In May 2000 Nazareth Lutheran Church, Hawthorne Street, Woolloongabba, burnt down by arson attack. All that was left were the brick walls. The church had been built in 1896 for the Lutheran congregation of South Brisbane that had been founded in the 1860s. As with South Australia, there was an influx of German migrants to Moreton Bay and as a result the Lutheran church has had a strong presence in South East Queensland.
In 1976 Nazareth Lutheran bought the 1926 Whitehouse organ of St. Francis’ Anglican Church, Nundah. This pneumatic seven-rank, two manual and pedal organ served the church’s needs well; even if the action and specification could not be considered “inspired”. The sound of the organ worked remarkably well in the building. I well recall an organ society visit in 1999 when people remarked on the splendid sound this organ produced in the building. The organ was sited in a gallery at the back of the church and the building has a large acoustic for the size of the room.
The gutted building produced a sense of shock among the congregation. Nevertheless the decision was made to rebuild the church, using the surviving brick walls, to its original design. The decision was also made to refurnish the church to allow for a pipe organ. Although some second hand organs were contemplated, in the end it was felt better to go with a new pipe organ. After the congregation considered quotes from organ builders around Australia, they accepted my quote for a two manual 13 stop organ. The contract was signed in April, 2001. In March 2004 the addition of the Cornet II (which had been prepared for) was also contracted.
I met with the organ committee comprising of Frieda Reuther, Eric Lohe and Eric Parups. Frieda Reuter is the organist and was a music teacher at St. Peter’s Lutheran College. Her nephew is Dr. Peter Roennfeldt, the Director of the Queensland Conservatorium. Eric Parups is the architect who supervised the rebuilding of the burnt church and Eric Lohe is an organ enthusiast and President of the Congregation. In order to formulate our ideas we visited the Smenge organ at Beenleigh and my organs at Mt. Tamborine and the Pugin Chapel at St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
My original concept for the organ was relatively simple; I wanted the Great to have the sound and power of my organ at St. George’s, Mt. Tamborine, and the Swell to have the delicate and intimate sounds of the Pugin Chapel organ. The sound of very shrill mixtures and coarse voicing (which seem characteristic of modern neo-Classical organ building) had not impressed me. I was also not convinced that fully encased organs were the way to go. I had often found problems tuning organs of this design and the pipework can easily draw or pull. Therefore, I wanted the Swell behind the Great and the Great unenclosed so that the sound could run along the roof and drop down onto the congregation. This is the traditional English layout and had proved to be satisfactory in the previous organ in the church. Likewise, what could equal the wind supply from a nice double-rise bellows? And what indeed could equal the majesty and power of the spotted metal pipe? By using suspended action, I hoped this might give a more Baroque feel to the organ.
After settling on this design, I then left for the USA to undertake my Churchill fellowship. I have talked about this time elsewhere but it really did open my eyes to the beauty of the classical organ. Many organbuilders impressed me but particularly the work of John Brombaugh of Oregon, Taylor & Boody of Virginia and the firm of Richards, Fowkes & Co, Tennessee. I found a very beautiful and lyrical style of organ with none of the problems I had encountered before with organs built in this style. These organs all demonstrated an understanding of the North German organ style and yet reinterpreted the tradition in their own subtle ways. My favourite classical organ in the USA had to be the Taylor & Boody in St. Thomas’, Fifth Avenue, New York. Every stop blended with each other in a wonderful way.
As I travelled around listening to these organs I kept the prospect of Nazareth Lutheran in my mind. At 13 stops it is still smaller than the organs I was listening to and this forced me to try and understand the sounds that were the essence of this type of tradition. At the same time I fell in love with the use of a singing Cornet solo for introducing hymns and chorales so important for the Lutheran service.
Even though there are some questions about the usefulness of hammering pipe metal, every organ sound that impressed me came from a hammered metal pipe. As John Brombaugh said to me, “We do it because we like the sound, even if the theory doesn’t stack up”. The use of high-lead content principal pipework gives a dark and rich sound to the chorus whilst the mixtures sparkle on top, adding clarity instead of harshness. Incidentally, I found that such a chorus of necessity needs a Quint 2 2/3' to bind the chorus in such a style. Later I even changed my mind on the hammering issue as well.
The use of wedge bellows and carefully designed wind-trunks gave the organs a life. They force the player to use the speeds dictated by the organ in the building thereby achieving a truly unified and exciting result. I must confess that I became bored with small organs without any flexible winding, although I was also aware of when this became too much. It was a question of artistic taste; difficult to explain, yet easy to hear. I also found that the classical layout of the encased organ using the high-lead content pipes helped both build and project the chorus. All the American builders I talked with agreed that with good spacing between the pipes, drawing and interference were kept to a minimum.
When I returned I resolved to put into practice these things which I learnt. I spoke with the two Erics and Frieda and after playing the CDs I had brought with me, they agreed to the following changes (note- English spelling of German terms):
Rather than using spotted metal, we were going to cast our own 25% lead pipe metal and hammer it. Instead of an internal double-rise bellows, one large external wedge bellows was used. The tuning platform for the Hauptwerk was located above the bellows and the blower located underneath. This allowed good access to all parts of the organ for maintenance.
And to finally finish my journey to Damascus, I designed a classical case of the Great on top of the Swell laid out in the North German fashion. The Pedal Bourdon was located on either side of the manual chests in classic Werkprinzip layout. Thus Great became Hauptwerk and Swell became Brustwerk. Horizontal swell shutters and an opening lid were still fitted to the Brustwerk as modern repertoire demands this flexibility. One of the key elements in the case design was to allow plenty of room around each individual pipe and plenty of room in the case itself to allow for a minimum of tonal interference. The old organbuilders always allowed plenty of space to allow pipes to sing.
You can see by the specification that I had taken out one of the Mixture ranks and included it as a Quint 2 2/3'. I had hoped that the Nazard on the Swell would fill this role, but I realized it was unable to. If I had a 2 2/3' on the Hauptwerk then I really needed a Quint 1 1/3' on the Brustwerk. The Principal if voiced properly could be used with the Cornet as well as solo work, and I altered all of the scalings in the Swell to achieve a broader effect, hence the replacement of the Gemshorn with the Principal.
The design of the organ was completed in 2002 and work started on its manufacture. In line with what I had learnt in the USA, I determined that we would manufacture everything here in the workshop at Hemmant in Brisbane. We attempted to keep everything as historical as possible but Queensland is a sub-tropical environment with extremes of humidity and temperature. Whilst paying homage to the old North German masters the instrument had to work and be reliable.
Thus the soundboards were made out of marine ply for the bars, mahogany for the upperboards and slider seals were fitted to the laminex slides. Single pallets were used throughout but made out of aluminium to ensure a minimum of warpage. This allowed us to use very thin felt and leather to give an authentic touch. All action parts were made here out of mahogany and oak but fitted with nylon bushes. Felt was only used on the return side of the action for quietness. There was no felt used in the action when the pallet was pressed open to ensure a sensitive touch. John Boody had been very suspicious of my use of these modern materials in a traditional organ until he realised Brisbane was the same distance from the equator as Miami. He was astounded that I was trying to build pipe organs for such a climate in churches without air-conditioning. He agreed I would need to think laterally about materials and action.
The Pedal pipes, Gedact pipes and Krummhorn resonators were made from Jelutong which gives a good mellow tone. The casework and frames were made from Tasmanian Oak. The external frame of the case supports the action and soundboards. This is as opposed to the traditional English approach where the soundboards sit on an internal standframe. This style of casework makes for a very compact organ. The final design for 14 stops takes up half the floor space of the original 7 rank Whitehouse organ. Originally, it was decided not to fit pipe shades to the organ which would detract from the austere interior of the building. However, recently the decision was made that they should be added and they are to be fitted in the near future.
The keyboards proved the most difficult to manufacture as the Hauptwerk keyboard was 975mm deep. Modern playing positions place the Pedalboard further in underneath the keyboards (which affect the coupling) and the keyboards project further from the casework. Thus the keys themselves had to be long to allow Pedal coupling to take place. Even with a careful selection of wood (they were made of Celery Top pine), we replaced 20% of the keys when the first westerly wind came and warped them. Since this replacement, they have proved reliable and straight in the westerlies. This is the advantage of local building for local conditions.
The organ, less the pipework, was installed into the Church in December 2003 and allowed to settle and acclimatise.
The decision to make my own pipework was not in itself momentous. I had made some pipes in Fincham’s factory in Melbourne and had later purchased their pipemaking equipment. It was the decision to start exploring the manufacture of high lead content pipes for this project that started a steep learning curve. We intended to start with 75% lead pipes but eventually settled on at least 90% lead pipes. The rest of the mixture consisted of tin with copper and antimony added to make the pipemetal hard. This meant we had to be very careful casting as a high lead mixture is very hot and cools in a different way to spotted metal. We also found that the high humidity in Queensland affected our casts on the wooden bench. It was far better to do it in the dry winter conditions when we could control the thicknesses better.
The addition of antimony and copper makes the pipe metal harder but as we were using traditional hand planing methods, this made the whole job more difficult. In the end we stopped hammering the metal as we could not find any difference after the planing. There had been a difference, we felt, at 25% tin. Perhaps the planing case-hardens the metal in a similar fashion to hammering. The polished 8' showfront of the organ is made from this high lead pipemetal. It is extremely tough and shows no sign of dulling or sagging. They polished up extremely well and look very beautiful.
We also found we had to use slightly different soldering techniques for this type of pipemetal and had to be very careful to thoroughly clean the metal before soldering. In the end, it took a year of experimentation to produce the 653 metal pipes in the organ. This also includes the 8' showfront. Whilst this involved a great deal of frustration, the final results of the pipemaking made the whole task worthwhile and the pipes look very handsome.
The organ was now ready for voicing. Except for the reed blocks, shallots, pallet springs, keyboard pins, leather buttons and blower, everything had been made in Hemmant. This, I feel, is a significant achievement for Queensland organbuilding in itself.
The whole purpose, however, of organbuilding is to create beautiful sounds.
I had attended the ISO workshop in Stralsund in May 2003 to further understand the North German sound. It was time to look at the originals, not the interpretations. Here, the restoration of the 1649 Stellwagen organ was examined. There were also visits to several historical organs in the area. We examined in detail the pipework and the voicing of the fluework and reeds.
Afterwards, I set off on a week’s trip to examine some important Schnitger organs. This resulted in a close examination of the organs in Stade, Capel, Hamburg (St Jacobi), Nordbrook and Norden. These organs were a revelation. The Principals were light and full and hardly ever harsh, the Mixtures were silvery and clear and the Flutes were warm, full and bell-like in tone. I shall never forget hearing the most wonderful sounds from the Nordbrook organ. Although built by the same organbuilder (although, of course, some were more original than others!) they all had their own personality and sound. Here again, I was convinced that I should not try and copy an individual organ but to copy the feeling, combinations and patina of the sounds they were producing. I know that North German organs do not have wooden Gedacts or wooden resonators for their Krummhorns. They do, however, blend and work to give the total effect of a North German organ. I would be disappointed to build an organ without a wooden Gedact!
I used open-toe voicing throughout the fluework with light nicking where necessary. This is not to say that the feet are completely open, rather that there is a general regulation at the foot with the fine regulation at the flue. Initially the wind pressure was set at 80 mm (3 1/4 inches) w.g. but after voicing three Swell stops, it was apparent that the sound was too loud for the building. Eventually the pipes sang most wonderfully at 60 mm (2 3/8 inches) w.g. which is one of the few times I have found myself putting the wind pressure down in an organ. As there are no ears on the Principals throughout the organ, I found that the languids had to be set exactly in the right position to achieve the right speech and tone. This also gave greater sensitivity to the way the pipes responded to different types of touch.
I found that the organ was telling me where and how it wanted to speak. I remembered once discussing with other organbuilders about the whole organ working ‘as a system’, that once the decision of design, pallet size, type of wind and scaling had been decided, in some senses the organ would want to speak in a certain type of way. It is actually the logical conclusion of a Werkprinzip system. It does not mean you cannot change the voicing for individuality but that it must be set within the limits of the whole system of the organ.
The net result of the high lead pipework with the open-toe voicing is a singing, warm tone where the upperwork blooms rather than taking over the chorus. The flutes are large with plenty of character. The Pedal division is small, but the 8' carries and defines the Pedal firmly and the last octave of the Subbass is louder and more pervasive without being overpowering. There is a slight Quintaton flavour in the rank which gives the Pedal its definition. The Cornet has the most amazing quality. It works with just the Gedact or with the full Brustwerk. It can work in the chorus or as a solo. The sound is best described as golden honey. The Krummhorn likewise is multi-purpose but colours rather than predominates over the chorus with its nutty flavour. The Mixture works well over the 4' Principal. It then takes on a different colour when the Octave or the Quint is added rather than maintaining its original tone.
I decided set the temperament to Vallotti and used slide tuners. Vallotti is a good general temperament which gives a flavour to the keys but allows the thirds in the Cornet to sing. Tuning slides were necessary, I believe, because of the climatic conditions here in Brisbane and also because I have repaired so much badly damaged cone-tuned pipework that I did not want this to occur on my instrument.
So, then what are the results? In September 2005, an Organ preview night was held. This highly successful event allowed Brisbane organists to hear the organ for the first time. The results were very satisfying. All organists commented on the delightfully sensitive action as well the different combinations that were available from the stops. Many found it surprising that the organ was not limited to baroque repertoire but could handle the romantic quite comfortably. Rupert Jeffcoat remarked later that it ‘has a delightful blend and balance, and the creative stop list allows for a real variety.’ The sound was heard in a moderately full church which changed the acoustics but this did not change the warmth or the balance of the instrument.
The organ is now complete and was dedicated on 27th November 2005 with the Church organist Frieda Reuther at the console directing a musical feast of organ, brass and choir. The first recital will be played by Christopher Wrench on 26th March at 6pm. I am very pleased with the results. I believe the organ is an important statement in Australia about the continuing tradition of North German organ building and a valuable addition to Brisbane’s cultural life.