Thursday, May 23, 2013

Behind the Scenes of the Newberry Memorial Organ

I had the great privilege yesterday of taking a behind-the-scenes tour of one of the largest organs in the world: the Newberry Memorial Organ in Woolsey Hall at Yale University. A couple of people from my department were guided through the organ by organ curator Joe Dzeda while Tom Murray, University Organist, played.
The Newberry Memorial Organ in Woolsey Hall was built in 1903 by the Hutchings-Votey Organ Company, improved mechanically and almost doubled in size in 1915 by the J. W. Steere & Sons Organ Company, and rebuilt and enlarged in 1928 by the Skinner Organ Company of Boston. University Organist Harry Benjamin Jepson (1871-1952) was responsible for the design of the instrument, executed by Ernest M. Skinner and G. Donald Harrison of the Skinner firm. Consisting of 12,617 pipes arranged in 197 ranks and 167 speaking stops, it is one of the largest and most outstanding instruments of its period. The Newberry Organ has been kept tonally and technologically intact since its 1928/29 reconstruction, and is used throughout the academic year for teaching, concerts and gala events. It is maintained by the Associate Curators of Organs, Joseph F. Dzeda and Nicholas Thompson-Allen.
It was amazing to be among the pipes and works of such a great instrument as the sound, quite literally and forcefully, resonated within our very being!

A view from the rear of Woolsey Hall looking toward the stage. The organ console sits front and center with the facade pipes (unvoiced) hiding the great city of organ pipes beyond.

A diagram of the pipes hidden behind the facade. There are six major sections: Solo Organ, Great Organ, Swell Organ, String Organ, Orchestral Organ, and Choir Organ.

A closer look at the facade of decorative pipes.

The console comprises four manuals and 167 stops.

Another view of the manuals and stops.

A first look into the great cavity of organ pipes. Ductwork carries air from large blowers in the basement up through the works.

A dedication plaque for the Newberry Memorial Organ is located on the wall of the concert hall behind the organ pipes.

Some views of the outside of the Swell Organ, which sits behind giant louvered doors, allowing the organist to decrease (by closing) or increase (by opening) the volume of sound, causing the sound to "swell."

So that the seasonal expansion and contraction of the wood supporting structured does not tear apart the more delicate parts of the organ, wood dowels serve as wheels or bearings on which portions of the organ can slide.

These boxes serve as regulators for the air by using springs to equalize the air pressure as air blows in and is then forced out. There are many of these contraptions through the organ and they help supply a constant volume of air to different pipes.

A view of some of the smaller pipes, which this architect couldn't help imagining as little cities of skyscrapers! The little coiled caps on the wooden pipes allow tuning (metal pipes also have little coils on the sides near the top for the same purpose). It can take two people six hours to fully tune the instrument, which happens surprisingly often during the year, including "touch ups" of problem areas before events or concerts.

A view of the base of some of the largest pipes in the organ. The air coming out of these is quite a strong gust of wind.

I was excited to get a unique view of Woolsey Hall from above and behind the organ facade!

There are even more pipes in the basement, where century-old "surround sound" technology fills the concert hall through vents.

Tight spaces in the basement mean that some of the longer pipes are doubled over (some are folded even more than this). We were assured that "the pipe doesn't care" and the sound quality is not compromised.

A view of some of the wooden pipes in the basement.

There are also four practice organs in the basement, including several similar to the photos above. The manuals and pipe casework were works of art in themselves.

A more modern arrangement for one of the practice organs.

These are some views of the brains of the organ, i.e. a century-old computer. It turns electrical impulses from the console into pneumatic control of each individual organ pipe. Though the system has been digitized as well, this is one of the oldest (the oldest?) surviving, fully-functional systems.

Two huge blower turbines sit deep in the basement and supply all the air for the many organ pipes. Each blower can fully supply the organ, and redundancy allows the motors to be changed over at the flip of a switch, even mid-concert, without missing a beat!

Stepping into the organ curators' workshop is like stepping back in time.

In the workshop, there are photos of famous churches, organs, organists, and organ conservators.

And as a parting shot, a close-up view of the stage wall. I have loved this decorative pattern since the first time I stepped into Woolsey Hall.

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