October 2016 TAO Cover Feature Article

Three Small Pipe Organs
Kegg Pipe Organ Builders • Hartville, OH

By Charles Kegg

Sacred Heart Church New Philadelphia, OH

The desire of every organist is to play a pipe organ, Mozart’s King of Instruments. With the extensive publicity that large pipe organs can receive, many congregations believe they cannot consider a pipe organ due to limited space or budget. Typical parish churches need an instrument that can support congregational singing, accompany the choir, and play service music and a moderate range of organ literature; organ recitals are rare events. A properly designed and executed pipe organ of modest size can serve these needs well. With this in mind, our firm has spent considerable time developing instruments that are interesting to play, attractive to listeners, and affordable to purchase and maintain. Regardless of size, all of our pipe organs have the same hallmarks of quality such as solid wood construction, recessed panels, comprehensive combination systems, bone and rosewood keys, and unmatched client care.

Sacred Heart Church, New Phiadelphia, OH

Sacred Heart Church, New Philadelphia, OH

We start with a clean slate and a clear goal. We want an instrument with maximum flexibility and minimum compromise to pull the most utility from the resources available. We take advantage of modern mechanical design and control systems. Each stop is considered, scaled, constructed, and voiced for its multiple duties. The pipe treatment is often different from that of the same stop in a straight organ design, in order to negate the “unit” sound such organs frequently exhibit. While these Kegg instruments are unit organs, they are not like typical unit organs where every rank is played at many pitches. The result is an instrument that feels, plays, and sounds like a larger instrument, and the unification is musically invisible. In these designs, the 8’Principal is unenclosed while all the remaining manual stops are enclosed in a single expression box. All enclosed stops are then available on both manuals, carefully considered, for the best artistic results. The unenclosed Principal is important to allow one to “step out of the box,” while retaining maximum dynamic control of the balance of the organ.

A significant consideration for a pipe organ is, where will it go? We have been told frequently that a room has no space for a pipe organ only to discover that in fact it does. We have a nine-rank organ in Pleasantville, New York, that hangs from the roof over a choir loft. One must never underestimate the ingenuity of a pipe organ builder. While a smaller instrument can be divided between more than one location, a single location gives the greatest cost efficiency. We always take the entire music program into account when we design a new pipe organ to allow it to benefit all the musicians that will use it as well as the congregation that will be inspired by it. The organ case or chamber position needs to allow the organ to be used with the choir and not to overpower it.

Our basic design for these smaller instruments works well for organs ranging from seven to 15 ranks. As the instruments become larger they become closer to the straight ideal and can be more conventional in design. Here are described three examples of organs we have built on our small organ concept. These range in price from $182,000 to approximately $475,000, depending on size and installation parameters such as case design and decoration. Given that costs for an electronic instrument can easily exceed $150,000, these numbers are reasonable.


St. Katherine’s Episcopal Church, Williamston, MI

The first example is an organ built for St. Katherine’s Episcopal Church in Williamston, Michigan. This church seats approximately 150 and enjoys a quiet country setting. The modest choir and Anglican tradition calls for color and wide dynamic range. The organ has eight ranks of pipes and includes two reed stops, one of which extends to 16′ pitch in the Pedal. Upper work is of less priority in this small room so the “mixture” is actually derived and is provided for color. The Principal and Octave, which are separate, are key to the success of this design. If you study the stoplist you can see that with manuals uncoupled, many normal registrations are largely or completely straight. The basic needs of a typical American church are enhanced with the addition of a Celeste and two reed stops, not usually found on instruments of this size. Note that the off-unison stops are taken from the independent Quinte rank. This is vitally important for proper tuning and goes a long way to removing the “unit sound” from this organ. This is a priority for us and we never draw an off-unison stop from a tempered unison stop. This organ can do quite well in a room of 200 seats, and with a good acoustic and placement it will do well even in a larger room.

The next example is St. Philip the Apostle Church in Cheektowaga, New York. Here the goals are to support congregational singing and fill a larger room of 450 seats in an acoustic that is not quite ideal. This twelve-rank organ has a straight principal chorus of 8′-4′ -IV on the Great. The single reed stop is a Trumpet of moderate aggression that extends to 16′  in the Pedal. Of note here is the presence of two flute stops:  Rohrflute and Spitzflute. These stops are about equal in volume but quite different in color. The milky sound of the Spitzflute in the lower range gives it the illusion of softness due to its color. With shades closed, this stop becomes subtle. Its growth in the treble makes it work as a sparkly 2′ stop. The two flutes are available at 8′ and 4′ on both manuals, but inverted so that the two manuals have different 8′ and 4′ flute combinations. Because the Swell does not have a Mixture, there is a 2′ principal stop and a 1 1/3′ stop to give it the ability to provide a secondary chorus without the use of reeds. This organ easily fills this typical modern room while retaining the ability to subtly accompany a trained choir.

Our third example is Sacred Heart Church in New Philadelphia, Ohio. This room seats approximately 400 and enjoys a fine acoustic with ideal organ placement. Here we have a 15-rank organ with all the resources seen before with the addition of a 16′ Violone extension, Sesquialtera, and (finally!) an unenclosed independent Pedal 16′ Bourdon. The 37-pipe 1 3/5′ Seventeenth is combined with the lowest 37 pipes of the first mixture rank to make the Great Sesquialtera, giving a strong leading voice at modest cost and taking little space. This allows the Quinte to be of moderate volume to provide a gentle Nazard that grows in the treble to make a sparkly Larigot. The importance of the enclosed 16′  Violone cannot be overstated. It gives an added dimension to this organ, impressively helpful on both manual and pedal. The Violone also allows the independent Bourdon to be full and firm throughout its compass. This organ is the logical conclusion to this concept of shared resources and it plays a lot of music. Liturgical needs are met and discoveries are always being made as one finds unusual ways to bring new sounds to life.

Compromise? Of course. The ideal is always a completely straight pipe organ, but with thoughtful design and construction we can provide a pipe organ that is satisfying to musician and listener. It will be more gratifying to play than an electronic imitation, and with a life span many times that of an electronic, these fine pipe organs will actually cost less over time than a series of organ facsimiles that are replaced every 20 years.

We are all charged with being good stewards of the monetary resources of our clients/employers. For the wise and forward-looking congregation, there is no more musical choice and no more responsible financial choice than a fine pipe organ.

View the stoplists:

St. Philip the Apostle
St. Katherine’s Episcopal Church
Sacred Heart Church New Philadelphia

Charles Kegg is president and artistic director of Kegg Pipe Organ Builders, which he established in 1985. A member of the Associated Pipe Organ Builders of America, he trained for eleven years with Schantz, Casavant, and A.R. Schopp’s Sons, and was responsible for the final voicing of many Schantz and Casavant instruments ranging in size from four to 132 ranks.


  1. Beth Fragasse says:

    The first picture is mislabeled – it is actually Sacred Heart Church New Philadelphia – but it’s a great article!

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