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  • The Skinner Organ

    The Skinner Organ Company of Boston, which enjoyed the finest reputation of any American organ builder in the twentieth century, built and installed Brown Memorial’s organ, their Opus 839, IV/45, in 1930, shortly after the chancel, designed by Ralph Adams Cram, was added to the church.

    Nationally known and admired by the historic organ community as an exceptional example of the Skinner firm’s work, the organ was tonally finished by G. Donald Harrison. Except for a few minor volume regulations to several stops over the years, the instrument enjoys having had no tonal alterations.

    Brown Memorial’s organ has approximately 3,000 pipes, ranging in size from pipes a Shetland pony could walk through, to pipes the diameter of a pencil.

    Many know this organ because of its association with the celebrated Virgil Fox. It was on this instrument that he worked out his famous arrangement of Bach’s “Come, Sweetest Death,” which he premiered on the John Wanamaker organ in Philadelphia for an American Guild of Organists’ Convention. Fox was simultaneously organist at Brown Memorial and head of the organ department at Peabody Conservatory from 1935-1946. He subsequently became organist at New York City’s famed Riverside Church.

    The great composer and organist Jean Langlais gave two recitals on this organ in the early 1950s at the invitation of his close friend Richard Ross, who succeeded Virgil Fox as Brown Memorial’s organist.

    Interestingly, renowned organist John Walker, Brown Memorial’s Minister of Music emeritus, reversed Virgil Fox’s trajectory, coming to Brown Memorial from New York’s Riverside Church (with an interlude in Shadyside, PA). He continues to be a faculty member in Peabody’s organ department.

    Beginning in 2002, and over the course of several years, the Di Gennaro-Hart Organ Company of McLean, Virginia, has completed numerous restorations in the instrument according to historical guidelines, as well as a complete cleaning of the organ. As part of the most recent project, all eleven reed registers underwent a museum quality restoration by Samuel Hughes.

    Console restoration work has included restoration of the cabinet and the installation of new replica Skinner interior cabinetry and components. The organ has new ivory and Gabon ebony keyboards with tracker touch and an ample complement of thumb pistons to access the 99 channels of memory the capture system offers.

    “Celebrating the Skinner Organ,” a recent Tiffany Series Concert honoring the 80th anniversary of this instrument, was recorded and released as a CD. This is, as far as we know, the first solo recording ever made of this organ. Organists John Walker, Marvin Mills, Michael Britt and Janet Yieh play works by Jean Langlais, Florence Price, Alexandre Guilmant, Robert Elmore, Alexander Russell, Louis James Alfred Lefébure-Wély and Healey Willan.

    Notably, on the recording John Walker plays Virgil Fox’s arrangement of J.S. Bach’s “Come, Sweetest Death,” which Fox arranged on this organ.

    Go to the Tiffany Series web page (see link on left side of this page) for information on purchasing this CD as well as the recording of the Tiffany Series performance of Mendelssohn’s “Elijah,” with Frederick Swann as guest organist, playing the accompaniment.

    View the organ specifications (pdf file)

    The Skinner Organ