First Parish Unitarian
Andover Organ Company • Lawrence, Massachusetts
By Matthew M. Bellocchio
Duxbury, on the Atlantic coast 35 miles southeast of Boston, was settled by some of the original Mayflower Pilgrims. By 1632, a group including John Alden and Myles Standish left their small Plymouth farms and went north to work larger lots along Massachusetts Bay. In 1637, their settlement, having met the legal requirements to be set off as a separate community with its own church, was incorporated as Duxborough (original spelling), the second town in the Plymouth Colony. Elder William Brewster was the church’s first leader. The church embraced the Unitarian doctrine in 1828. The present 1840 Greek Revival meetinghouse, the fourth in the church’s history, retains most of its original furnishings. In 1851, the ladies of the church held their first fair to raise money for an organ and a fence around the cemetery. A Simmons organ was installed in 1853.
The builder, William Benjamin Dearborn Simmons (1823–1876), apprenticed with E. & G.G. Hook and then worked for Thomas Appleton. In 1846, he started his own company and soon won contracts for large and important instruments. By 1852, he had shipped an organ to San Francisco. By 1859, he had sent one to Honolulu and built a three-manual instrument for Harvard University. In 1862, he provided most of the interior parts for the first organ in the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. Simmons was mid-19th-century Boston’s most innovative builder. He was the first to adopt steam-powered factory machinery, C-compass manuals, 27-note pedalboards, independent higher-pitched mutation stops, Pedal reeds, and equal temperament tuning. He also experimented with double-pressure wind systems, ventil windchests, and pneumatic combination actions.
In contrast, Simmons’s small, early organs were quite conservative. His 1853 Duxbury instrument, with two manuals and 15 stops, had a short-compass Swell, an even shorter-compass Pedal (1 stop, 13 pipes, 17 pedal keys), and refined voicing. Except for the 1930 addition of an electric blower, the organ served for 114 years without major repairs until it was rebuilt in 1967 by Andover.
In the 1960s, the Organ Reform Movement was in full swing in the United States. Originating in Germany in the 1930s, it arose in reaction to the excesses of symphonic-style organs. New and existing instruments were judged by their ability to authentically render Baroque music, especially that of Bach. Nineteenth-century American organs, with their sweet flutes and strings, were considered decadent and inadequate. Early on, few American companies were repairing old tracker organs; most just electrified or replaced them. Andover, founded in 1948, was the first to deliberately retain and renovate 19th-century trackers. But, adhering to the Organ Reform philosophy, it occasionally “improved” those organs tonally.
Andover’s 1967 rebuild of the Duxbury organ left the Great essentially intact, with bass pipes added to the tenor F Trumpet and only one stop change: a three-rank Mixture replaced the 8′ Clarabella. The short-compass Swell chest gave way to a used full-compass one. All the Swell flue stops, except the 8′ Stopped Diapason, were replaced with new ranks voiced in the neo-Baroque style of the day, and a late 19th-century Oboe supplanted the short-compass Swell Hautboy. The 17-note pedalboard was replaced with a 30-note concave-radiating one, along with new couplers. Simmons’s 13-note Sub Bass was extended, and an 8′ Pommer and 4′ Choral Bass were added to the Pedal.
Tonally, the 1967 Duxbury rebuild created a mixed marriage of Simmons and neo-Baroque. Today, in Andover’s 70th anniversary year, we would never repeat what our predecessors did there. We are more respectful of old organs and have since done many historically sympathetic restorations and rebuilds. Recent examples include our 2016 mechanical restoration of the 1892 Woodberry & Harris (Opus 100, III/41) at St. Mary Church in Charlestown, Mass., and our 2015 rebuilding and expansion of the 1902 Hook & Hastings (Opus 1883) at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass. (featured in the October 2015 TAO).
Though the Duxbury organ was still in good working order, First Parish’s music director Edwin Swanborn and Andover’s Robert C. Newton, who maintained the organ until his 2016 retirement, had been planning a tonal restoration for some years. In 2017, 50 years after the 1967 rebuild, their plans have come to fruition.
Our recent work has returned the organ to Simmons’s original style and voicing, while slightly increasing its resources. The Simmons 8′ Clarabella pipes, stored for 50 years, were returned to the Great. To make room for them, we moved the 8′ Dulciana to the Swell. We kept the 1967 Mixture III, but revoiced it to blend with the Simmons chorus. We replaced the 1967 Swell windchest with a larger, full-compass 1852 Simmons chest, salvaged from the Center Methodist Church in Provincetown, Mass. Aside from the 8′ Dulciana and 8′ Stopped Diapason, which are original to the organ, all the Swell 16′, 8′, and 4′ flues are from an 1852 Simmons organ removed from the former Unitarian Church in Gloucester, Mass. We revoiced the 1967 Swell 2 ⅔’, 2′, and 1 3∕5′ stops, as well as the Oboe, and added a new three-rank Mixture in Simmons’s style.
We enlarged the Pedal from three stops to five, planting all the pipes on new C and C# slider chests. The 8′ Pommer was converted to a 5 ⅓’ Quint, a surprisingly useful fundamental-reinforcing stop found in Simmons’s larger Pedal divisions. The six low notes of the new principal-toned 8′ Violoncello provide the facade pipes of the outer towers. A new metal 16′ Posaune underpins, but does not overpower, the Great chorus. Tonally, the Duxbury organ now bears a striking resemblance to the two-manual 1857 Simmons at Most Holy Redeemer Church in East Boston, heard in Thomas Murray’s 1973 Sheffield LP recording of Mendelssohn Organ Sonatas 2, 5, and 6 (available on CD from Raven Recordings, OAR-390).
A first-time visitor, unaware of the Duxbury organ’s history, might assume that it has always looked and sounded this way. This was intentional! At Andover, we take great care to design each new organ to complement its architectural surroundings and to look as if it has always been there. We did the same in this rebuild. To accommodate the added Pedal stops we judiciously expanded Simmons’s modest Greek Revival case from three sections to five. The only new case pieces are the fronts of the outer towers. The sides are original, with sections added to increase their height. Justin Gordon of Groveland, Mass., carved the new pipe shades and top ornaments for the outer towers. Our longtime friend and collaborator, painted decoration conservator Marylou Davis, and her associate Bridget Byrne repainted the pine case using “faux grain” techniques to make it look like rosewood. The painted-over facade pipes were stripped and gilded, restoring their original finish.
The organ’s interior is a blend of old and new. The windchest, key, and stop actions of the Great are original, as are the manual keyboards. To withstand winter heating, the Simmons Great and Swell windchests received new marine-grade plywood tables, crosshatched and graphited like the originals, and their sliders were re-shimmed for proper movement. We replaced the 1967 aluminum Swell trackers, squares, and couplers with traditional wooden components. The new Pedal windchests have wooden key and stop actions. Simmons’s large reservoir, whose second set of ribs had been removed, was restored to its original double-fold configuration. Flexible wind ducts were replaced with rectangular sectioned wooden wind trunks. A new high-speed blower, in a silencing box outside the organ, replaces the old blower in the cellar.
Andover’s Don Glover and Michael Eaton oversaw the project’s tonal and mechanical aspects, respectively. Others who worked on this project were: Ryan Bartosiewicz, Matthew Bellocchio, Anne Doré, Andrew Hagberg, Lisa Lucius, Benjamin Mague, Kevin Mathieu, John Morlock, Fay Morlock, Carl Morlock, Jon Ross, Craig Seaman, and David Zarges. The rebuilt organ was premiered at an open house at our shop on August 19, 2017, and resumed its church duties in early November 2017. Edwin Swanborn will play the rededicatory concert on November 4, at 7:00 p.m., joined by instrumentalists, the Zamir Chorale of Boston, and Brian Jones, emeritus director of music and organist at Trinity Church, Boston, who grew up in the church and played the 1967 rededicatory recital.