August 2018 TAO Cover Feature

Sewickley Presbyterian Church
Sewickley, Pennsylvania
Bedient Pipe Organ Company • Lincoln, Nebraska
by Ryan Luckey
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The town of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, is located a short distance northwest of Pittsburgh along the Ohio River. Although the town was officially incorporated in 1853, Presbyterians had been meeting for worship in the area since the early 1800s. Worship services were held first in a log cabin and then in a brick church until the present stone building was completed in 1861. A chapel was added in 1953. The church remains a vibrant part of life in the community.

The small chapel is Gothic in design and seats 80 worshipers. Although the central aisle is carpeted, the high ceiling and plaster walls create a good acoustic environment. The furnishings are richly carved with liturgical themes. Jewel-toned stained glass windows adorn the right side of the chapel. A small balcony is located over the rear of the nave.

During the academic year, traditional worship services are conducted in the chapel each Sunday. A small group of singers or an instrumental soloist joins the organist in the balcony from time to time. The chapel is also used for small  weddings and funerals.

The musicians and leadership had long dreamed of commissioning a pipe organ to lead worship in the chapel. R. Craig Dobbins, director of music ministries, first contacted our firm in 2003. Discussions were enthusiastic, but a number of factors prevented the project from materializing at that time. The conversation resumed in 2016. With preliminary funding in place, the organ committee was seeking proposals for the new organ.

Pipe organs are designed and crafted to meet the unique needs of each client. Through discussions with the organ committee and the musicians, we are able to gain a sense of the role the organ must fulfill. By visiting the church and spending time in the space, we come to understand the particular acoustic qualities and visual characteristics of the room. We then develop a concept for the instrument—drawing from our own experience as organ builders and church musicians—that meets or exceeds the requirements of the client.

Inspiration for the organ was found in instruments designed by English builders in the 18th and 19th centuries. These small organs served the needs of their congregations well, being designed and used primarily for accompanying congregational and liturgical singing. Organs were kept physically small in order to fit in the relatively small English parish churches. The voicing of these organs is gentle yet colorful. Each stop has its own character and beauty, yet they combine seamlessly to create rich choruses. We wanted to incorporate that sound quality into this new organ.

The new organ was to be located in the balcony of the chapel and this presented our design team with a number of challenges. The chapel is very symmetrical and we wanted the organ to maintain that symmetry and carry it into the balcony; however, the available space was limited by a hallway wall now protruding into the balcony following remodeling in the space adjacent to the chapel. Our solution was to build the case over and around the wall. Essentially, the lower case has two sides and the upper case has three sides. The organ is attached to the back wall, so there are no rear case panels. The original door to the balcony was retained to provide access to the mechanical components in the lower case and a new door was constructed for the musicians to enter the balcony.

In-shop assembly of the key action

Service access is another priority in any new instrument we design. A rear walk-board provides the best access, but it would have occupied precious space so we considered several alternatives. We settled on arranging the windchests in an “A” layout with the largest pipes at the center, increasing in pitch diatonically on either side. This allowed us to place access doors on either side of the case so the pipes can be tuned by reaching in toward the center. The windchests are of traditional pallet and slider construction.

A new organ should look like it was designed as an integral part of the space in which it resides. In a traditional, historic chapel, this is especially true. Again we looked to the English organ for inspiration. Often in these instruments we find three towers with three to five pipes in each, connected by flats of smaller pipes. This arrangement was ideal for the chapel, taking full advantage of the height in the ceiling and echoing three stained glass windows at the front of the chancel. The chapel’s existing furnishings are made of oak, but bear various finishes. We chose to build the case of American red oak to compliment the other furnishings while providing its own warmth and character. The organ committee requested that the case be kept relatively simple with no elaborate carvings or ornamentation. We were happy to fulfill this request but decided to add polychrome accents to the cornices for a touch of elegance. The music desk is redwood burl with holly accents.

The key action and stop action are entirely mechanical. A well-regulated mechanical playing action offers the organist unparalleled sensitivity and musical expression. Bedient’s suspended key action and the especially short tracker runs in this organ give it a responsiveness unique among other organs in the greater Pittsburgh area. The natural keys are covered in cow bone and the sharps are ebony. Although traditional wood trackers would have served admirably in this small organ, we decided to take this opportunity to explore carbon fiber. We made several experimental models and tested them for strength and durability. We were very pleased with the final results and we look forward to using the material on future projects! The mechanical stop action (with no combination action) simplifies the design and increases the instrument’s reliability. Drawknobs feature hand-lettered porcelain stop faces.

Our process of selecting and recommending particular voices was closely guided by the preliminary stoplists provided to us by the organ committee. The organ had to be relatively small in consideration of the space available, but that does not mean the organ lacks tonal resources

Great Pipework

The Great division is a complete Principal chorus. It is based on an 8´ Open Diapason, whose largest pipes form the organ’s facade. This is voiced with the richness and warmth for which Bedient Principals are known. It is able to lead a small congregation in song just by itself. It can also serve as a solo voice against one of the softer stops in the Swell. The 4´ Principal and 2´ Fifteenth are lighter in their voicing, adding depth and clarity to the chorus. The 2 ´ Twelfth is gently voiced so it can be used with the Principal chorus and be effective when coupled to the flutes in the Swell. Although the organ committee’s initial stoplist had no flute in the Great, we felt it was extremely important for the organ to have an accompanimental stop in that division. Space in the case was at a premium and there was no room for an additional stop. Our solution was to duplex the Stopped Diapason to both the Great and Swell manuals. The duplex is entirely mechanical using check valves inside the windchest.

The Swell division has the 8´ Stopped Diapason as its foundation. This wood flute stop has a smooth, velvety color, enabling it to blend very well and enhance the other stops in the organ. This was the first full-compass wood manual stop to be built by our firm in many years and it was quite successful. The Salicional is mild and rich, and possesses an Echo Diapason quality. In keeping with English nomenclature, we have included a 4´ Flute. This rank is actually a Chimney Flute, designed for clarity and brightness when added to the Stopped Diapason or for its delicate color as a solo voice. Finally, the 8´ Oboe is the classic English Swell reed, full of dark richness and fundamental tone. It is useful as either a chorus or solo voice.

The Pedal is the simplest division with only one stop, a 16´ Bourdon providing clear bass tone to the ensemble. The organ features the typical couplers found on a mechanical action organ.

Sewickley Presbyterian Church

The pipes give the organ its voice and we give great care to their construction and voicing. All the metal flue pipes are made of 98% hammered lead alloy for its richness of tone. The Oboe is spotted metal (52% tin) for the brightness afforded by the higher tin content. Wood pipes are made of poplar. The organ committee was especially interested in using an unequal temperament for this instrument. We agreed to tune the organ in the temperament devised by Bradley Lehman based on the ornament at the top of the title page of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. It has proven to be musically satisfying in all keys. The pipes are cone-tuned in the traditional manner.

The chapel organ was dedicated in September 2017. The celebratory recital was played by R. Craig Dobbins and highlighted the many tonal colors of the organ. It featured works by Lübeck, Bach, and Mozart, as well as contemporary composers Andrew Clarke, Piet Post, and Myron Roberts. The Roberts piece offered a Nebraska connection, as Roberts taught organ and music theory at the University of Nebraska for 34 years.

We would like to offer our sincerest thanks to the organ committee members, musicians, and leadership of Sewickley Presbyterian Church for entrusting us with this important project. Many thanks are also due to each of the Bedient crew members for all their contributions to making this project a success. Finally, our appreciation goes out to several of our colleagues for their collaboration. Our entire team takes pride in knowing that this organ will be leading people in worship for generations to come.

Ryan Luckey is vice president and project manager of Bedient Pipe Organ Company. Website

Bedient crew: Jasmine Beach, Todd Brueckner, Matt Bukrey, Guy Davenport, Ian Fralick,Joseph Holmes, Chad Johnson, Ryan Luckey, Mark Miller, Fred Zander

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