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Project Profile - St. John the Divine, Houston, TX

Project Profile - St. John the Divine, Houston, TX

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Published by Dennis
An article of the perspectives of various team members involved in renovation of St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in Houston, TX. The crowning glory of this project is the new pipe organ. Sections of the article are written by the Rector, Project Manager, Acoustician, and Music Staff, and the Pipe Organ Builder. Pipe organ by Orgues Létourneau Limitée, Quebec, Canada. Architect: Jackson & Ryan, Houston, TX; Acoustics design, Dennis Fleisher, MuSonics. Copyright 2006 by the American Guild of Organists Reprinted by permission of The American Organist Magazine.

An article of the perspectives of various team members involved in renovation of St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in Houston, TX. The crowning glory of this project is the new pipe organ. Sections of the article are written by the Rector, Project Manager, Acoustician, and Music Staff, and the Pipe Organ Builder. Pipe organ by Orgues Létourneau Limitée, Quebec, Canada. Architect: Jackson & Ryan, Houston, TX; Acoustics design, Dennis Fleisher, MuSonics. Copyright 2006 by the American Guild of Organists Reprinted by permission of The American Organist Magazine.

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Published by: Dennis on May 22, 2009
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05/07/2014

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From the Rector
From the founding of the parish in 1940,St. John the Divine has renovated its facili-ties regularly for an expanding church fam-ily. The latest church renovation and com-pletion of our new pipe organ mark anexciting time in our parish life. Among thechanges suggested by our liturgical designer,Terry Byrd Eason, moving the altar forwardwas the central decision from which every-thing else flowed. The transformation of thesanctuary has been greeted enthusiastically,worship has been re-energized, and our ex-traordinary new Létourneau organ now leadsmusic with warmth and dignity. With thanksto Almighty God, our music ministry hasplanned a special series of inaugural con-certs for the next several years. For moreinformation, please visit our Web site at<www.sjd.org>.T
HE
R
EV
. L
AURENS
A. H
ALL
,
DD
From the Project Manager
It was once humorously observed that if St. John the Divine had planned to have poorchurch acoustics, it couldn’t have done a bet-ter job. Music in the sanctuary was a partic-ular challenge, thanks to carpeted floors,cushioned pews, and a ceiling composed of half-inch plywood sheets. Sound projectionwas uniformly poor, as confirmed by acous-tical measurements showing a 28-decibeldrop in sound energy from the chancel to the balcony.The catalyst for a renovation project camein late 2001 when the church’s pipe organwas damaged by water leaking into thechamber. The vestry wisely chose to resolvethe acoustical and organ problems in tan-dem, committing in 2003 to a complete ren-ovation of the 50-year-old church buildingand the purchase of a new pipe organ fromOrgues Létourneau Limitée of Quebec. A pri-mary requirement for the renovation was re-maining faithful to the building’s original ar-chitecture by McKee and Kamrath, Hous-ton’s foremost proponents of Frank LloydWright’s prairie style. Other goals includedmodernizing the building’s infrastructureand transforming the acoustic.The renovations began in 2004 and werecompleted in August of 2005 to coincidewith the beginning of the organ’s installa-tion. Organ assembly was completed in mid-November 2005, with the voicing continuinguntil mid-March 2006. The total cost of theproject, including the organ, approached$17 million—and the results are an absolutesuccess.Addressing the acoustic issues, thick ce-ment plaster on ceilings and walls and slatefloors over concrete provide the necessarydensity for proper sound reflection. Thechancel and balcony sidewalls have been
48 T
HE
A
MERICAN
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RGANIST
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OVER
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EATURE
THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINEHOUSTON, TEXASORGUES LÉTOURNEAU LIMITÉEST-HYACINTHE, QUEBEC
Antiphonal
 
canted outwards to direct sound energy intothe nave. Stained glass panels now have half-inch-thick plate glass shields providing re-flective surfaces.The organ chambers are of particular in-terest: The main chamber is located on thewest side of the chancel and houses six divi-sions in an A-frame shape measuring 45 feetwide and 38 feet deep. The north and southsidewalls are six feet high; from there, theceiling follows the roofline to a peak heightof 30 feet. The chamber is gabled into thesanctuary where the organ’s facade fills theopening in a striking architectural statement.Construction materials are massive: eight-inch-thick concrete floors and walls with thechamber ceiling being one-inch solid platesteel, supported by a series of I-beams spacedfive feet apart. The weight of the ceiling ex-ceeds 50 tons. The floor and walls of the shal-low east chamber are also cement, with asloping ceiling of cement plaster.The wood used for the facades and con-soles is rift-sawn white oak, accented withAmerican black walnut, to match the newliturgical furnishings. The organ has twomatching five-manual consoles—one move-able within the chancel and another in the balcony. Each weighs approximately 2,000pounds, while the organ proper is estimatedto weigh 40 tons. The organ required four 53-foot trailers to transport, and deliveries werestaged with many volunteers unloading eachshipment. With 113 independent stops, 144ranks, and 8,361 pipes, the organ has beenrecognized as the 77th largest pipe organ inthe world and is the largest instrument built by Létourneau to date.Acknowledgements for those primarily re-sponsible for the acoustical design, organ,and construction work on this outstandingproject go to Dennis Fleisher, project acous-tician; John Clements and Pam Camargo, Jackson & Ryan Architects; Terry Byrd Ea-son, liturgical designer; Brookstone GeneralContractors; Fernand Létourneau and An-drew Forrest, Orgues Létourneau Ltée.; and John Gearhart, director of music ministries atSt. John the Divine.This project was a remarkable synergy of talent, skills, and energy. The Létourneauteam in particular met all deadlines in de-signing, building, and installing this magnif-icent instrument. With proper care, it willprovide many generations with glorious mu-sic. All are encouraged to come and see thiswonderful church and to experience the phe-nomenal Létourneau organ. J
OSEPH
A. F
ENNINGER
From the Acoustician
Individuals dealing with acoustics in wor-ship spaces, particularly those that housefine pipe organs and support congregationalsinging, can appreciate the art and craft thatcomprise an acoustician’s efforts. We’re of-ten fond of saying that the most importantstop on the organ is the room itself, and in-deed, it is the acoustical character of a spacethat shapes and enhances the ultimate qual-ity of sounds that reach the ears. But as muchas we might wish otherwise, the acousticianalone can’t make these things happen.We often find ourselves in discussionsabout the trade-offs between pew pads andcomfort, carpeting and footfall noise, orsafety. It seems, as valiantly and passionatelyas we lobby for all the necessary elements tomake a space sing, that acoustical prioritiesare often sacrificed for other perceived val-ues. The undertaking at St. John the Divinewas a rare exception wherein every memberof the design team was wholly dedicated toproviding an outstanding acoustic spacewithout compromise. The musicians had avision to see and hear grander things than thespace suggested; the staff supported their vi-sion and contracted for the extraordinarywork necessary to make it a reality; and theparishioners supported the entire projectwith their generosity and cooperation. An-other source of inspiration for the designteam was the compelling instrument offered by the organbuilder and how it resonatedwith the musical vision for the parish.All of the foregoing descriptions give suf-ficient details about the acoustical demandsand architectural efforts, shepherded by afine architectural firm that had the skills andartistic sensitivity to incorporate the acousti-cal factors with grace and beauty. It takes agifted team and visionary leadership to makeprojects like this happen. I am honored tohave served the people of St. John the Divinein providing a home for outstanding worshipand music.D
ENNIS
F
LEISHER
From the Music Staff 
This project began in 1999 with a memorequesting the vestry to study the churchacoustics and poor chancel sight lines. Com-mittee work began and William Gray was en-gaged as consultant to coordinate an archi-tectural and acoustical team. Mr. Graysupplied many ideas that were eventually in-corporated, and we remain grateful for hiswise counsel. An expression of thanks is alsoowed to Joseph Fenninger, project managerat St. John the Divine, as it was through hisHerculean efforts and enthusiasm that theproject’s momentum never waned, whetherworking with one of many church commit-tees or dealing closely with the design team.Once the vestry decided not to rebuild ourformer instrument, many firms were consid-ered for a new organ. Our tonal idealsharkened back to a time when pipe organsthrilled people with luxurious grandeur and beauty of tone. We wanted the new organ to be a testament to the craft of pipemaking andthe art of voicing, with solo stops of poignant beauty to inspire listeners and enhance theEpiscopal liturgy. We also wanted color at alldynamic levels to accompany the softest
M
AY
2006 49
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