St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral
Goulding & Wood Pipe Organ Builders
One of the noblest attributes of music is its ability to bring people together. Music has been a staple for groups worshiping together, for it uniquely binds spirits together into a common voice. Pipe organs embody these lofty qualities more than most musical instruments by their literal combination of thousands of individual pipes into a seamless “congregation.” We have always valued the relationships that are built as a natural part of the process of making a pipe organ, and we treasure the friendships with organists, choir directors, ministers, committee members, donors, and parishioners. The organists who play our instruments enjoy a strong camaraderie, referring to each other as “cousins” in the geographically wide family of Goulding Wood.
These dynamics have never been more integral to a project than at St. John’s Cathedral in Knoxville, Tennessee, home to our Opus 52. St. John’s is a thriving downtown congregation that has been at the heart of Knoxville for nearly 200 years. An early president of the University of Tennessee also served as the rector, and the American novelist James Agee was an acolyte there during his youth. The present building was completed in 1892, and it reflects the Richardsonian Romanesque style in vogue at the time. The gracious crossing tower accounts for half of the floor space of the room, with modest nave and transepts completing the cruciform shape. The chancel features a faceted apse that projects sound extraordinarily well, such that a priest at the high altar can use a natural speaking voice to be heard clearly throughout the room.
St. John’s music program has been a vital part of the congregation’s identity. During the 1982 World’s Fair, St. John’s initiated a free noontime concert series, and this series continued for nearly 35 years. More recently, the music program has seen a resurgence of activity and prominence within the cultural life of Knoxville. A new concert series has included full-scale operas and hosted both regional and English choirs. The cathedral once again has a strong treble choir of boys and girls that sings regularly with the adults. The choirs have performed in the internationally acclaimed Big Ears Festival, and the cathedral has been one of the main venues throughout the festival. The choir has sung at sister cathedrals throughout the Southeast, and in 2019 it was in residence at Bristol Cathedral in the U.K. A visionary family within the congregation saw the need for an excellent organ to support the music program and expand the musical possibilities of the cathedral, setting in motion a process to identify a builder that would be a perfect match. The dean of the cathedral assembled a task force, and the team visited organs throughout the Southeast. Following a year of study, the task force unanimously chose Goulding & Wood as the ideal partner in fulfilling this vision.
Despite the merits of the acoustics in the cathedral church, the architecture of the room undermined the efficacy of the organ. A single side chamber kept the organ’s sound constrained and distant. The task force thus requested that the organ occupy a position within the acoustically favorable chancel dome in addition to the side chamber. This bold move would ensure the even distribution of sound throughout the room and create a prominent visual statement in the chancel. Although the room is modest in size, the task force elected to retain an Antiphonal division, yet they further expressed a hope for a more substantial physical and ornamental presence for the liturgical west wall. An earlier instrument attempted to mitigate the tonal limitations of the chamber by dislocating the Great division to a transept wall. When a later incarnation of the organ brought the Great back into the chamber, the support structure was repurposed for a horizontal trumpet. It was determined to maintain this element, and new cabinetry that harmonizes with the other casework integrates the new Festival Trumpet with the rest of the instrument.
Design of the organ developed quickly. Lead engineer Monty Thurman and case designer Robert Duffy coordinated their ideas and plans with Jeff Johnson, one of Knoxville’s most accomplished architects and a member of the St. John’s congregation. Gothic elements from the chancel furnishings are echoed in the organ cabinetry along with new symbols and details. The oak cabinetry is highlighted with accents in gold leaf, including the first phrase of the First Song of Isaiah (“Surely it is God who saves me; I will trust in him and not be afraid.”) carved into panels of the chancel facades. Seating for the choir in the lower case is patterned after the stalls of English choirs, with each seat adorned by a unique cross. The Antiphonal cases flank the commanding window on the rear wall and help carry the eye up, emphasizing verticality. Raised carvings below the Antiphonal pipe array repeat the filigree pattern of stenciling on the panels of the apse ceiling. Polished tin pipes with mouths finished in gold leaf add brilliance and warmth to the room.
Musically, the organ follows our established style of organizing an instrument’s resources along the needs of liturgical worship. A powerful principal chorus on the Great serves as the backbone for hymn singing, and balanced plenums in the Swell and Choir augment the main chorus. The Pedal features its own complete and independent chorus, including a hefty four-rank mixture. The Great is built on First and Second Open Diapasons located in the opposing cases of the chancel. Aside from offering principal ranks of varying intensity and color, positioning the two on opposite sides facilitates accompanying the choir seated decani and cantoris. The Antiphonal division also has a fully developed principal chorus, and its 8′ Echo Diapason is matched with a broad Diapason Celeste.
The flutes of the organ cross a wide spectrum of volume and color. The Great 8′ Bourdon and 4′ Open Flute provide a basis of accompanimental flutes substantial enough to lead congregational singing. The searing 8′ Harmonic Flute, located close to the apse ceiling, sings throughout the room. The Swell’s harmonic flute chorus adds sparkle, while the Choir’s flute chorus comprises a generous six-rank cornet décomposé. The Pedal has independent flutes at 16′ , 8′, and 4′ . The last of these, the 4′ Cantus Flute, is a stop our shop has developed over several years to address the needs of literature calling for a solo line in the Pedal, such as the fourth movement of Widor’s Fifth Symphony.
The pipework in the organ was constructed by A.R. Schopp’s Sons of Alliance, Ohio, and the facade pipes, including the decorative embossed pipes, were built by Jacques Stinkens of Zeist, Holland. Jerin Kelly, our staff voicer, worked with all the pipework in the Goulding & Wood shop, ensuring a smooth ensemble, and finishing the completed ensemble on site.
Main windchests in the organ all have Goulding & Wood’s exclusive electropneumatic slider and pallet design. Slider chests maximize blend within choruses and boast a mechanical efficiency and simplicity that results in reliability and longevity. Solid State Organ Systems designed and built a state-of-the-art control system with numerous console assists that are discreetly placed in the understated terraced-jamb console.
All design considerations, from the tonal architecture to the mechanical design, flow from our desire to have the organ serve the congregation of St. John’s. Our approach to organbuilding keeps our focus on the most satisfying aspect of the business, that of building relationships. This project had an extraordinary relationship embedded in it, for the director of music is Jason Overall, who has long been one of our team members and the face of the company to many committees over the years, and who continues to assist us with both new and old projects.
The task force was ably led by Dr. Frank Gray, a retired orthopedic surgeon who was also a professional-level concert pianist. Dr. Gray deftly coordinated a multifaceted cathedral-renovation project and kept everyone in close contact. As we neared the time for installation, we learned that he had a rare and extremely aggressive form of cancer. Throughout the weeks of installation, he nonetheless kept our crew supplied with doughnuts, delighted in seeing the instrument come together, and ensured that the crew had everything necessary from the other contractors on the job.
The organ was given in honor of Jim and Natalie Haslam by Steve and Ann Bailey, and the four of them felt strongly that we should move ahead with a dedication as early as possible. The organ’s construction was completed by the first of March, and it was ready for tuning and rough regulation. On March 8 the organ was dedicated in the morning Eucharistic service with the Very Rev. John Ross, dean, and the Right Rev. Brian Cole, bishop, officiating. The following week the country shut down because of the pandemic, and work on the organ stopped immediately. St. John’s has been able to use the organ in services, both virtually and now live, throughout the pandemic, even with the interruption in tonal finishing. Our tonal staff has since been able to resume and expects to complete the process by the end of 2020. It has enriched the life of the cathedral through Sunday services, Evensongs, and even organ recitals.
Sadly, Dr. Gray passed away in April, yet we are thankful that he saw the ceremonial completion of the project. If the success of a pipe organ can be measured in the strength of the relationships it creates, the organ at St. John’s is among our greatest achievements. It enhances the appearance of the room, inviting worshipers (either virtual or in person) into a more intimate interaction with the space. Its sounds create shared musical experiences that transcend worship into deep personal connection. Most importantly, the process has added new cousins to our family and a deeper reach into the lives of worshipers and music lovers in East Tennessee.
Goulding Wood Pipe Organ Builders