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Project Profile - First Baptist Church, Hickory, North Carolina

Project Profile - First Baptist Church, Hickory, North Carolina

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Published by Dennis
A review of the pipe organ installation in First Baptist Church in Hickory, North Carolina. Pipe organ builder: Casavant Frères, Quebec, Canada; Acoustics, Dennis Fleisher, MuSonics. Copyright 2005 by the American Guild of Organists
Reprinted by permission of The American Organist Magazine
A review of the pipe organ installation in First Baptist Church in Hickory, North Carolina. Pipe organ builder: Casavant Frères, Quebec, Canada; Acoustics, Dennis Fleisher, MuSonics. Copyright 2005 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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Organ dedications are truly specialevents for everyone involved. Fromthe very first dedication events, we
witnessed the congregation's joy in the com-pletion of the instrument. For many years,First Baptist Church has been not only the lo-cation for performances by the Western Pied-mont Symphony, a fine regional orchestrapresently celebrating its 40th season, butalso a performance venue for the Hickory,Choral Society. That two of the dedicationevents should involve these organizationsusing the instrument in concerts open to thepublic is a demonstration of the generosity ofthe congregation and its belief that music,and this instrument in particular, is an im-portant part of the outreach of First BaptistChurch.
One of the main challenges acing
an or-
ganbuilder when designing
for an existing church is to place the instru-ment in the most favorable position in thebuilding. Fortunately, in recent years organcommittees have gained an ~nderstanding ofthe importance of good placement andacoustics, and the determination of the mem-bers of First Baptist Church to have a signif-icant instrument and to "do things right" al-lowed the process to move forward in apositive way. The church's previous pipe or-gan was housed entirely in chambers on bothsides of the chancel. There were no toneopenings into the nave. Further investigationrevealed that what appeared as tone open-ings on the level closest to the choir were, inreality, grilles over solid walls. What nor-mally would have been prime organ spacewas fitted with cubicles used for changingclothes for baptism. Therefore, the existingorgan was positioned high in the buildingand rather estranged from the choir. Thechurch was built at a time when architectsoccasionally incorporated what is called atone chute, which in this church consists ofa curved plastered ceiling beginning at theback wall of the organ chambers, continuinginto the attic and terminating in large grillesin the chancel ceiling. Normally, these tonechutes look better on paper than work in re-ality. However, in this instance the "chutes"were not narrow passages but were areasequal to the size of the chamber ceilings.We were able to hear the effect with the ex-isting instrument and determined that these
MARCH 2005
Copyright 2005 by theAmerican Guild of OrganistsReprintedby permissionof TheAmerican Organist Magazine 41
ate upperwork. In order to provide thebroadest dynamic range possible, from awhisper to a full sound of heroic propor-tions, four of the five manual divisions areunder expression. The formidable and vir-tually seamless crescendo that can be madefrom the most ethereal sound to tutti is sim-ply breathtaking.The Antiphonal division is made entirelyof pipe work from the previous instrument.The size of the division and the improve-ments made to the existing organ chamberand tone opening give these stops a signifi-cantly more favorable position than they hadpreviously, therefore allowing their reincar-nation as the Antiphonal Organ to be effec-tive for congregational accompaniment andas a foil to the main organ.Acoustically, First Baptist Church can becompared to a musically friendly concerthall, with inherent qualities that enhancetonal clarity and good sound egress nto theroom, enabling the organ to blend well with-out ever being overwhelming. The cubic vol-ume of this large sanctuary called for signif-icant presence in the bass and mid-rangeregisters, the stops of which represent abouttwo-thirds of the tonal resources of the organ.The organ is installed in two chambers oneither side of the chancel. The Grand-Orgueand Recit divisions are installed on two lev-els in the left chamber. The Pedale divisionis installed on the right just behind the case-work, with the Choeur immediately behindon the lowest level and the Solo above. Thelayout of the stops of all divisions wasplanned to confer tonal unity to the instru-ment by placing the plena on the lower level,with the flutes and reeds together on the up-per level.The divisional plena are designed to playa specific role in the tonal architecture of theinstrument. The Grand-Orgue plenum,which is truly majestic in character, is basedon a medium-scale 16' principal (Violon-basse 16') and crowned by a shimmeringCymbale m. The Recit plenum is based on aDiapason 8' and includes two mixturespitched at 2' pitch. The Plein Jeu V is de-signed to work with the full resources offlues and reeds to crown the division, mak-ing it especially useful in full Swell effects,while the Fourniture m contains fewer ranksand is voiced to work with smaller ensem-bles of stops. Our experience in building or-gans with large Swell divisions has shownthat having one large mixture in the divisionfunctions well in the full ensemble but doesnot work as well with smaller combinationsof stops, for example, for use in choral ac-companiment. Therefore, we have adoptedthis dual mixture combination, finding itmore effective than providing either onelarge mixture or an alternative of employingone low and one high-pitched mixture. TheChoeur division has a transparent, lighterplenum based on the principal scale, Sali-cional8', and is crowned with a Cymbale IVto echo either the Great or Swell plena. ThePedale features a solid but nevertheless clear16' plenum.There is remarkable variety in flute colorsin this instrument, including an amazingnumber of harmonic flutes and three quitedifferent cornets. The Grand-Orgue Cornet Vis mounted in an elevated position to speakclearly and boldly from its commanding po-sition. By adding the Grande Tierce 3~' andViolonbasse 16', one achieves the 16' Cornetor "Grand Cornet," which contrasts with theChoeur cornet decompose made of smallerscale flutes of a more delicate tone. Interest-ingly, other flute mutations, i.e., Larigot lX',Septi~me lU', and Piccolo 1', are available toprovide additional colorful effects in this di-particular examples were indeed effective;therefore, we decided to retain them.In order to place this grand instrument inthe building, we worked with architectRobert Clark to relocate the changing cubi-cles to another location in order to afford thebest placement for the organ. We recom-mended opening the chamber walls facingthe nave to their maximum. Mr. Clark de-signed Palladian-style tone openings thatprovide unimpeded tonal egress or the Recitand Choeur. Both these divisions have sepa-rate controls for the expression shades facingthe congregation, so that they can be closedwhen accompanying the choir in order to al-low the choristers to have full benefit of theexpressive effect while allowing the organistto hear the proper balance between the in-strument and the singers.Dennis Fleisher served as the acousticianfor the project. His recommendations in-cluded an important reshaping of the chan-cel sidewalls, which influenced the design ofthe organ casework. As is typical of mostbuildings, the sidewalls of the chancel areparallel to each other and project 9a degreesfrom the rear wall. Dr. Fleisher's recommen-dation was to have these walls set at an an-gle in order to project the sound of the choirforward. He stipulated the preferred angle,and our designer, Benoit Gendron, designedthe casesusing pipes of the Grand-Orgue Vi-olonbasse 16' to meet this criteria. The re-sulting visual effect is one that draws the eyetoward the baptistery in the center of the rearchancel wall. Placing the cases at an anglekeeps them from appearing heavy and dom-inating the chancel while providing a clearview of the faces of the casework from almostany position in the church.The music staff and consultant wanted aconsole that would place the stops in ter-races at the sides of the manuals in the styleof French symphonic instruments. The Casa-vant brothers had built terraced consoles fortheir early instruments, which are models ofefficiency and convenience for the player.Therefore, we proposed building the newconsole using the construction principles ofthe terraced consoles that were built by Casa-vant up until the early 1920s. The main char-acteristics of this style console include ter-r!ices short in height and width plus the useof drawknobs with oblique faces that posi-tion the stop names at an angle that can beeasily read by the organist regardless ofwhere the stop is located. We had refur-bished several older large consoles, so westudied the information taken from these in-struments and built a number of models inorder to evaluate the visual appearance andservice-related issues. The result is a player-friendly console that, considering the factthat it contains 135 drawknobs, is more com-pact and shorter by approximately fourinches than a corresponding English-styledrawknob console. We also took great care indiscreetly integrating the controls, such asthe combination system, while making surethat they are easily accessible.This project was especially stimulated bythe fact that, at the same time we werecelebrating our 125th anniversary, we werebuilding an organ that can be comparedboth in size and tonal approach to three his-torically significant organs the Casavantbrothers installed in Montreal; BasiliqueNotre-Dame (1891), Eglise Tres-Saint-Nom-de-Jesus 1914), and Eglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste(1915).The tonal concept of the organ is based onfully developed Grand-Orgue, Recit, andChoeur divisions, plus the c°.l°rful Soloand a Pedale designed to provide a broadrange of bass tones completed by appropri-vision. The Recit Cornet is quite unique, be-ing made of harmonic flutes to provide a full,rich sound in this large enclosed division.Actually, harmonic cornets have become akind of "signature" in large Casavant organsof the last decade. The Recit Cornet is voicedon moderate wind pressure and contrastswith the harmonic flute chorus in the Solo,which is crowned by the Clochettes II andvoiced on higher wind pressure to providean impressively dramatic sound.Strings are found in all enclosed manualdivisions of the organ. The Recit is based ona medium-scale Gambe 16'. The medium-scale Viole de Gambe 8' and Voix celeste 8'are reminiscent of French symphonic undu-lating string stops. A Violon 4' has been in-cluded in addition to the usual 4' principaland flute stops to provide this division witha delicate but clear 4' stop that is useful foraccompanying children's voices, for exam-ple. For contrast, the Flute douce 8' and Fluteceleste 8', which are made of tapered flutesin the Skinner style, provide a very etherealsound. The Choeur division features a deli-cate Dulciane 8' and Unda Maris 8', while theSolo Diapason 8' and Diapason celeste 8' arebroad in scale, slotted, and voiced on higherwind pressure in the symphonic/orchestraltradition to give a bold, warm sound.The instrument contains no less than 20independent reed stops. Of particular noteare the seven full-length 16' stops, all ofwhich are quite different in tone and proveto be extremely useful in all kinds of regis-trations. Reed choruses can be found in alldivisions. The Grand-argue reed chorus,which is bright but bold in tone, is designedin the symphonic tradition to crown the fullorgan. By contrast, the Recit reed chorus hasa darker character. The reed resources of thisdivision playa significant role in buildingthe typical symphonic full Swell sound,from the "caged rage" effect when the ex-pression shades are closed to complement-ing the Grand-argue when the shades arefully opened. The Choeur reed chorus ismore classic in design to echo either theGrand-argue or Recit chorus. The Solo Tubais voiced on high wind pressure, making ituseful as a commanding solo voice in themain organ, while its robust, smooth soundcontrasts with the brilliant Trompette-en-chamade located at the other end of the sanc-tuary. The Pedale reed chorus, which isbased on a large-scale Contre Bombarde 32',confers an impressive undergirding to theentire organ. The instrument also features awide variety of delicate and contrasting soloreed colors: two oboes, a French Hautbois 8'and an orchestral Hautbois d'Orchestre, aplayful Cromorne and Chalumeau, a woodyClarinette, a melancholic English Horn, aplaintive French Horn, and a gentle Voixhumaine.The formal dedication of this instrumentbegan with a concert by Todd Wilson and theWestern Piedmont Symphony conducted byJohn Gordon Ross performing the ThirdSymphony of Saint-Saens and the Concertofor Organ, Strings, and Timpani of Poulenc.The following afternoon, Todd Wilsonplayed a stunning solo recital that beauti-fully demonstrated the many colors and pos-sibilities of the instrument in works by Bach,Stanley, C.S. Lang, Lemare, Durufle, Dupre,and Reubke. Before playing the Variationson America by Charles Ives, he led the audi-ence in an incredibly uplifting, roof-raisingsinging of "My country, 'tis of thee" that gavethem a chance to participate in the perfor-mance while demonstrating the effective-ness of the instrument in stimulating andleading congregational song.On November 14, during the weekend that

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