Sunday, December 9, 2012



While preparing dinner one evening, after playing Christmas CD roulette, while listening to, “Christmas Alleluia” by the Choirs of All Saints Episcopal Church, in Atlanta, Georgia, I made a realization. Ray and Beth Chenault Organist/Choirmasters. (

This recording features wonderful performances by the choirs, instrumentalists and the always steady, driven playing of the Chenault duo. Made in 2001, this recording also serves as a glimpse back at the 1971 Keenan Memorial Organ, by the Schantz Organ Company of Orrville, Ohio. I participated in the successful relocation of this three manual organ to Christ Church (Episcopal), in Valdosta, Georgia.

The ability to listen to an instrument that preceded the Buzard organ we now curate is enlightening. How often in conversation today, do you hear an organist refer to a pipe organ from the 1970’s with positive adjectives? As stylistic and tonal desires change, I fear it is too easy to become quickly dismissive of whatever we have decided is now, passé.

When listening to this organ with a critical ear, I hear a dozen or more things that as a builder and voicer would do differently. Listing those items here would be very easy, but that would not be productive to the point being made. There are things I like about the organ as well to be honest. The 16’ Gamba in the Pedal, whose pipes are from the Roosevelt organ that preceded the Schantz at All Saints is just delightful. Warm and purry like a happy tiger. The 8’ Holz Gedeckt in the Positiv (with cherry fronts), is cheerful and bright, but also retains a very nice warmth.

Here is the point.

Our current tastes in organ nationalistic styles of tonal design that are very different from those of 1971, has no bearing on the musicians in this recording making wonderful music. Keep in mind this is an instrument they oversaw the replacement of by the very fine, but very different John-Paul Buzard pipe organ. This recording proves that in the hands of fine musicians, the pipe organ is an Instrument (a means whereby something is achieved, performed, or furthered).

Regardless of musical styles, fine musicians are able to produce fine results on organs of many varying styles and types. Cleverness and creativity allow them to work with the resources at hand to convey the musical message. When we remember the pipe organ is only an instrument for the musician, it helps grant perspective.

We should be less dismissive of pipe organs whose styles may have come and gone. That very mindset robbed us of so many fine organs by: Roosevelt, Kimball, Skinner, Hutchings, Schlicker, Pilcher, Kilgen, etc. While each musician and organization have to make the best decisions they can for the requirements of their project, I would hope as musicians. artisans, and craftsmen can retain objectivity and be more able to say, “That’s good! It’s not anything I would do today, but man that is GOOD!”

The untraceable quote of, “There are only two kinds of music; good and bad,” should also be able to apply to pipe organs.

Robert I. Coulter, Jr.
(c) 2012 / All Rights Reserved