February 2016 TAO Cover Feature Article

Immanuel Chapel, Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, VA
Taylor & Boody Organbuilders Staunton, VA

By George K. Taylor & John H. Boody


Chapel interior with custom contemporary Gothic LED ring chandelier

Two powerful events at the Virginia Theological Seminary conspired to bring to life a new chapel and a new pipe organ: the tragic destruction of the 1881 seminary chapel by an accidental fire in October 2010, and the destruction wrought in the Mid-Atlantic region by a freak summer derecho windstorm on June 29, 2012. The fire spurred the creation and building of a new elegant and powerful worship space that bears witness to the dedication of the Virginia Theological Seminary to liturgy and worship arts. The windstorm felled more than 20 of the old-growth white oak trees that graced the seminary campus. The wood of these trees, along with three ancient oaks cut from the chapel site, were incorporated into the new organ.

Following the fire, an organ committee was formed comprised of Jason Abel, Scott Dettra, Ray Glover, Barney Hawkins, Lloyd A. Lewis, William Bradley Roberts, Tho­mas Smith, and Heather Zdancewicz. This committee worked diligently, considering several builders and visiting many instruments. We were pleased to have been chosen to build the new organ for this important and influential Episcopal seminary.

TAO February 2015 Cover Feature Consolce


Over the course of our careers, we have worked together with many architects and acousticians to design and build worship spaces and concert halls. Our experience at the Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) was unique. We were to work with Robert A.M. Stern Architects of New York City, a 300-person firm with hundreds of projects to their credit. There were times that we organbuilders and musicians had to state our requirements clearly. The end result is a unique and wonderful space, emblematic of the seminary’s purpose: to emphasize the importance of worship, music, and liturgy in the education of the Episcopal clergy.

The Immanuel Chapel is a beautifully crafted building. The red brick exterior is not a copy of any building on the VTS campus, but a new creation that harmonizes with the existing historic campus architecture. The form of the worship space is an equal-armed cross, with the crossing defined by a large circular chandelier. All the furnishings were designed by the architects to be movable, to provide flexibility for the many uses of the space. The ceiling is divided into coffers for good sound dispersion. The floor is slate, and the walls are hard plaster on concrete block. The acoustic is brilliant in the empty space, toning down to a comfortable reverberation with full congregation. The air handler is remarkably silent. Mark Holden of Jaffe-Holden was the acoustician, with a peer review done by Bob Mahoney. At the inauguration of the Immanuel Chapel, Robert A.M. Stern spoke about his interest in using light as a powerful architectural force. There is a continuous ambulatory surrounding the worship space, with windows letting in natural light. This light is admitted to the church through ocular openings projecting an ever-changing pattern on the interior.

The organ stands nearly 30 feet tall. The shape of the case is Classical but restrained, allowing the organ to be at home in this clean, contemporary space. The effect is powerful and compelling, letting the worshiper know that music is important to the seminary. It is made from solid quarter-sawn white oak, finished with a clear, water-based lacquer. The Double Open Diapason 16′, made from 80% scraped tin, is in the facade from low F.

The Great is at the impost level. The Swell box is placed above, and perpendicular to, the Great. Its reeds are placed at both sides of the windchest so that tuning can be done from either side. A dramatic crescendo and refined control of the Swell sound is achieved through the placement of shutters on three sides of the box. The Pedal, which speaks directly through tracery grills on both sides of the lower case, is on two chests at floor level behind the organ. Its sound also reaches the chapel through the opening above and behind the organ.

TAO February 2015 Pipes

Great division

The key action is suspended mechanical, with the trackers made of carbon fiber. This lightweight material has great advantages: It is extremely rigid, difficult to break, and impervious to moisture. The key levers are thermally treated poplar, which has great stability. The key coverings are polished cow bone, and the sharps are Gabon ebony. Together, these make for a key action that is crisp, precise, and responsive. The stop action is electric, with the combination action by Solid State Organ Systems.

The slider windchests are made from solid wood with yellow poplar grids, quarter-sawn yellow poplar sliders, and western red cedar tables. The eastern white-pine toe boards are quarter-sawn for stability. The pipes are made of lead-tin alloys or solid wood, and with few exceptions were made in the Taylor & Boody workshop. All metal pipes were hammered, with the exception of the tin front pipes, which were hand-scraped and polished.

It was a unique opportunity to use timber blown down in the derecho and also logs from the three large oak trees that were removed from the site of the chapel construction. We took these logs, some up to 30 inches in diameter, and split them down the center with a 60-inch chainsaw. The half logs were then placed on our band sawmill and quarter-sawn. This lumber is stable, dries without defect, and produces the beautiful flake grain-pattern that we so cherish. The results were well worth the effort. There is great merit in the environmental economy of locally sourced wood as well as the connection to the saints of VTS who walked beneath those ancient trees.

In many of our projects, Taylor & Boody has used historic models in the North European style. Seminary organist William Ro­berts’s requirement was that the organ would play the music of Herbert Howells well. Prior to our Opus 65 project at Grace Church in New York City, we visited a number of historic organs in the United Kingdom. One of the organs that particularly excited us was the 1883 Henry Willis organ at St. Dominic’s Priory in Haverstock Hill, London. This mechan­ical-action organ of three manuals and 35 stops fills the cavernous church with sound that evokes all the vigor of Victorian England. The diapasons are full and round, but with silvery speech that gives clarity to counterpoint. The organ’s soft stops prove excellent for choral accompaniment. In the development of the VTS organ, we knew that this type of instrument would serve the Episcopal seminary well. The Great and Pedal provide the power and vocal qualities essential to accompanying good hymn singing, while the wide range of expression in the Swell allows for solo and choral accompaniment. In the words of Aaron Reichert, who along with Christopher Bono voiced the organ: “Should not the organ sing with as good a vowel as one asks of their choir? The balance of the organ is based on, and in direct relationship with, the fervor with which the VTS community sings. Each division can accompany the other, a soloist, a choir, an orchestra, a congregation, or all combined; coincidentally, being so versatile in accompaniment makes the organ quite a good soloist as well.” And yes, it does play Howells well.

Chapel Exterior

Chapel Exterior

The two-manual specification of 34 stops allows for complete choruses on each division. There are two mixtures and five manual reeds, giving the organ sufficient power to accompany the robust singing of the seminary community. It is useful that both the Great and Swell have Trumpets as well as solo reeds: the Swell Oboe in English style and a sweet 8′ Clarionet for the Great. There is also a good complement of string stops: a Salicional on the Great, and Viol da Gamba, Vox Coelestis, and 4′ Salicet in the Swell, making a string chorus. The Great 4′ Harmonic Flute is a first for us; the volume of this stop permits it to be used in combination with the 8′ Spire Flute to add clarity and evoke an 8′ Harmonic Flute. The 8′ Spire Flute has enough overtones to be distinct in the chorus and also function well as a solo accompaniment. The Pedal 16′ Open Diapason, which is transmitted from the Great, is quite round and elegant, having full-length wooden basses. It serves as a 
gentle 16′ for the Pedal when the Sub Bass is too strong. A large-scaled 102/3′ Quint Bass gives a synthetic 32′, making a convincing rumble for English choral music.

TAO February 2016 Cover Feature This instrument has already proven to be a stimulant to the musicians at VTS. There is often a student or visiting organist who is learning, discussing, and enjoying the organ. As Bill Roberts said in the mission statement for the organ search, “Procuring a fine organ will enrich the worship life of the community for years to come. It will contribute to the formation of young women and men who are being trained to lead the Church, modeling the power of music to transform lives and bring worshipers into the presence of God.” We as organbuilders believe this, and we are honored to have been chosen to provide an organ to assist in such a worthy cause. Soli Deo Gloria.

George Taylor graduated from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. He apprenticed with Rudolf von Beckerath Orgelbau in Hamburg, Germany, from 1964 to 1968. He joined John Brombaugh and Company in 1970 after being self-employed for two years, and formed Taylor & Boody with John Boody in 1977. He lives outside of Staunton with his wife, Carol.

John Boody graduated from University of Maine with a BA degree in music. He has apprenticed with Fritz Noack and John Brombaugh. In 1979, two years after cofounding Taylor & Boody, he moved to Staunton, where he lives with his wife, Janet. Aside from organbuilding, he enjoys cross-country skiing, biking, gardening, and singing with the choir at Trinity Episcopal Church. The Boodys have two children and five grandchildren.

View the stoplist

The Organbuilders
George Taylor, John Boody, Larry Damico, Emerson Willard, Chris­topher Bono, Kelley Blanton, Robbie Lawson, Thomas Karaffa, Robert Harris, Erik Boody, Aaron Reichert, Bobbi J. Regi, Katina Lawson, Alessio Giacobone, Christopher Witmer, Jenna Dennison, Chris Peterson, Steven JettInaugural Year Events
November 6, 2015: Scott Dettra, dedicatory organ recital
January 10, 2016: Janet Yieh
March 18, 2016: Marilyn Keiser
April 22, 2016: Dorothy Papadakos accompanies The Hunchback of Notre-DameThe Architects of Immanuel Chapel
The chapel design in association with Robert A. M. Stern Architects
Design partner: Grant F. Marani
Senior associates: Rosa Maria Colina; Charles Toothill Associates: Esther Park, David Pearson, Leticia Wouk-Almino
Team: James Brackenhoff, Kevin Kelly, Marc Leverant, Marissa Looby, Katie Casanta Rasmussen, Frank Stevens, Mark Talbot, Jessie Turnbull, Chriska Wong
Landscape architect: Michael Vergason Landscape Architects
Liturgical consultant: Terry Byrd Eason Design

The Building Committee for Immanuel Chapel
Chair: The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, VTS dean and president
Trustees: Martha W. High, the Rt. Rev. James J. Shand, the Rev. Dr. William R. Shiflet
Faculty: The Rev. Dr. J. Barney Hawkins IV, the Rev. Dr. Lloyd A. Lewis Jr., the Rev. William Roberts, Heather Zdancewicz
Staff: Kathryn Glover, David Mutscheller, Ray Sabalis
Students: Dorothella Littlepage, Grey Maggiano, Edgar (Gary) Taylor
Alumni/ae: The Rev. C. Neal Goldsborough, the Rev. Ruth L. Kirk, Thomas M. Moore, the Rev. Dr. Joseph Walter Lund, the Rev. David A. Umphlett
Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill: The Rev. Dr. Margaret A. Faeth, Brian R. Phillips
Friends: Robert L. Mays

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