The completion of the Saint Michael Chapel organ represents the culmination of three years of collaboration between the Organist and Choirmaster, organbuilder, architect, and Rector. It is the musical capstone of a beautiful new worship space.
In terms of sound and appearance, the organ's design was inspired by the choir organs of the great French nineteenth-century organ builder Aristide Cavaille-Coll (1811-1899), whose organs continue to be enjoyed in famous cathedrals and parishes in France and throughout the world. While his instruments inspired a new era of organ compositions by such great composers as César Franck, Charles-Marie Widor, and Louis Vierne, their design also respected the need to render the works of the Baroque masters, such as the great Johann Sebastian Bach, with musical integrity. Like Cavaille-Coll’s organs, our new instrument offers a similar eclecticism.
One of its many virtues is that it embraces the design principle of mechanical key and stop action. Unlike electric action organs that have electrical contacts connected to wires that run to the pipe valves, mechanical action organs employ a complex array of thin pieces of wood, called trackers, which connect the keys to the valves. Over the past few decades there has been a return to an historic style of organ building in terms of key and stop action, which has proven itself valid to this day, offering the best of musical sensitivity, mechanical longevity, and low maintenance.
Our organ consists of three divisions: the Grand-Orgue, Récit, and Pédale. The Grand-Orgue, or Great Organ, contains the larger-scaled stops used for congregational singing. It was of utmost importance that these stops be scaled and voiced in such a way to provide an elegant “backbone” to our worship. They are designed to provide a rich sonority that inspires congregational participation but does not overpower. The Récit contains softer stops used for more intimate music making, such as the accompanying of choir, instrumentalists, and soloists, as well as the more delicate solo music heard during preludes and improvisations. The Pédale provides gravity to the sound, much like the double basses of an orchestra.
The aurally and visually dramatic pipes of the Trompette en chamade, located high on the West wall, employ a unique design concept that was born in Spain over four centuries ago. Since trumpet pipes utilize metal reeds, which are sensitive to dust, the Spanish began mounting these pipes horizontally instead of vertically, thereby reducing the amount of dust that could affect the reed of the pipe. Besides serving this practical purpose there was a pleasing musical byproduct, as organ builders later capitalized on the fact that the orientation of these pipes allowed their sound to be focused directly into the nave of a church with great intensity. As such, these trumpets command great presence, allowing for the melodies of hymns to have great prominence even amidst the full organ, and for dramatic fanfares at festal services. In fact, the phrase en chamade means "to sound a parley," referencing the trumpets of medieval heralds.
To quote the organist and composer Charles-Marie Widor: “to play the organ properly, one should have a vision of Eternity.” It is this vision of eternity that drives this church organist both in the playing of the organ and seeing to the design details of this magnificent new instrument. May the aural and visual splendor of this organ inspire us in our worship and grant us “even now glimpses of God's beauty” for many years to come.
James Diaz, Organist and Choirmaster
Saint Michael and All Angels’ new positive organ is given to the glory of God and in thanksgiving for the life for Martha Hirsch Lynch (1906-2004). I am very grateful for the generosity and vision of the Lynch family, who have made this magnificent musical gift to Saint Michael and All Angels Church.
The word positive comes from the Latin word ponere, meaning “to place”. As such, the term “Positive organ” refers to one that can be moved but is set in place when played. (Contrast this with the medieval portative organ, an instrument so small and light that it was carried by the player and played in procession.) Our positive organ has four ranks (sets of pipes), sounding at 8’, 4’, 2’, and 1 1/3’ pitch. The highest two ranks are “divided”: that is to say, the bass and treble halves of these ranks can be turned on and off independently of each other, allowing the player to solo out a voice in the treble with an accompaniment of fewer stops in the bass, or vice versa.
Despite its small size, the organ ingeniously houses approximately 250 pipes. The organ is playable in either modern (A = 440 Hz) or baroque (A = 415 Hz) pitch by adjusting a sliding knob. There is an additional slider to adjust the exact location of the break point of the two divided stops.
The organ was designed and handcrafted by Orgues Létourneau Limitée of St. Hyacinth, Quebec, the same builder who created our beautiful new organ in the Saint Michael Chapel. Our positive organ is one of a series of four instruments that were built at the same time and have gone to great places for music in North America and abroad: one was acquired by The Royal Academy of Music, London; one by the Dutch Church, London; one by the Francis Winspear Centre of Music, Edmonton (new home of the Edmonton Symphony); and one by Saint Michael and All Angels, Dallas.
While each of these instruments has the same specification of pipes and stops, the Saint Michael instrument has uniquely ornate casework and features in its façade the personal seal of perhaps the greatest organist and church musician of all time, Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach’s personal seal not only possesses great beauty but also a profound Christian message—analogous to Bach’s music and his personal commitment to Jesus Christ. The seal features Bach’s monogram “JSB” calligraphically with its mirror image superimposed on it. The sweeping strokes of calligraphy are crafted not only to outline the monogram but also to create the Greek letter x (chi), symbolizing both Christ and the Cross. Above the monogram is a crown with twelve precious stones grouped in seven (the number of completion) and five (the number symbolic of Christ’s Passion). The monogram and crown work together to represent the axiom, “Christ will crown those who carry his cross.”