History of the Aeolian Skinner Opus 1024 pipe organ

Click here to visit FASO's website and learn more about the Aeolian Skinner pipe organ.  

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 1996: PRE-DAWN FIRE RAGES THROUGH ST. ANDREW'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH

Steel roof beams warp. A wall blows out. Sanctuary, parish hall, offices, class rooms, libraries, music rehearsal spaces ... destroyed. Worship accoutrements, altar supplies, pianos, hand bells, vestments ... gone. The outward and visible symbol of St. Andrew's 103-year ministry to community and region... rubble.

St. Andrew's organ ... crumbled to ash and molten metal. One voice is forever silenced....

Even as they absorbed the loss, the people of St. Andrew's resolved to rebuild: to restore, to carry forward the rich heritage of worship, outreach, education, music and art that had been the heart of the church's witness since 1891.

The day school and education building remained unharmed. Worship, learning, and fellowship continued in gymnasium, cafeteria, classrooms, and children's chapel.

Work crews razed the damaged wing. Exterior stone was conserved for the new St. Andrew's.

Grief and mourning were addressed. Congregation-wide opinions and suggestions for the new building were gathered.  Planning began.  St. Andrew's employed Overland Partners of San Antonio to design the new church.

After the fire, several churches and institutions offered organs for temporary needs. However, it soon became evident that a quality replacement organ, the size of the old instrument, could cost as much as $750,000.

Then information about an extraordinary instrument arrived at St. Andrew's. A 103-rank, G. Donald Harrison-designed, Aeolian-Skinner-built organ, languishing unplayed since 1981, in a University of Texas (at Austin) recital hall. Completed in 1942 with pre-World War II materials. Appraised at $300,000, as is, by Yale curators Thompson, Aubrey, and Nichols. Moth-balled in its original configuration, in deference to changing musical styles and the University's financial priorities. Designed for an auditorium seating 500. Previously thought to be "not for sale at any price."

It looked too good to be true, but it was worth investigating.

A year of fact-finding, soul searching, and negotiation followed.  St. Andrew's purchased the organ for only $140,000.

One voice long-silenced sings anew...

The challenge was to move the organ from Austin to Amarillo, restore it and install it at an estimated cost of $1.25 million -- approximately half its price if new.

Aeolian-Skinner of Boston produced the Rolls-Royce of American organs during the last century. Although the company ceased operations in the 1970's, its instruments remain highly esteemed and rare -- particularly those in their original configuration. Only four tonal designers created Aeolian-Skinner organs during the company's life span. The most famous was G. Donald Harrison.

Harrison began his career in England with Willis Organ Company, the company that created the great organs at Westminster Abbey, Salisbury Cathedral and Liverpool Cathedral.

In America, Harrison began experimenting with what became known as the American Classic organ, a large, fully-expressed instrument with great tonal clarity and ability to handle the repertoire of all musical periods from Renaissance to Contemporary. Harrison was at the height of his career when he completed the University of Texas Instrument in 1942.

With the intervention of World War II and materials rationing, organ building was severely restricted. Shortly after the war, Harrison began his magnum opus, the great Mormon Tabernacle organ, completed in 1948.

Imagine finding a Stradivarius violin in a musty barn and buying it at a garage-sale price. St. Andrew's had found a similar treasure in the organ world.

ABOUT ITS REHABILITATION

A project of this magnitude required the talent and expertise of the best. Jack Bethards, world's foremost expert on Aeolian-Skinner organs and their restoration, reviewed the instrument's specifications in the summer of 1996. "It is one of the finest church organs in the country," he said.

Subsequently, Bethards and his first choice for acoustician, Red Weatherill, committed to the project. Both Bethards and Weatherill were in close touch with St. Andrew's architects, Overland Partners, to be sure the nave design of the new church would accommodate the full range and size of the organ as well as parish worship requirements.

The cache of information and comment about Aeolian-Skinner grew...

"Your instrument is a gem, and a rather large one at that, a very important organ from the prime years of a widely celebrated designer, G. Donald Harrison, and a highly acclaimed builder, Aeolian-Skinner. Best of all, your instrument apparently is tonally unaltered and so is a piece of valuable history which, as an artifact, is essentially priceless." – Michael Barone

"... a wonderful example of stewardship and the rededication of a valuable resource to the good of and expanded community." – Michael Barone

"I haven't been this excited about a project since I completed the Mormon Tabernacle Organ." – Jack Bethards

"Thus, the organ to be restored for St. Andrew's stands as the largest unaltered, pre-war organ built entirely under Harrison's supervision to remain intact. As such it is of pre-eminent historical importance and, as well, it is possessed of a unique musical quality that was not again achieved in the organs built after World War II, though some of them were as large or nearly so and have gained a recognition of their own, such as that which was recently restored at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City." -- Van Pelt

"I look forward to the day when we will worship in our new St. Andrew's with this organ of immense possibilities. More important than its historical significance is the bond it can create, the feeling of unity we so desperately need. Let us all be joyful for this incredible reality." -- Johnson

"It is a real masterpiece ...I believe you have a treasure!" – Thomas Murray

"I am delighted...this grand instrument will soon be beautifying the liturgy in the Diocese of Northwest Texas."
-- Hamilton

"To think that this great symbol of immense influence stands silent causes one bewilderment. This exemplary 'American Classic' instrument should be capable of daily use, especially in concerts and recitals of music which only such an organ could perform with any degree of authenticity." – Gerry Hancock

"It (Notre Dame Cathedral's Caville-Coll organ) is a sumptuous horse-carriage compared to the perfect Rolls-Royce of a Skinner organ." -- Vierne

"This organ is a dream. It will soothe, inspire, excite, and lead a congregation in worship. It will bring Amarillo an instrument of unparalleled distinction and beauty." -- Bennett

"This can be one of the finest church organs in America. What makes this instrument unique is that it is a huge organ voiced for a moderate room. It seems tailor-made for your needs." – Jack Bethards

COSTS

"When you total the list, it is a fairly formidable amount; however, people should be reminded that when the project is complete they will have an organ that is worth about $2,000,000.00, but that only begins to describe its value, because an Aeolian-Skinner organ, designed and finished by G. Donald Harrison, couldn't be duplicated today for any amount of money. This is a real treasure and it will put St. Andrew's on the map musically. Very few parish or even cathedral churches could match it." Jack Bethards

SCHOENSTEIN & COMPANY WORK

  • Included pre-contract engineering
  • Final engineering
  • Removal of the organ
  • Supervision of transportation and storage
  • Complete rebuilding of the organ's mechanism
  • Cleaning and refurbishing all of the pipe work and returning the diapasons to their original form;
  • Moving the Tuba to a new chest unenclosed and placing our new Symphonic Flute on the Tuba chest;
  • Reconfiguring the organ to fit the new space
  • Relocating the Pedal division and Vibra Harp
  • Rearranging the manual divisions for better maintenance access
  • Providing an entirely new solid state electrical system including all new cable, power supply, relay, and coupler machine
  • Rebuilding the console with new power supply, solid state combination action, and all-electric tilting tablet and stop knob actions
  • Installing the organ in the new St. Andrew's
  • Tonal finishing

Estimated Cost: $782,000.00

OPTIONAL WORK

  • An allowance for possible additional items, depending on the acoustical environment of the building:
  • Large scale, wood Pedal Contrabass
  • Additional tonal finishing time if there are special problems to be solved.

Estimated Cost: $89,000.00

WORK AND SERVICES TO BE PROVIDED BY OTHERS

  • Rigging of heavy organ parts out of the university auditorium and into the new church
  • Transportation of the organ parts and pipes
  • Storage
  • Travel time and expense for Schoenstein personnel for on-site work in Texas

Estimated Cost: $198,000.00
If optional work (above) is required: $10,000.00
Estimated Total: $208,000.00

 OTHER ITEMS

  • Purchase price of organ
  • Refinishing console
  • Adding decorative casework

Estimated Cost: $171,000.00

TOTAL: $1,250,000.00