June 2016 TAO Cover Feature Article

Marble Collegiate Church
New York, NY
Glück Pipe Organs • New York, NY

By Sebastian M. Glück

Chancel cases and apse chambers

Chancel cases and apse chambers

Marble Collegiate Church enjoys a history of dynamic preaching and noteworthy music, and is a landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The soaring stone building on New York City’s Fifth Avenue shelters a structurally flexible interior that poses acoustical challenges compounded by the fact that this vibrant congregation often fills its pews to capacity.

When Kenneth V. Dake, director of music since 1996, asked that the church approach me about a new pipe organ, the mission was to design, build, voice, and tonally finish an instrument that could perform the established solo repertoire with historical and stylistic accuracy, and serve the church’s broad music ministry that includes multiple choirs (both in-house and visiting), solo instrumentalists, and orchestras that are seen and heard worldwide through MarbleVision.

The Dutch Reformed Church, in Nieuw Amsterdam (now New York) since 1628, had commissioned a larger organ for each generation, until the 1984 organ contained twice as many pipes as the 1854 organ. Having previously built organs in spaces with little or no reverberation, I knew that size was not the sole issue. Even so, I have built the largest organ in the congregation’s history. The organ had to generate more sound energy than the building could absorb; so broad scales, a reinforced unison pitch line, more varied pipe forms, higher wind pressures, and a warm, vivid voicing style were the keys to success. I designed two complete organs at either end of the building, creating a bowl of sound in which to experience the music. Each organ has its own identity, but they fuse in a manner that envelops the listener.

Gallery viewed from the nave

Gallery viewed from the nave

The tonal blueprint is the child of two lines of scholarly inquiry: What do pipe organs in all cultures and eras have in common, and what do each of those nations provide, during each stylistic period, that is their musical signature? My selection and location of every voice in the Marble organ was prescribed by 350 years of organ literature, working from the composers’ scores toward an organ design, not building an organ with hope that it might accommodate the music. Academic conservatism is nonetheless punctuated by some colorful bibelots, such as the Doppelflöte with its double mouths, the Kirschholz Krumm­horn of brass and cherry wood, the Celesta struck by pneumatic mallets, and the aluminum resonator 32′ Double Ophicleide. The very carefully conceived mixtures are designed to add clarity to the inner voices of polyphony and to contribute a clean, silvery, and agreeable shine to the tout ensemble.

The complex superstructure of the larger rear gallery organ occupies much of Marble’s tower, the interior of which was rebuilt to my specifi­cations. Henry Erben’s massive Italianate case of 1854 had been rebuilt several times, so I removed some 20th-century additions in the spirit of historic preservation. The front organ is distributed between a pair of apse chambers and twin resonant cases flanking the chancel that I designed to appear as if they were always a part of the historic architecture. The inspiration for their form and ornament was the work of Cavaillé-Coll’s successor, Charles Mutin. The pipes that stand in all three facades are speaking pipes, and gold leafing of the moldings and pipe mouths was accomplished in the church.

The artistic management of 101 ranks in eight divisions required that I permit my conservative self to be dragged into the present century with a sumptuously equipped, technologically advanced mobile console. The solo organ and significant anthem repertoire that complement the hymnody and spoken word at each service require a comprehensive control system to handle the divisional coupling, combination action, expression shutter engines, and playback functions. The church’s international broadcasts are of noteworthy quality and resolution, so the console features unobstructed sight lines, elegant appearance, and silent operation.

Marble Collegiate organ's console

Marble Collegiate organ’s console

I am grateful to our partners in this organbuilding journey: Organ Supply Industries, A.R. Schopp’s Sons, Syndyne, Zephyr, and Peterson Electro-Musical Products. My gratitude is extended to the gentlemen of Glück Pipe Organs, who labored with care to install my vision in the church: Albert Jensen-Moulton, general manager, who also served as my extra set of ears during tonal finishing; Joseph DiSalle, Robert Rast, and Dominic Inferrera, craftsmen; Gene Baker, Matthew David, Dan Perina, and John Kawa, technical assistants; and volunteer assistants Joe Clift, Mark Johnson, and Greg Lozier.

The organ was dedicated by three of our nation’s great organists: Ken Cowan, Richard Elliott (principal organist of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir), and Diane Bish, in concert with the Marble Choir and Festival of Voices and Brass Ensemble under the direction of Kenneth V. Dake.

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Sebastian M. Glück is artistic and tonal director of Glück Pipe Organs.

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