By Michael B. Fazio
The new instrument at the Reformed Church of Bronxville, New York, is the product of careful preservation of resources and collaborative effort at its finest. In May 2020—the middle of the COVID lockdown—we scheduled a clandestine meeting with Caitlin Dowling, music director at the church. It was gratifying to work with a musician who knew what she wanted the organ to achieve tonally and understood the challenges that we would have in bringing about the desired results.
During our first visit, we discussed the actions that would be necessary to renovate the existing instrument. We found water damage to the chests and pipework, control system failures, and only one of the three blowers operating without defect. The original organ also suffered from unfortunate placement, and electrical transients had damaged the solid-state control system that was installed along with a fine David Harris console in 2010. Discussions about remediation rapidly shifted toward the possibility of creating a new tonal and mechanical design, and thus the scope of the project evolved to encompass a new 90-rank instrument that would utilize some resources from the existing organ.
Tonally, Caitlin’s thoughts for the instrument aligned perfectly with our own. Over the past several years, Austin has espoused an aesthetic that we have dubbed “liturgical-symphonic” tonal design. We feel that this concept follows naturally from the American Classic tonal scheme, as promulgated by the legendary G. Donald Harrison of Aeolian-Skinner. While American Classic organs leaned toward the North German tonal model, our treatment retains a bit Germanic clarity while embodying the colors and warmth found in mid-20th-century English instruments and, perhaps even more so, the orchestral voices employed by Ernest M. Skinner, Kimball, and Austin. We draw upon the specifications, pipework construction details, physical and mechanical layouts, and inspiration of nearly 1,000 instruments completed by the Austin company during the early and middle 20th century. These examples, for which we have complete details in our archives, provide not only a blueprint for symphonic design but also the mechanical requirements to achieve the desired tonal result.
There is a developed diapason chorus in nearly every division of this organ. From the stentorian Grand Diapason in the Orchestral to the velvety fundamental tone of the 8′ Suavial in the Positiv, there are seven 8′ diapasons throughout the instrument. The organ also features many different flute choruses and four sets of string celestes, ranging from the pianissimo Flute Celeste to the rather forceful Major Gambas in the Orchestral. Seventeen of the organ’s 73 stops are reeds. From the gentle Flugel Horn and vintage Skinner Oboe to the powerful Tuba and Trompette en Chamade, a plethora of distinctive reed voices combines with the generous flue choruses to create a wonderful and comprehensive palette of color and sound. The eight-stop Antiphonal division is a complete instrument unto itself. Its plenum knits together cohesively with the chancel organ to fill the church with warm singing support. The tonal result is an instrument that is capable of rendering much of the literature of every generation, all while heroically leading an enthusiastic congregation in worship. Mechanically, we feel that the Austin system delivers the results artistically and reliably.
The new organ was constructed entirely upon Austin-patent Universal Airchests—a total of six new main windchests, placed upon four walk-in airboxes, with airlock “vestibules” that provide access to the interior of the organ while the wind is on. Two windchests of the panel-frame design were constructed for the cantilevered Great and Positiv, along with an Austin rim-style chest for the Pedal. Two airboxes supply wind to the split chests in the gallery (Antiphonal). Three new Spencer blowers, custom engineered by Spencer Turbine to Austin’s requirements, supply plentiful wind to the instrument.
While we were committed to building all-new windchests, and of course the pipework to complete the specification, we agreed to reconfigure the Harris console for use in the renovated instrument. It was rebuilt to meet the needs of the new specification, with Austin-style stop jambs and other adaptations. An SSOS MultiSystem II was installed to adeptly control the organ.
The installation began in February 2022, and a horrifying discovery was soon made in the Choir chamber. This small space along the back right corner of the chancel had been the site of some water incursion. It had ostensibly been repaired, so we were devastated to discover that water was once again cascading into the chamber. Since the airbox and chest were now in place, further installation ceased, and the new chests were sealed in plastic. Some days later, a significant amount of detritus was found on the console and inside the Swell chamber. Looking up, one could see sunlight streaming through the seams of the woodwork. This called for the console to be covered, pipes to be removed from the Swell, and the chamber to be sealed while much of the slate roof was replaced. As if this were not enough disruption, at the same time a decision was made to repair the tower and the large window in the gallery. Thus, installation in this area also came to a full stop. We could not resume until fall 2022.
To loosely quote an African proverb: It takes a village to build an organ, and this project was no exception. Despite pandemic-era supply shortages, issues with the building, and other challenges, we completed the installation in February 2023. Apart from the invaluable support and good bearing of the church and its staff, the instrument’s creation is indebted to the talents and dedication of the Austin team, who participated in design, construction, voicing, and installation. This project came together through the diligence of Jake Dowgewicz, who is responsible for client care and outreach. Floyd Higgins, Austin’s designer, conceived a creative layout that provides excellent tonal egress and easy access for tuning and maintenance.
The removal of the old organ was supervised by the incomparable Alan McNeely and his crew, who presented swept-clean chambers in just a week. The console and pipework were then shipped to the Austin factory in Hartford.
The tonal scheme was conceived in collaboration with Caitlin, Jake, Floyd, and Mike Fazio. Head voicer Dan Kingman and Anne Wysocki, assisted by Chris Message, completed the flue voicing. Dan Kingman, Sam Hughes, and Mike Fazio, assisted by Holly Odell, voiced the reed stops throughout the instrument. Pipes made in the Austin shop were completed by Tony Valdez. Ray Albright and Bruce Coderre completed the console redesign to accommodate the new specification, wiring, and control system. Austin action components were made by Jamaris and Jahaira Marrero, Milagros Rios, Michelle Gonzales, and Suzanne Richmond. The chests were built by Raffe Ramos, Mike Chiaradia, Ray Albright, Colin Coderre, and Bruce Coderre. Colin also works as Austin’s finisher and is proud to have beautifully sealed and finished the many unique components in the organ.
The crew worked tirelessly over many months to complete the installation, which was directed by Ray Albright with assistance from Bruce Coderre, Floyd Higgins, Chris Message, Mike Fazio, Colin Coderre, Jake Dowgewicz, and Justin Litwin. Administrative support was provided by Dick Taylor, Austin’s CEO, and Curt Hawkes, Austin’s production assistant and historian. Judi McCue, Austin’s office manager, kept us organized throughout the process. Although she retired before the project was completed, in so doing she “gifted” to us her amazing daughter Mary as our new office manager. Austin Organs is a team, and we all have our part in the continuance of this 130-year legacy. We are proud of our past but always keep an eye on the future—with a solid footing in the present.
For more information on this instrument, click here.
Michael B. Fazio is president and tonal director of Austin Organs Inc.
From the Director of Music
When I began working at the Reformed Church of Bronxville in March 2020, discussions about an organ project were already underway. I began requesting proposals from several companies for a full rebuild of the church’s 63-rank 1957 Schantz during the pandemic, while congregational singing was at a standstill. The bids were varied, with some suggesting modest increases, some proposing all-new pipework, and some including large digital portions. What immediately stood out to me about the Austin team was their willingness to sit down at the organ with the organist and listen to the needs of the parish. I spent hours at the instrument with Jake Dowgewicz, discussing what worked well, what didn’t work at all, and how to solve some of the architectural issues. The Austin proposal was thoughtful and creative; it exceeded all my expectations. They even allowed our specification to be revised during the installation process! I’ve found Austin’s creativity and attention to detail to be unmatched in the field. The installation team, voicers, and everyone I’ve interacted with have been consummate professionals and have listened thoughtfully, providing ingenious responses to the challenges at hand. I’m thrilled to be introducing Austin Opus 2804 to the rest of the world.
Director of Music and Liturgy
Reformed Church of Bronxville