Organ & Carillon
Our Organ Project Is Complete
For just over six months, St. Mark’s commanding Austin pipe organ was silent. While the majority of the project had to do with mechanical and pipe aspects of the instrument, from being struck by lightning, effectively “frying” the wiring, we were able to have the key desk (console) completely rebuilt at the same time.
In August, men from the Austin Organ Company (the original builder) came to New Canaan and took the console and much of the pipe work back to Hartford. The console was completely dismantled, refinished, rewired for the twenty-first century, and the work of revoicing many of the pipes took place. Pipes of two divisions of the organ were revoiced to speak on a higher wind pressure. One of the necessary focuses was to raise the wind pressure on half of the instrument. When the organ came to St. Mark’s in the early 60s, builders were experimenting with ultra-low wind pressures. The result was “under winding” and a less optimal full sound in our grand worship space. Now at 4 inches PSI rather than 2 ½, the organ sounds richer and fuller, but not necessarily louder.
Some of the stops (sets of pipes) were neglected and mishandled over the years. There was room for correction. In these cases some of the stops were repaired, but a number of the stops were replaced. The organ has five divisions; 4 for the manuals (hands), and 1 for the pedals (feet). In one division, a couple of stops were replaced and there are now wonderful new sounds. The Waldhorn, horn, oboe and clarion are present on the top keyboard. There is also now a gorgeous, haunting flute called the Wald Flute. This stop existed originally on the instrument, but was pulled out at some point, discarded and replaced with something else. A vintage Wald Flute was found by the builder is now once again present on St. Mark’s organ. The English horn, which is reminiscent of the actual orchestral English horn, is now available on the middle manual, as well as the Viola. The latter was actually another weaker stop that was revoiced for a fuller string-like tone quality. On the lower keyboard is now a clarinet, which sounds very much like the orchestral version. In the pedal division are four new wonderful stops. The Wald Horn, A Bourdon, which is a rich and supportive low flute sound, a Sub Bass which sounds at 32’ pitch creating the underpinning rumble that one feels and the Contra Wald Horn, an extension of the other at 32’ pitch. The pipes of this new stop are actually 32’ in length and are actually mitered (turned once) so that they can fit in the space. Finally there are three very special stops that never existed on St. Mark’s organ. The Vox Humana stop is designed to mimic the sound of a vocal choir at a distance. This stop was very popular in the early twentieth century, and creates a sort of radio soap opera organ quality. In addition, St. Mark’s has gained two organ percussion stops. One is a set of vintage organ chimes, very similar to orchestra chimes. The other is a vintage harp stop, which is like a small xylophone with brass tone bars affixed to a wooden resonator. The bars are struck by pneumatically operated hammers.
It is very important to realize just what an amazing organ St. Mark’s has. The instrument was always a fine organ, and was known in both the local and metropolitan areas. However, it is now even better with a richer, fuller sound in so far as the ensemble, and it processes a wider variety and more interesting selection of solo quality voices. St. Mark’s is fortunate to have such an amazing pipe organ.
The bell tower follows the classical, campanile tradition and is separate from the church, adjacent to the main entrance. At the four corners of the tower are four tapered, reinforced concrete columns, each 117' high. They each form a double crossed arch at the pinnacle. Infill pattened brick walls, similar to those of the main church, enclose the tower which is topped by a bronze cross.
The top of the tower houses thirty bells, fabricated by master craftsmen, Les Fils de Georges Paccard, of Annecy-le-Vieux, Haute-Savoie, France. The bells are named in honor of the saints of the Church and those saints in the Book of Common Prayer. The 30 bells vary in weight from 110 pounds to 3,100 pounds and are operated manually by a bellmaster from a keyboard in the tower. The bellmaster strikes the keys with extended fists and operates a full pedal board with his feet. In addition, number 2 and 4 bells are hung to swing in a peal as well as to be played by the keyboard. These two bells can be rung by hand separately from the base of the tower by rope pulls.
Bells are often electrically manipulated, but there is a corresponding elimination of touch since the electric instrument allows for a tone of only one intensity. The difference between bells played by hand and those manipulated electrically, is similar to the difference between a mechanical player piano and a regular piano. The manually operated bells thus allow a greater range in intensity and tone.
Professor Arthur L. Bigelow of Princeton University, carillon consultant, supervised the building and installation of the bells. The carillon can be heard once a month on Sunday mornings, at major holidays, and as a prelude to each of the courtyard concerts. To learn more about the carillon, click here.