By Ronald Ebrecht and Stefan Stürzer
The vibrant congregation of First United Methodist Church in Marietta, Georgia, has a robust tradition of music-making, with members and friends participating in numerous choral and instrumental ensembles. The new organ for this lively musical family has been designed to provide ample expression, with as complete a tonal palette as possible given the available space and budget. Persisting despite COVID, supply delays, travel restrictions, and more, the church was undeterred in reaching its goal.
Five years ago, after thoughtfully considering the possibility of renovating its 1960s Reuter, the congregation decided to donate the old organ to a church in Birmingham, Alabama. Ronald Ebrecht then prepared a hypothetical specification that was sent to several organbuilders, who were invited to use it as a template for a proposal. Three builders later visited the church and presented their concepts. The vote for Glatter-Götz was unanimous because their proposal was deemed the most appropriate—an inventive specification with a handsome facade, perfectly integrated with the rich but spare colonial architecture of the church.
Marietta has a special flavor, despite being surrounded by metropolitan Atlanta. It retains the quiet, quaint atmosphere of a historic Southern town—so reminiscent of a bygone era that it is home to the Gone with the Wind Museum in historic Brumby Hall, two blocks from the church. Marietta’s central pedestrian square is surrounded by shops, restaurants, and theaters. Across the street from the square, the church has a campus of equal size, with a park, gardens, an amphitheater, a reconstruction of the original 1833 meetinghouse, and the main complex and sanctuary. In addition to worship services, the congregation sponsors concerts, picnics, and many other activities that animate the surrounding area.
The Facade and Chambers
Each chamber of the organ is faced with five flats of display pipes, with three flats facing into the chancel and two toward the nave. To further integrate with the extensive use of mahogany in the church, the outside flat on each side of the nave displays wooden pipes. Glatter-Götz did all the fine woodwork, harmonizing seamlessly with the existing architectural ornamentation and furniture. The facade is so successful that, rather than seeming new, it looks as though it was always there.
A total of 3,114 pipes are arranged on the chests behind the 90 speaking pipes in the facade. (Two flats of nonspeaking pipes were added for symmetry.) As part of the project, the chambers were reconstructed and the openings enlarged to allow better tonal egress into the chancel and nave.
Wooden bass pipes of the Harmonic Flute are displayed in the congregation-facing flat on the far left. Bass pipes of the 8′ Open Diapason are in two flats of the left chamber (on the right in the two facing the congregation, and on the left in the three facing the choir). The basses of the Great Violone are wood, but higher in its compass the stop transitions to metal, and some of these pipes are displayed in the middle flat of the left facade facing the choir. To give symmetry to the right facade, pipes of the Pedal 8′ Principal and 4′ Octave are displayed, and on the far right, pipes from the Open Wood. In general, facade pipes start at tenor F, because 8′ C seemed too ponderous in scale and would have needed closer spacing, blocking too much of the space needed for good projection.
On the north side of the sanctuary, on the second floor across the hall from the chamber doors, the blower room provides complete sound isolation for the machinery. Wooden trunks cross the hallway in the attic and drop back down to the chambers. One feeds the blower with the ambient air from the chambers, and others distribute wind to the chests. A separate higher-pressure reservoir feeds the Tuba stop.
The console has computerized accessories for controlling the combination action, manual transfers, and assignment of expression pedals, as well as other devices programmable with its iPad. A careful layout of six rocker tabs above the manuals allows the player to see whether any of these features is engaged. The console has a white wooden shell with natural finished woods in the interior. Sleek, with a low profile, its design complements but does not mimic the other sanctuary furniture, stating that the instrument is modern but adapted to its surroundings.
The Manual Divisions and Their Stops
Each of the three manual divisions has a principal chorus, a flute chorus, strings, and reeds. Each has at least one sub-unison stop and distinctive solo stops. Balance between the two chambers was a primary goal, guiding all aspects of design and placement of the chests and the stops on them. The Great and Swell Left are in the left chamber; Swell Right and Choir are in the right chamber. The three complete principal choruses are at 16′ in the Great and 8′ in the Swell and Choir. The flutes and principals blend perfectly but remain distinct in timbre when heard separately.
The Great 16′ Violone underpins its principal chorus, but at 8′ it provides a slightly edgy string tone. Principals are at 8′, 4′, 2′, and Mixture. The Great flute chorus includes 16′, 8′, 5⅓′, 4′, and 3¹⁄₅′. The Harmonic Flute is a broad solo stop with wooden basses and metal trebles. The four Great flue stops combine perfectly to create Franck-style fonds. The Tuba is a floating stop, enclosed with the quiet stops of the Swell Left so that it can be restrained to blend with the chorus or unleashed for grand solo lines.
The Swell Right serves as a Positive division; it is placed forward, toward the congregation, to balance the Great, which is similarly positioned on the left. The Swell principals at 8′, 4′, and Mixture are slightly brighter, to contrast with those of the Great. The Swell Right flute chorus includes 16′, 8′, 4′, 2⅔′, 2′, and 1³⁄₅′—and, as a luxury, the quiet, tapered 8′ Spire Flute. The Father Willis/Skinner–style Oboe is smooth yet colorful. (Except for the Bassoon, the extended and duplexed stops all have the same stop names, with only their pitches changed to help the player understand the origin of each.) The 8′ Trumpet and 4′ Clarion have all the fire the Swell needs to answer the Tuba on the Great. The Swell Left is an independently enclosed string organ, including sub and octave string stops; an edgy, piquant Viola da Gamba; an ethereal Aeoline; and a Celeste adapted to both. The Vox Humana is here too. The division is placed against the front wall to improve its projection into the choir seating area, and especially to allow the incisive Viola da Gamba good placement for the bass singers on the back row.
The name of the Choir division comes from its historic location in a smaller case behind the organist’s bench, or chair. Over the centuries this was often misspelled as choir. At Marietta First UMC the division assumes the name functionally, because accompaniment of the choir is its purpose. The chest is placed as close to the choir seating as possible—against the right front wall—and enclosed to increase its versatility. Its principal chorus—8′, 4′, 2⅔′, 2′, and 1⅓′—has each pitch available à la carte to provide the greatest flexibility in building choral accompaniments. The Violin Diapason is the slimmest of the three manual principals, and its completing principals are scaled to sparkle above it. The 8′ flute and celeste are wood with harmonic trebles, based on the Skinner/Steere Bois Celeste of Woolsey Hall at Yale (with thanks to Nicholas Thompson-Allen). The 4′ Harmonic Flute is also wooden. The Choir has a clear, bright Salicional as its string and a broad, Skinner-style Clarinet as its reed.
Because the mounted Great Cornet is duplexed and does not couple, the three cornets can be used in dialogue and trio.
To underpin the widely spaced manual divisions, the Pedal is divided between the two chambers, ensuring balanced support. The ceiling of the chambers is not tall enough for the bottom octaves of the 32′ Subbass and the 16′ Open Wood (duophone in this octave) to stand upright, but it is deep enough for these pipes to lie recumbent along the right outside wall. Practical considerations of limited space led to extensions of the Subbass, Open Wood, and Trombone to higher pitches. So that in counterpoint the pedal line remains distinct, the 8′ Principal and 4′ Octave of the Pedal are independent. To increase accompanimental possibilities, several stops from the manuals (which were extended and are therefore on unit chests) are duplexed to the Pedal.
In Summary, and Future Uses
Although Ronald Ebrecht is known for French repertoire and his published work on Cavaillé-Coll, this style of organbuilding is not predominant in this instrument, except for the Harmonic Flute and Vox Humana. With Stefan Stürzer, Ebrecht shares extensive experience of German Romantic organs and E.M. Skinner instruments, which brought to this specification the strings, quiet flutes, and shimmering principals. The instrument has great cohesiveness as well as delightful surprises to keep a listener interested and alert. The congregation plans to encourage the use of the new organ in community outreach through regular recitals and special events.
Thanks to the Congregation, Organ Committee, and Staff
Many volunteers assisted the organbuilders and consultant at every juncture: planning, unloading, installation, hospitality, and fundraising. These gifts of time and talent—along with those of treasure—were broadly shared within the community, creating a common sense of ownership. In addition to those just referred to, and countless others, special thanks must be given to Steven Fisher, who stayed on long past his term as chair of the trustees and of the organ committee so that this project could be completed under one leader. In this five-year period, every member of the staff involved in the project changed, save one: Brian Parks, FAGO, organist and associate director of music, whose forbearance and wisdom were essential.
Ronald Ebrecht is university organist and artist in residence emeritus at Wesleyan University.
Stefan Stürzer is president of Glatter-Götz Orgelbau.