The pipe organ at First United Methodist Church was built in 1925 by the Skinner Organ Company of Boston, Massachusetts, opus number 528. The installation was completed in November, 1925, and the organ was dedicated in February, 1926 by organist William Zeuch. It is a four-manual organ of six divisions (pedal, choir, great, swell, solo and echo) featuring 44 ranks of pipes. The pipes are housed in two tall chambers on either side of the church choir loft. In addition, there is a third, separate chamber above the peak of the ceiling, in the attic, on the Oak Park Avenue side of the building. This contains the chimney flute, vox humana and chimes stops of the echo division. The solo and echo divisions share the top manual of the console. The choir division has both celesta and harp stops, real working percussion voices. In addition to the four-manual console in the choir loft, there is a fully functional two-manual console in the adjacent chapel which accesses a limited number of stops from the same sets of pipes as the main console. The choir, swell, solo and echo divisions are under expression from the main console and there is a single expression pedal for the chapel console. Both consoles have crescendo pedals.
Ernest M. Skinner is considered to be one of the premier organ builders of the 20th century. During the first half of the century, it was very popular to play arrangements, or transcriptions, of symphonic compositions on the organ. Many organs of this era are referred to as “symphonic” or “orchestral,” as the builders were striving to imitate the sound of orchestral instruments (such as the French horn, clarinet, oboe, or flute) to accommodate the performance of these transcriptions. E. M. Skinner was the leader in this style of organ building. He introduced many innovations in organ building and organ tonal design which are still highly regarded today.
In the 1950s, musical tastes began to change. These tones were soon considered too heavy and dark, and many of the stops were considered overly sentimental. Consequently, many symphonic organs were drastically altered in attempts to “modernize” them, or, in many cases, discarded completely. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest and appreciation of the symphonic organ. Organ builders are being asked to reverse modifications made to these organs and return them to their original condition. Our church was fortunate that our Skinner organ was never altered and exists today as it was installed in 1925. It is an important historic monument to the symphonic school of organ building.
Our Skinner organ performed magnificently for 75 years. However, years of use took their toll, and the church was faced with major repairs of the organ. In 2005, our Skinner organ provided its own salvation. We learned of the Joseph G. Bradley Charitable Foundation, which funds grants to restore organs built by E.M. Skinner, provided the organ was intact and not altered to the point that it would be unable to be restored to its original condition. As our organ qualified under these guidelines, our grant application was approved, and the organ underwent a total restoration during 2005-2006.
The restoration work was carried out by the Spencer Organ Company, Inc. and Jeff Weiler Pipe Organ Curators, Conservators, and Consultants. The organ was rededicated in 2006 with a series of organ concerts.
Resources and Links
- Click here to view a History of Our Pipe Organs and Their Stop Lists.
- Click here to visit the Spencer Organ Company.
- Click here to visit Jeff Weiler Pipe Organs.
- Click here to view the WGN video of our Organ on the Spencer Organ Website.