By Charles Kegg
A large room calls for a sizeable organ, an instrument to fill the grand space, lead congregational singing, and provide sensitive choral accompaniment. While not small, the new Kegg organ for Christ the King Chapel at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, was limited by available space and funds. Nevertheless, at 47 ranks, the instrument—which some have called “big-boned”—contains elements sometimes considered luxuries for organs of this size. The project was completed in consultation with music director Dr. Kurt Poterack and organ instructor Dr. Jeffrey Alban.
The newly constructed Neogothic chapel can be seen from the west side of Interstate 66, a few miles from where it meets Interstate 81 in western Virginia. Surrounded by farm fields, this imposing structure—which will soon be home to the world’s largest swinging thurible—dominates the romantic rolling hills it has as neighbors. Designed by the firm of O’Brien & Keane of Arlington, Virginia, the traditional cruciform building seats approximately 750, with extended transepts and a lady chapel in the apse. The floor contains complex wood patterns in oak and walnut and includes marble roundels of the Four Wounds of Christ. There are eight side chapels in the transepts. All the altars and the sanctuary rail were rescued and restored from closed buildings. Scott R. Riedel & Associates served as acoustical consultant, and the resonant space is a testament to their fine work.
The college has a strong choral tradition—one that has already grown with the new, expanded worship space. The gallery can accommodate 60 singers plus instrumentalists without crowding. There are several organ students under the tutelage of Jeffrey Alban, many of whom help with the playing of daily masses.
Two manual principal choruses—one each in the Great and Swell—are the foundation of the new organ. The Great chorus is complete from 16′ through four-rank Mixture and includes a strong Twelfth. The Swell chorus also encompasses 16′ through four-rank Mixture but is secondary to the Great, with a more textured tone—ideal for choral accompaniment and polyphonic music. The Great “French quartet” of 8′ stops is balanced to reflect the ideals of Cavaillé-Coll late in his career, with a strong Principal and Harmonic Flute paired with the secondary Rohrflute and Violone. The reed chorus comprises strong Trombas, tilting this division toward the English side of the Channel. The flues of the division are on 4″ pressure, while the reeds are on 6″.
The well-appointed Swell is the workhorse of the organ. The strings are narrow, in the late 1920s Skinner style, with a full-compass Celeste. The Diapason is narrower than the Great Principal, with a tone that complements the human voice. The Salicet is useful as a third 4′ flue stop. Reeds here are brighter than their Great counterparts, but still in the English family. And while the stop is named “French Trumpet,” it is not a Trompette; however, it is brighter than the Great Trombas. The Swell is on 5″ pressure.
The Choir is of English-American construct, designed primarily to augment the Swell in choral accompaniment. It contains the softest and loudest of the three celeste pairs: the mysterious Flute Celeste (a crowd-pleaser that goes well with incense) and the Voce Humana, which pairs with the Geigen Diapason. The Clarinet is orchestral, dark, and woody. The first of the two Tubas is also found in the Choir. Patterned after E.M. Skinner models, the stop is strong, smooth, and lyrical. This division is on 4″ pressure, except the Tuba, which is on 10″.
The Solo is home to the aristocratic stops of the organ. Here we find a lovely Doppelflute that blossoms in the reverberant room. The English Horn and French Horn are copied directly from 1920s Skinner stops, while the heroic Tuba Magna is based on a Willis model; it is full and rich, with a complete spectrum of harmonics. The Solo also features several stops drawn from other divisions for convenience. While it has only four independent voices, the division is on three different pressures. The Doppelflute and English Horn are on 6″, the French Horn is on 10″, and the Tuba Magna is on 18″.
The Pedal has all the elements needed to support the manual divisions, with variety in dynamic as well as color. At the request of the client, two stops make use of vintage pipes. The 32′ Bourdon is a Skinner stop of 44 pipes that we extended to make a 32–16–8 unit, and the 16′ Open Diapason is a Kimball stop of 32 pipes. An 8′ Principal, identical to the Great Principal, and a 4′ Choral Bass complete the Pedal flue chorus. Two reeds (32′–16′ Trombone and 8′–4′ Trumpet) provide power and brilliance. The Trombone is 13″ scale and full length. In addition to these six Pedal ranks, the division includes borrows from the manuals, with useful stops that aid registration without relying on couplers. The Pedal speaks on 6″ wind.
The console is movable on internal casters. Both console and case have Gothic elements that complement the room and the rose window, which depicts the liberal arts. With bone and rosewood keys and a Virtuoso control system, the console has all the features expected on a first-class modern instrument. It is compact, with pleasant proportions, and is low enough to allow the organist to direct a choir on risers.
The organ was installed by the exceptional Kegg crew in less than three weeks in February 2023, with tonal finishing completed by Charles Kegg and Chris Soer in time for the opening of the facility in April. Ken Cowan will play the instrument’s dedicatory recital on November 19, 2023. The Kegg firm extends its sincere gratitude to Kurt Poterack and Jeffrey Alban for their continued friendship and support.
In your travels west of Washington, D.C., please stop in and see this new instrument in a grand new landmark building.
Kegg Pipe Organ Builders
David St. John
Charles Kegg is president and artistic director of Kegg Pipe Organ Builders, which he established in 1985. The Kegg firm is a member of the Associated Pipe Organ Builders of America, and Charles is a past president of the American Institute of Organbuilders.
Cover photo by Julie Wells (Christendom College)
Article photos by Charles Kegg