back to 8′ pitch reed pipes rather than transition to flues, the Trinity Church Swell Clarion is smaller scaled, with tapered shallot openings, and continues at 4′ pitch to the top. The crowning solo reed, the Tromba, resides between a dark English Tuba and a fiery Festival Trumpet. It retains brilliance and life in the sustained pitch, yet it is full-bodied and smooth enough to use in chords. We were assisted in all these decisions by the excellent craftsmen at A.R. Schopp’s Sons, who built all new pipework for the organ. Brandon Woods, our shop voicer, oversaw all details of the tonal design, making final decisions on the construction details and voicing all ranks.

Cabinetmaker Rob Heighway constructing columns for the facade.

Cabinetmaker Rob Heighway constructing columns for the facade

These minute adjustments to tonal design, carried out in scaling, metal composition, shallot design, and other details, are important not in displaying our artistry and cleverness but in the way the organ directly conforms to the musical worship tradition of Trinity Church. Our aim in designing the organ was to transform the sorrow and loss following the tornado’s devastation into a renewed spirit of celebration and praise. Seeing this revitalization come to the congregation has been an enormous satisfaction to our team. Throughout the lengthy process of working with the insurance company and the subsequent design and construction of the organ, the Rev. Bailey Norman, rector, and Robert Howard, senior warden, were immensely helpful. Fr. Norman maintained a steely business sense with the parish’s best interest at heart, yet he was unwaveringly tempered with a strong sense of fairness. Bob Howard oversaw the many details of the renovation, coordinating the sometimes conflicting needs of the contractors with delicacy. We owe both of them a great debt of gratitude. For our part, Mark Goulding and Kurt Ryll, our design engineer, worked closely with the church to reach a visual and mechanical layout that enhances the architecture and maximizes the space. The efficient arrangement allows for ample access to all areas of the organ without wasting any valuable gallery floor. The visual presence participates actively in the church’s neo-Gothic design vocabulary, contributing to the decorative interest in the church.

Within days of completing the organ, the room was filled with joyous singing as Trinity Church hosted the annual diocesan convention. Delegates from throughout the area came together to worship, with the organ and choir leading hearts and minds in prayer and song. It is our hope that the organ will continue to play this important role in the weekly worship of Trinity Episcopal Church for many generations to come.

Jason Overall is president of Goulding & Wood Pipe Organ Builders. He holds music degrees from Furman University in Greenville, SC, and Florida State University, where he studied organ with Michael Corzine and completed courses in organ design and instrument history. He has served in Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Episcopal congregations. He is a member of the AGO and the Association of Anglican Musicians.

From the musician

When I came to Trinity Episcopal Church in 2009, the planning stages of a liturgical remodel were already under­ way. This included moving the choir and organ from the chancel, which was small and very crowded, to an extended gallery. The final plan, completed in 2011, included everything but a new organ, which was to be completed as a second phase of the renovation. We would use 30 ranks of the 1971 Wicks as a temporary instrument. The tornado on Christmas Day 2012 challenged the original timeline for a new organ. If we rebuilt the former instrument with virtually all new chests and console, we would still have the “temporary” organ sound. It was determined that a better use of resources would include a new instrument that would enhance our Anglican music tradition. I began contacting organ­ builders in summer 2013, and Goulding & Wood quickly came to the forefront of the leadership of the church. They have graciously assisted in all phases of the re-­building of the church and in designing a versatile two­ manual organ that supports the choir and choristers, leads the congregation, and plays literature equally well. The artistry, both of the woodworking and voicing, is superb. Goulding & Wood has created an instrument that will inspire Trinity’s music program and concerts for years to come.

I have enjoyed working with the artisans of Goulding & Wood and look forward to our continued relationship in the maintenance of the organ. The lasting friendships that have resulted from this project are an added bonus.

Kevin Davis, Organist-Choirmaster

From the rector

While I have very little experience in organ renovation or replacement projects, I can safely say that Trinity was not the typical client for an organbuilder. When our sanctuary was severely damaged by the tornado, it became clear to us that the best course of action was to replace the instrument rather than repair the existing one. As large and important a project as it was, the new organ was going to be just one piece in the larger picture of a multimillion-dollar reconstruction project. On top of that, Trinity was called to host our diocese’s annual convention in February 2015. So, we were working against a firm deadline as well. The greatest challenge related to the organ was to find a builder that could work within our construction timeline and deal with our financial situation while simultaneously designing an instrument fitting of an incomplete space.

We could not have found a better match than Goulding & Wood. From the moment we had our first meeting with president Jason Overall, we realized we were dealing with a company that valued the worship experience and overall satisfaction of their clients and not just, “How is the organ going to fit?” Goulding & Wood communicated regularly with us and stayed in touch with our various contractors to make sure they could accomplish their planning within the context of the larger project. Our property team kept waiting for Goulding & Wood to drop the ball or delay the project, an all-too-common experience in dealing with construction. But they stayed true to their commitments and delivered a tremendous instrument earlier than expected.

After going through a five-year period, beginning in 2010, in which Trinity had just 18 months of pipe organ music (and a temporary organ, at that), we are extremely appreciative of the sound and craftsmanship of this beautiful instrument. It fills our sanctuary perfectly, rattling the walls at its highest volume (while not rattling our ears) but also articulating its subtlest of sounds very clearly. From our initial meetings to the efficient yet deliberate installation and tuning of the organ, Goulding & Wood has impressed us. We feel confident that this instrument will give us many new opportunities to glorify God and bolster our solid music ministry. And we are excited to know that professionals with the skill and attentiveness of Goulding & Wood will be maintaining the organ for us for years to come.

The Rev. Bailey Norman

TAO August 2015 Feature Article Stop List

Goulding & Wood Pipe Organ Builders
Steven Baker · Bob Duffy · Mark Goulding · Chris Gray · Rob Heighway · Jerin Kelly · Phil Lehman · Jason Overall · Mike Powell · Kurt Ryll · David Sims · Mike Vores · Brandon Woods


  1. Robert Howard says:

    Working with team at Goulding & Wood was definitely the brightest lining to the dark clouds our Parish had to experience in the aftermath of the tornado. Our new organ is a wonderful and beautiful addition to our historic parish Church.

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