Roy Perry, Paul Callaway, and the Washington Cathedral Organ

 

This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of The Diapason.

Copyright © 2008 Neal Campbell

            In preparing the outline for a volume of memoirs reflecting on Aeolian-Skinner organs I have known, it became clear that my involvement with the organ in Washington Cathedral was sufficient in recollection, scope, and primary sources, to warrant a chapter all its own.  That is what is presented here, along with enough commentary to place the topic in context.

A note about the Cathedral’s name: its full ecclesiastical name is the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington.  In most of the Cathedral’s publications today it is styled as the Washington National Cathedral.  During the era I was familiar with it (ca. 1964-1976) the Cathedral was called simply Washington Cathedral in its weekly orders of service and other publications, listings in the local newspapers, and on all Aeolian-Skinner correspondence, so for ease of continuity that is how I refer to it in this article.

The New Organ in 1937

Much misinformation and technical ambiguity surrounds the Washington Cathedral organ. This is due to the fact that by the time the Cathedral organ was built Ernest Skinner had left the company he founded in 1901.  Also at some point in the early 1930s the Skinner Organ Company merged with the pipe organ division of the Aeolian Company creating the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company.  The entangling alliances of these dramas are beyond the scope of this article, but it is fascinating reading and the reader is referred to Charles Callahan’s two books[1] for the complete saga as told by the principals in their own words.

In 1932 Aeolian-Skinner built a small two-manual organ as its Opus 883 and lent it to Washington Cathedral while Ernest Skinner was still with the firm.  Later in the decade as the Great Choir was nearing completion Ernest Skinner’s new company, the Ernest M. Skinner and Son Company, was contracted to build a large four-manual organ for the Cathedral, and the small organ on loan was reinstalled by A-S in Lasell Junior College in Newton, Massachusetts, retaining the 883 opus number.  The organ no longer exists.[2]

The Great Choir, ca. 1932

By this time the Cathedral worship space consisted of the Great Choir and two side chapels, a rather sizable and impressive edifice in itself, in spite of the fact that it represented but 20% of the finished cathedral church as planned.  The new organ was built by the Ernest M. Skinner and Son Company of Methuen, Massachusetts, as their Opus 510.  This was the company that Ernest Skinner and his son Richmond set up in a factory adjacent to Serlo Organ Hall in Methuen, now known as the Methuen Memorial Music Hall.  Edward Searles, an eccentric organ aficionado living in Methuen, commissioned Henry Vaughan to build a new music hall, completed in 1909, to contain the old Boston Music Hall organ.  In 1889, on a site adjacent to the hall, Searles had purchased an old textile mill and had Vaughan renovate it to function as an organ factory for James Treat.  Treat had worked for Hutchings, Plaisted & Company in Boston, which is probably where Searles met him, as Searles had purchased an organ from Hutchings in 1880[3].  From this factory they manufactured organs under the name of the Methuen Organ Company.  Skinner purchased the factory and the hall during the Depression and ran concerts in the hall and built several notable organs in the factory from about 1936 until the factory was destroyed by fire in 1943.   Of the organs they built, the one for Washington Cathedral was by far the largest. [4]

Given the fierce loyalty in some circles to Skinner, and given his longevity (1866-1960) one wonders whether he might have been a stronger competitor had not the Methuen factory been destroyed by fire in 1943.  For example, the Skinner Organ for the new St. Thomas Church in 1913, Opus 205, was built in collaboration with T. Tertius Noble and it remained one of Skinner’s favorites.  Noble was likewise devoted to Skinner.   From the Methuen factory Skinner electrified an old Johnson organ for Noble’s St. Thomas studio.  The company also relocated and revised the organ in the Brick Church in New York when the church moved to its new and present location under Clarence Dickinson’s direction in 1940.  Dickinson had also played the opening recital on Skinner’s Opus 150 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1911.  The records show that most of the work of the new Ernest M. Skinner and Son Company was limited to rebuilding and relocating of some of Skinner’s former organs.  Of the four-manual organs Skinner built in Methuen only two survive: the organ in the chapel of Mt. Holyoke College (built in 1938 as his Opus 511, which was rebuilt from his previous organ in the chapel), and the organ in St. Martin’s Church in Harlem, a rebuilt Skinner from a previous location.  He did build a completely new four-manual organ for St. John’s Lutheran Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania, but it has since been extensively modified.  And a three-manual organ for St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church in New York is extant and unaltered, but unplayable. [5]

Serlo Hall and factory of the Methuen Organ Company

The committee to select a new organ for Washington Cathedral included Noble and Channing Lefebvre of Trinity Church in New York, each enthusiastic supports of Ernest Skinner.  So it is not hard to imagine the Cathedral turning to this new company headed by Skinner to build its first organ, in spite of its somewhat shaky organization.   According to Ernest Skinner authentic Skinner organs were available only through the new company building out of Methuen—and this was arguably true.  Advertisements in The Diapason and The American Organist about this time barely disguise Skinner’s contempt of the tonal philosophy of the continuing Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company, and his letters to the editor are openly hostile to G. Donald Harrison.    GDH for his part never responded in kind, though his business correspondence shows that Skinner’s remarks disturbed him.  He ultimately let his own instruments speak for themselves as growing numbers of younger organists, many of whom had studied in Europe during and after World War II, found favor with his classically inspired instruments.  Paul Callaway, the Cathedral’s new organist, also studied with Dupré in Paris and later served in the war as a bandmaster in the South Pacific.

An Organ for the Completed Cathedral Emerges

The North case and Great division, ca. 1940

The Ernest M. Skinner and Son Opus 510 organ served the cathedral well in essentially unaltered form—albeit with additions—until 1973, at which time the major renovation began, the result of which is the present organ.  In 1957, with the projected completion of the nave in sight, the Cathedral began a series of consultations with Aeolian-Skinner regarding what steps it should take in providing for the organ.  Although G. Donald Harrison designed a small, two-manual organ for the Cathedral’s Bethlehem Chapel[6] in 1951, he had nothing to do with the design of the main organ, and I have not discovered any comments by him about it.  By the late 1950s the crossing, transepts and first three bays of the nave were nearing completion.  The big decision before the building committee at that time was whether to build the great central tower over the crossing and let the nave wait its turn, or complete the interior of the nave and build the tower later.  There were persuasive arguments for both approaches, but it was decided to build the tower and let the nave wait.

With all of that in mind, it was decided to develop a master plan for the organ with a view to gradually altering and enlarging the organ to accommodate the full cathedral.  Joseph S. Whiteford, the new president and tonal director of Aeolian-Skinner, developed this in consultation with the Cathedral organ committee, which in reality amounted to Callaway and his associate Richard Wayne Dirksen, reporting to and receiving reactions from the Dean, the Very Rev. Francis B. Sayre, Jr.  Whiteford’s scheme specified what might be called a post-Harrison American Classic concept—a standard four-manual layout, together with a large Positiv, independent choruses on manual and pedal divisions, together with a plethora of imitative voices (some new and some saved from the old organ) and softer sounds to accompany the choir.  The correspondence shows Whiteford to be in total command of the subject, including convincing arguments surrounding the scientific properties of physics and acoustics involved in the emerging cathedral space.  Responding to a request from the Organ Committee of the Cathedral in February 1957 he says:

          “The present enclosed volume of air, which has so much to do with the acoustics of  both the organ and choir, is between 60 and 70% of the completed Cathedral.  Furthermore, the surfaces normal, or adjacent to the organ and choir, are approximately 90% complete.  These are the most important surfaces and the most important air volume, since thy have the most to do with the projections of the sound to the listener.  The air spaces and surfaces at the West end of the Cathedral, for instance, while important as a terminus, do not shape and control the sound in anywhere near the same capacity as the Great Choir and Crossing.

“The present organ is truly magnificent in certain respects.  It has a wealth of soft voices which create an extremely fine effect.  These were the high points of the period in which the organ was built.  Since that time tremendous strides have been made in making instruments of this character greatly more flexible with regard to the many periods of music . . .  [which] demands primarily, highly focused and clear sound, rather than the nebulous, floating, ethereal sounds of many strings and flutes in which the present organ now abounds.”[7]

The Cathedral from the air, ca. 1965

From this point Whiteford’s letter continues in language reminiscent of Harrison and Emerson Richards a decade earlier.  He posits that the best location for the organ would be the yet-to-be-built west gallery, but that idea never received serious consideration.  He then takes the Cathedral through a logical long range plan to accomplish the task, beginning with the console, wiring, and relays (“the nervous system of the organ” he says), then adding the Brustwerk and Positiv divisions nearer the choir and in direct sight line to the congregation, continuing with the replacement and relocation of various portions of the remaining divisions.  This letter remained the vision statement for the work on the organ that culminated in 1976, when the full length of the Nave was finally completed some 19 years later.

A thorough study of Whiteford and an analysis of his extant organs has yet to be undertaken, but his contributions to Aeolian-Skinner in his own right are considerable and warrant such a study.  In fact, Whiteford worked very closely with Harrison during the building of some of the company’s most successful organs, and it often fell to him to implement the details of the schemes GDH wrought.  At the time when Callaway and Whiteford were discussing the future of the Cathedral’s organ in 1957-58, some of Whiteford’s own most successful organs were built.  Opus 1308 for St. Mark’s Church (now Cathedral) in Shreveport, Louisiana, and Opus 1309 for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now called the Community of Christ), in Independence, Missouri, come to mind.  These were large four-manual organs in new, highly visible venues—very different in concept, use, and outcome, but important manifestations of A-S as it emerged following the death of G. Donald Harrison.  The Shreveport organ in particular derived much of its distinction through the on-site alterations and finishing of Roy Perry and J. C. Williams[8], noted A-S representatives in that part of the country.  Callaway particularly liked the Shreveport organ and measured plans for Washington Cathedral against its success.

It is true that Whiteford did not come to organ building through the traditional apprentice method, and there is no doubt that many of the Aeolian-Skinner craftsmen (several of whom were old enough to be his father) didn’t resonate with what some perceived as Whiteford’s Johnny-come-lately status.  But from my experience with many of his organs, I tend to agree with Emerson Richards in his report to Henry Willis III in England when, after Harrison’s death, he wrote “I think that he [Whiteford] has more ability than he is given credit for but he is impatient and for some reason does not inspire confidence—just why I cannot say.”[9]    

By this time Ernest Skinner’s star had set, his attempts failed to set up a shop after the Methuen fire, and even though he was on the scene and continued to offer his diatribes against what he considered the desecrations of his masterpieces, no one paid much attention to him.  Still, it is still hard not to feel a bit sorry for the grand old man as he saw his early successes at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, then St. Thomas Church, and now Washington Cathedral fall prey to advancing ideas carried out by the company still bearing his name!

The first step in the lofty long-range plan was to provide a new four-manual console to control the completed organ.  The new console was encased in elaborate Gothic panels designed for the previous console by Cathedral architect Philip Hubert Frohman, which had pedalboard, swell shoes, and toe studs on a hydraulic elevator.  Thus, while the bench height remained the same, the pedalboard could be raised or lowered.  Presumably this was to accommodate the disparate heights of the Cathedral’s organist and his associate—Paul Callaway who was unusually short, and Richard Dirksen, who was unusually tall.   This 1958 console was referred to by Aeolian-Skinner as Opus 883-A, picking up on the opus number of the small two-manual it lent the Cathedral in 1932, even though the original #883 was now in place in Newton, Massachusetts, and the Ernest M. Skinner and Son Opus 510 was the only organ in situ.[10]  Sparse in design by comparison with the digital age of multiple levels of memory, it was luxurious for the time.  It had 18 generals, remote combination action, and the usual couplers and pistons to make for ease in playing.  The nomenclature engraved on the knobs reflected the projected new organ and only approximately correlated to the actual stops of the 1937 organ it controlled.  On the Great, for example, the Prinzipal, Spitz Prinzipal, and Salicional actually drew Diapasons I, II, and III respectively.  It was a bit confusing to the traveling weekly recitalist, but it somehow made sense and had the psychological effect of projecting the vision of the new organ. The console functioned in this way until the overhaul began in 1973.

Dirksen and Callaway

The next step was to add two unenclosed divisions in 1963 named Brustwerk and Positiv with matching pedal in the so-called musicians galleries[11], lofts above the canopies of the stalls in the Great Choir, in the first bay on either side of the Choir, carrying the job number 883-B.  In 1965 as Opus 883-C, the Trompette-en-Chamade was installed in the triforium over the high altar.[12]  This was the organ I knew growing up: the 4-manual Ernest M. Skinner and Son, Opus 510, plus the new console, Brustwerk and Positiv, and Trompette-en-Chamade.  During high school and college years I attended weekly services and events at the Cathedral, and I played a recital on the Sunday afternoon series in 1971 while I was a senior in high school and a student of William Watkins.   Unfortunately, I was too young to have been considered for the extraordinary College of Church Musicians, the graduate level school founded at the Cathedral by Leo Sowerby which had closed its doors by the time I was of college age.  I did know several of the Fellows of the College, and heard all of them as they played their recitals following Evensong on Sunday afternoons.  Sowerby himself was often in attendance and recitals frequently included his music.

The Positiv in the south choir gallery

While attending the University of Maryland, I did study privately with Paul Callaway for a year and observed his rehearsals and services, and will always be grateful to his memory for his helpful mentorship as I began my trek into the intricacies of the Episcopal Church.   Weekly attendance at Evensong and the organ recitals which followed left an indelible memory.  The variety of the repertoire and sheer amounts of it was remarkable.  The choir sang the responses, Psalms, anthem settings of the canticles, and an anthem at the offertory.  On the last Sunday of the month there was a cantata or group of anthems in place of the sermon.  At Evensong the Psalms were either sung either to Anglican Chant or Plainsong, and the service began in one of two ways:  1) a processional hymn, followed by the Responses with the choir in place, followed by the Psalms to Anglican Chant; or 2) the Responses were sung where the choir gathered in the North Transept, and the Psalms were sung to Plainsong in processional accompanied by handbell changes.

Leo Sowerby and students of the College of Church Musicians

In addition to the standard cathedral repertoire of the late 19th and early 20th century, Callaway offered large doses of early music, and modern music.  I recall one Evensong when all of the music was by Byrd.  The movable cathedral chairs for the congregation were arranged facing the North Transept with a portable altar, candles, and officiants’ chairs set up on the Nave floor, while the choir sang from the gallery above, and the entire service was unaccompanied.  New works were also frequently premiered; particularly memorable was the dedication of the central tower in 1964 when new works by Samuel Barber, Lee Hoiby, Stanley Hollingsworth, Roy Hamlin Johnson, John La Montaine, Milford Myhre, Ned Rorem, and Leo Sowerby were given first performances.

Callaway usually played the organ voluntaries himself.  His repertoire was vast, and he listed preludes and postludes to each service.  The now-familiar practice of the principal musician as conductor, with the assistant doing all the playing, was not then in vogue,  and Callaway usually played anthem accompaniments, as well.  Typically, the assistant organist turned pages, and perhaps played the sermon hymn.  In retrospect it is easy to suggest that the technical security of the choir suffered, as they were only able to see the Callaway through a series of mirrors.  But it was the way things were done at the time and it offered a window of opportunity to hear this extraordinary organist in the roles of recitalist playing the repertoire, service player, and accompanist.  Callaway excelled in each of these capacities following the examples of his mentors, T. Tertius Noble and particularly David McK. Williams.

Dr Callaway leading a rehearsal in the Cathedral choir room

Even though Callaway was a pupil of T. Tertius Noble at St. Thomas Church he was great friends with David McK. Williams at St. Bartholomew’s and often spoke of how much he learned from him.  Part of Callaway’s duties as Noble’s student was to play the services at St. Thomas Chapel (now All Saints’ Church on  East 60th Street) where Evensong on Sunday evening was late enough that he usually turned pages for David McK. Williams at 4:00 Evensong at St. Bartholomew’s.  Here he observed in close-up detail Williams’ absolute control from the console, where by all accounts his accompaniments and improvisations were extraordinary.  Callaway often told me of the profound effect David’s playing had on him, even though he was careful to say that never studied with him formally.  Callaway was approached about the position at St. Bartholomew’s when David McK. Williams was forced to resign in 1946, but having just returned to the Cathedral following service in World War II, he declined, and Harold Friedell was appointed.

Paul Callaway and Ronald Rice at the Great Organ console, ca. 1965

Callaway’s playing of large doses of Bach chorale preludes and trio sonatas using the Brustwerk and Positiv were models of accuracy, style, liturgical appropriateness, and performance practice not as a subject unto itself, but a natural vehicle for expressive playing.  The contrapuntal textures were clear and focused, and the new Brustwerk and Positiv divisions were the ultimate in Joseph Whiteford’s development of the classic Aeolian-Skinner sound in the post-Harrison era.  They were characterized by low wind pressures, articulate yet even voicing, pipes of high tin content, and a location within sight lines the choir and congregation. The Brustwerk and Positiv could be used by themselves in Baroque music; added to the old organ they added immediacy and clarity.  In combination with the main organ and Trompette-en-Chamade, the combined divisions were good vehicles for thrilling performances of Callaway’s hefty doses of romantic and modern organ music.  The organ is fairly well documented in LP recordings accompanying the choir and in solo repertoire, including a multi-volume complete performance of the Bach Clavierübung, Callaway playing Part III on the Cathedral organ, and Ralph Kirkpatrick playing the other parts on harpsichord.  Just before the 1973-76 work began, Callaway recorded an album of music of Gigout, Franck, Tournemire, and Messiaen on the organ, the specific intent being to document the organ prior to the renovation.  The plan was then to record the same repertoire on the new organ in 1976, which he did.  To my knowledge these LPs have not been transferred to CD, but are fairly easy to find through the various search engines.

The New Organ 1973-76

             With America’s Bicentennial observances on the horizon, the Cathedral in the early 1970s poured considerable energy into completing the nave and organ, and planned several special services which culminated in the Dedication of the Nave for the Reconciliation of Peoples of Earth in the presence of President and Mrs. Ford, and Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on July 8, 1976.  I sang during the service as a member of the University of Maryland Chorus.  All aspects of the Cathedral’s Bicentennial  programs were well reported in the media.  The actual bicentennial date, July 4, 1976, was a Sunday, and the front page of the Style section of The Washington Post featured a picture of Roy Perry in the organ blowing a pipe, and a lengthy article by Paul Hume saying:

            “When Queen Elizabeth walks down the aisle of Washington Cathedral Thursday morning, she will be hearing one of the greatest pipe organs in the world . . . Perry worked among the thousands of pipes with the precision and infinite care of a jeweler cutting a priceless diamond so that its facets would produce the greatest possible beauty.  And like the diamond, the sounds of the Washington Cathedral’s organ pipes can be expected to last, with care, indefinitely . . . they now stand ready. . . to create new  beauty in a newly completed setting.  There are those who know no beauty in all of  music that can surpass theirs.”[13]

Aeolian-Skinner had just ceased operation when the Cathedral began its work in 1973.  Joseph Whiteford, even though he retired from A-S before its denouement, continued to be the person with whom the Cathedral (that is, Callaway) corresponded regarding the new work, and it was always assumed that he would oversee the work for A-S, even though he was officially retired.  Whiteford, the son of a prominent Washington attorney and a graduate of St. Alban’s School on the Cathedral close, was a good friend of Callaway, and it was natural that these two would be the point persons in the Cathedral’s ever-evolving planning of the organ.  Reading the 1957 correspondence we see that the Cathedral’s estimated time line for the completion of the cathedral was optimistic by several years.  In hindsight, it is providential that the Cathedral’s work was delayed.  Had the Cathedral contracted to accomplish its ambitious scheme with A-S during its final days, the results would likely have included artistic difficulties and financial disasters.[14]

Roy Perry’s role in the Cathedral organ renovation was an afterthought.  Many of the former Aeolian-Skinner men who weren’t retired were still in business as suppliers to the trade.  It was decided to gather a consortium—the Cathedral’s term—of workers to design, build, voice, and finish the necessary pipes and chests, all under the direction of Whiteford, following the plan of his 1957 design.  The one catch was that Whiteford, who lived in California, did not fly and apparently did not want to relocate to Washington for the long periods of time the job required.  Whiteford pitched the idea to Callaway that Perry, as one of A-S’s most successful field representatives and finishers, be the on-site supervisor and finisher for the Cathedral, working under his (Whiteford’s) direction from California via telephone and hard copy correspondence.  It is poignant to read Perry’s negotiations with the Cathedral regarding his compensation.  At this time Perry was retired and drawing Social Security payments.  He explained to Dirksen—who was the Cathedral’s agent in business and logistical matters pertaining to the new organ—that if in any given month he earned more than $175 his Social Security would be knocked out for the month.  He therefore suggested that for the duration of the project, he be paid “$175 per month as a salary, plus expenses, for a total of $5,875 for the period April 1973-December 1975”[15] and the Cathedral agreed to this schedule of payments.

            In short order the Cathedral had letters of agreement with Aeolian-Skinner pipemaker Thomas Anderson and head flue voicer John Hendricksen to provide the necessary new pipes.  The new chests were made by the Ernest M. Skinner and Son Company of East Kingston, New Hampshire, the continuing company Skinner started when he left Aeolian-Skinner.  Anthony Bufano, another A-S alumnus, who was by then curator of the organs in The Riverside Church in New York, recovered many of the pouches with Perflex and facilitated the necessary console details.  Other structural components were entrusted to Arthur Carr and the Durst Organ Supply Company of Erie, Pennsylvania.  All local arrangements were coordinated through the Newcomer Organ Company and their outstandingly gifted foreman Robert Wyant, who had taken care of the Cathedral organ for many years.  Between these principals—the Cathedral (usually via Dirksen), Newcomer in Washington, Whiteford in California, Perry in Texas, Anderson and Hendricksen in Massachusetts, Bufano in New York, and Carr in Erie—flowed frequent communications for three years: correspondence, pipe orders, voicing notes, shop talk of every kind, travel arrangements, and occasional items of humor, or personal and family notes of interest.  In spite of intense seriousness of purpose and high artistic standards, it is obvious that there was a sense of family about this consortium.

It was a laudable plan which attracted huge interest in the organ community in Washington and elsewhere as word spread.  It called for several unusual features to be built, retaining a large portion of the existing Ernest M. Skinner and Son divisions, and the Aeolian-Skinner Brustwerk and Positiv divisions located in the musicians’ galleries.  The Trompette-en-Chamade over the High Altar was of course to remain.

The Trompette-en-Chamade

The Great in the first bay north triforium was to consist largely of new pipework intended to complement the two Baroque divisions.  The tonal relationships (and to a large degree the pipes as well) of the three enclosed divisions was to remain, because of their proven effectiveness in accompanying the choir.  Seated at the console these divisions were located directly above the organist’s line of sight.  Directly above, behind the case in the second bay north triforium was the Swell, followed by the Choir, and Solo, in the succeeding third and fourth bay triforium galleries.  The Pedal, located throughout the south triforium, was to be a combination of new and existing pipes, including the four full length 32’ stops.

A small division, a typical Ernest Skinner Echo, which was played with the Swell division, was located in the fifth bay south triforium, opposite the main organ near the High Altar.  This was the location of the original organ which A-S lent to the Cathedral in 1932.  It consisted of an 8’—4’ five-rank Choeur des Violes, an 8’ Éoliènne Céleste, and an 8 Voix Humaine.[16]  To this was added a unique stop Perry developed with the curious name Flûte d’Argent II.  Perry told me that once he had found an interesting flute stop built by Estey called Zartflöte or Silver Flute, which was a tapered flute that was also harmonic.  It had a cool, clear sound which Perry thought would sound good with a celeste added to it, so he ordered it in some of the organs he finished for Aeolian-Skinner.[17]  I was present the night Perry pitched the idea to Dirksen to add this unique stop to the organ. Wayne liked it and said he would find the money somehow; it wasn’t cheap!  In Roy’s previous use of this stop he called it Harmonic Spitzflöte II, or simply Silver Flute.  Whiteford was fanatical about nomenclature and insisted that stops in the Great be given German names, and those of the Swell, French.  So, this new stop became in Whiteford’s nomenclature Flûte d’Argent—Silver Flute.  In French, of course, Argent has more than one meaning, and many a visiting organist has wondered if it was a joke that the Cathedral organ contained a “Money Flute.”  It was an expensive stop to build and voice, so the double meaning may indeed be appropriate.

One of the chief goals of the new organ was to provide more sound directly into the crossing and nave, so it was decided to build a new division of significant tonal properties in the first bay south triforium, directly opposite the Great.  This enclosed division had swell shade openings into the chancel and south transept, and was built with funds solicited in memory of Leo Sowerby, so the division became known as the Sowerby Memorial Swell division, since it was also to be played via the Swell manual.  In effect, if not in planning, it was a Bombarde or Grande Choeur division—small but telling, consisting of a Principal chorus topped by two mixtures, a chorus of French reeds, and an exceptional string celeste of special construction which extended all the way to 16’ C in the unison and celeste ranks.

Therefore, the Swell manual played pipes located in three locations: 1) the main Swell directly in front of the organist behind the north case, 2) the Sowerby Swell, opposite the Great, and 3) the Echo Swell in the fifth bay south triforium.  Roy Perry told me that the job ought to have had a five-manual console and it is easy to understand the organizational logic in such a plan. The organ would have benefited from having the Bombarde (Sowerby division) and Echo occupying the fifth manual, but in the pre-digital, pre-solid state age, it would have been enormously expensive, if not impossible, and the big plan did call for retaining the 1958 console.  This brings up the important point that consistently stands out in the project: no expense was spared on what was done, but nothing was done that was considered unnecessary and console rearrangements fell into that category.  As it was the total cost of the new 1973-76 organ was projected to be $216,000[18] which would equal between $1.3 and $1.8 million 2007 dollars.[19]       

          Other unusual features included extending the 32’ Bombarde into the 64’ range for three notes for pieces ending in B, B-flat, or A.  I recall that these three notes were ineffective, being half-length metal pipes extended from a full-length wooden 32’ rank.  There weren’t many miscalculations in the project, but in a job of this scope a few were inevitable—some humorous, others serious.  Perry may be best remembered for his beautifully finished celestes, but he was equally adventurous in designing bold, complex mixtures.[20]  For the Cathedral he and Whiteford designed the unusual VI-X Terzzymbel intended initially to flank the Trompette-en-Chamade over the High Altar, but eventually placed with the Great.  He also called for an unusual mixture in the Solo called None Kornett to replace Skinner’s full mixture, but (in his words) “it was a vast disappointment on the voicing machine, so you may prefer to abandon these two top boards and re-engrave the [draw] knob PERRY’S FOLLY.”[21]  On the other hand, the use of Perflex, which Dirksen insisted upon, stung the Cathedral badly in ensuing years, as it did many other jobs of the era when everyone was desperate to find a substitute for chest leather.  In the 1960s some New York churches found that leather lasted less than a decade.  As it turned out, Perflex itself was indestructible but there seemed to be no satisfactory way to glue it to the wooden chests, so in short order Perflex was deemed even less suitable than leather.

The 1973-76 organ in Washington Cathedral is really the final statement of Aeolian-Skinner’s concept of the American Classic Organ.  Among the Cathedral consortium it was informally referred to as Opus Posthumous.  Perry went a step further and printed stationary in jest (I think!) with the title “Organbuilders Anonymous” in a shaded copperplate font, listing the names of those taking part: “Roy Perry, Most Anonymous; Tommy Anderson, Almost Anonymous; John Hendricksen, All But Anonymous; Bob Wyant, Nearly Anonymous; and Honorary Anonymouses: Joe Whiteford, Wayne Dirksen, Harold Newcomer, Kim Bolten [sic], Arthur Carr, Jim Williams, Tony Bufano, Carl Basset [sic], Adolph Zajic, Bon Smith.”[22]  It was Perry’s hope to actually build organs in his post-Cathedral days with this consortium.  He and Jim Williams had previously built a few organs independent of A-S using the services of several of them.  Humor aside, this is as complete a list of workers as may be found anywhere else in the documentation of the building of the organ.  They are all persons associated either with Aeolian-Skinner or the Cathedral, with the exception of Adolph Zajic, the well known reed voicer still working at Möller at the time, and the independent Carr.  The one piece of the puzzle missing in the original consortium of A-S alumni was a reed voicer.  Oscar Pearson, the famous voicer who created the State Trumpet at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine[23] was still alive, but had retired and was deaf.[24]  Herb Stimson, A-S’s last reed voicer died just about the time A-S went out of business.  So, for the Cathedral Möller built and Zajic voiced the Great reeds.

Roy Perry was central to the tonal outcome of the Cathedral organ.  I would venture to say that his influence was greater than that of Whiteford, who never made the trip to Washington either during the work or after.  The correspondence often shows Perry dutifully asking permission to make various alterations, some slight, others significant.  Except for stop nomenclature, it appears that Whiteford never tried to second guess him.  Perry’s on-the-job adjustments, combined with his natural gifts as a finisher, resulted in the unique sound stamped with his genius.

Roy Perry at the Kilgore organ before the new console, ca. 1962

I had nothing official to do with the Cathedral or its organ project.  I had met Roy Perry in the summer of 1972 when I was a finalist in the AGO National Organ Playing Competition at its national convention in Dallas.  My teacher, William Watkins, knew Perry and had played and recorded at his church in Kilgore, the First Presbyterian Church—home of the well-known Aeolian-Skinner organ which in the 1950s and 60s was prominently featured in company sales literature and on the “King of Instruments” series of recordings.  Volume II has recordings of both Perry and Watkins on the Kilgore organ, and Volume X featured the Kilgore organ and choirs.  It was through these recordings that Perry’s name became known outside of the Texas-Oklahoma-Louisiana territory he covered for Aeolian-Skinner.  The English choral repertoire on the Volume X is standard fare now, but was revelatory at the time.  However, it was in the American music that Perry used the organ to greatest effect, notably in his accompaniment of David McK. Williams’ anthem In the year that King Uzziah died, and the Bruce Simonds’ Prelude on Iam sol recedit igneus, which he introduced to the organ world through the recording.[25]  Watkins thought it important that I meet Perry and see the Kilgore organ, and that was the source of our association.

When I learned of Perry’s involvement in the Cathedral project I, still a student living in Washington, offered to meet him at the airport, run errands for him, and in the course of events introduced him to my fellow organists and showed him around town.  His trips were a whirlwind of activity and were red letter days on my calendar.

On the one hand I was fortunate to have been able to simply sit and watch him at work finishing the various stops as installments of new pipework arrived.  He listened as I played the pieces I was working on and came to some of my church services.  His musical insights from his perspective as an organbuilder were valuable, especially regarding registration.

His knowledge of the repertoire was vast and greatly belied his humble upbringing.  In designing several stops for the Cathedral he would have special pieces of music in mind, and would often request that I have such and such a piece ready when such and such a stop arrived.  For the new strings in the Sowerby Swell he wanted to hear Duruflé’s Veni creator AdagioAnd he wanted to hear Bach’s chorale prelude Nun komm der heiden heiland, BWV 659, beginning  with the accompaniment on the new celestes, especially the opening pedal notes on the new 16’ Violoncelle Celeste against the boldest cornet in the organ.[26]  As the project completion drew near toward Holy Week 1975 he was particularly looking forward to the full ensembles in Langlais Les Rameaux which was on the program for Palm Sunday.  And he was irritated when Wayne Dirksen (in fact a fine organist who was in the class of Virgil Fox at the Peabody Institute) on Good Friday played Bach’s O mensch bewien with the cantus firmus, in his words, “played on a lard-butted clarinet, with four cornet’s in the organ to choose from!”—a curious admonition given his preferred registration for the Bach Nun komm!  He did love the cornet combination for Bach ornamented chorales and I think he perceived string celestes, as a family of tone in his design, as an equally viable and appropriate accompaniment as are flutes or principals, and—who knows—he may have a point.  He was a wonderful teacher, vivid in imagination, yet grounded in a thorough knowledge of the repertoire.  I still feel his influence when practicing and playing.

On the other hand, in social settings stories of the personalities he had known and worked with flowed in a heady ether wherever we went.  Early in his career he had come to New York to study with Hugh McAmis and it was then that he met David McK. Williams and struck up their life-long friendship.  He told of how his involvement with Aeolian-Skinner began by accident, and lasted for 25 years, during which time his sales amounted to roughly 25% of Aeolian-Skinner’s business, and he was full of humorous anecdotes of Donald Harrison’s trips through the southwest on various jobs.

Likewise, for his part, Harrison had great regard for Perry and enjoyed his trips to Texas, as he relates in a letter to Henry Willis in England:

          “Roy Perry, or Perriola, as he is affectionately referred to in our organization, has supervised, with the aid of Jack Williams and his son, most of our important installations in Texas.  He is an accomplished organist and has a wonderful ear.  He is a top notch finisher and during my periodic visits to Texas I cannot remember a time when I have had to suggest that something might have been done a little differently.  He just has that kind of organ sense.

I think you will also enjoy him as a personality.  He knows some good southern stories and, by the way, he is an expert at southern hospitality.  I always look forward to my trips down to his neck of the woods as we have a glorious time just waiting for sundown to start on a little nourishment.”[27]

Roy Perry during the finishing of the organ in First Baptist Church, Longview, Texas, 1952

As the work was in the planning stages at the Cathedral, I remember several of us being given a tour through the organ.  Roy was explaining where the various stops and divisions were to be located or relocated.  He was particularly proud of two sets of string celestes he was designing.[28]  These were to be of varying scales, very broad in tone, becoming narrower as the notes descended in the compass, and having 2/7 mouth construction, a mouth width usually found only on Principal pipes.  He said we would “smell the rosin” when we heard it.  Being the eager and easily malleable students we were, we expressed appropriate awe, and he said rather matter of factly “well boys, the way I see it, if you can’t fill the house with string tone you’re just not sittin’ in the front of the bus.”

Roy was a character!  He was part of that vanishing (vanished?) breed of larger than life extrovert, totally uninhibited Louisiana Cajun humorists the likes of which Episcopal Washington had never seen.  Though I was not part of it, he had a non-musical, non-organ related, social orbit involving the higher echelons of the Cathedral hierarchy.  Usually his trips, which brought him to Washington two or three times a year, sometimes for four or five weeks’ duration, included a big party where he cooked his famous Louisiana gumbo.  These were the talk of the Cathedral work force, and not just the music office.  Accounts of these gatherings and recipes are also mentioned in the correspondence, taking their place along side voicing notes and complex Cathedral schedules.

Roy made friends easily with all of the cathedral staff, especially the vergers and volunteer tour guides called Aides.  He regaled us at dinner one night telling of a sight he swore he witnessed.  A very tall, “professional Texan” as he called him, complete with Stetson hat in hand, tooled leather cowboy boots, shirt with pearl buttons, and long, thick, white sideburns (think Jock Ewing in the nighttime soap opera “Dallas”) came up to Ginny Hammond, the Head Aide.  He drew himself up as he took in the wide vistas of the transepts, the newly completed nave, then the High Altar with the Trompette-en-Chamade atop, and said in his thickest Texan drawl, “Tell me, ma’m, is this yer MAIN SANC-tu-ar-y?”

Roy Perry at the Cathedral console, 1976

At some point midway through the work, word got out that this former Aeolian-Skinner representative and finisher was nearby and consulting offers began to appear.  He actually designed a rather interesting organ for All Saints’ Church in Chevy Chase where I was assistant organist.  The case was made that we could get a new organ in essentially the same way as the Cathedral had via the consortium, but nothing came of the plan.  I accompanied him to the Church of the Redeemer in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, who had sought his advice regarding their organ.[29]  He also did a thorough inspection and report for All Saints’ Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, [30] and—in 1977 after the Cathedral work was complete—made a visit and proposed additions at St. George’s-by-the-River, in Rumson, New Jersey.[31]  Also in 1977 he did what turned out to be his final work in some tonal refinishing to the organ in Church of the Epiphany in Washington, D. C.[32]  He died in May 1978.

I moved away from the city of my youth in 1976 just as the Bicentennial furor was dying down.  I did return to play a Sunday afternoon recital at the Cathedral in 1977 in a program of music I had coached with Roy.  I have not played the organ since, although I have occasionally attended services at the Cathedral when traveling, notably at the memorial service for Dirksen in July 2003 and have heard it on the telecasts of funerals and memorial services of national figures.  The organ had its eccentricities and could easily be mismanaged by visiting recitalists lacking practice time.  But the sound is still unmistakable as a creation imbued with Roy Perry’s magic and the Aeolian-Skinner aesthetic.  The organ in its post-1976 state has been featured in several recordings, notably the series of live Sunday afternoon recitals on the JAV label, where the performances of Erik Suter, Gerre Hancock, Peter Richard Conte, Ann Elise Smoot, Todd Wilson, Daniel Roth, and John Scott display the great variety, contrast, and depth of this unique organ.

In reading the correspondence and technical data surrounding the creation of the Cathedral organ, what impresses me most is the humility tinged with pride, innate talent, sense of history, exuberance, and exceeding devotion to the Cathedral that this unique consortium exhibited.  It is summed up best by Wayne Dirksen himself in a report as the work was nearing completion:

            “We began twenty-six months ago with the security of long planning, (since 1957),  the thorough experience and knowledge of two principal consultants, with confidence in our craftsmen and maintainers, and with ample time to correlate and coordinate a complex project toward the perfect result we believed possible.

Now the largest part is accomplished.  During this Holy Week, 1975, thousands will hear with their ears what we knew in our hearts: that an incomparably magnificent pipe organ will grace this cathedral for centuries to come, the result of extraordinary talents, devotion, and skills we have combined for its creation.”[33]

 

+++   +++   +++

 NEAL CAMPBELL grew up in Washington, D. C. and attended the University of Maryland.  He holds graduate and undergraduate degrees from Manhattan School of Music where he earned the DMA in 1996.  He held church and synagogue positions in Washington, Virginia, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York, before assuming his present position at St. Luke’s Church, Darien, Connecticut, in 2006.  He was for ten years on the adjunct faculty of the University of Richmond, and served three terms on the AGO National Council.

ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY and SOURCES

Callahan, Charles. The American Classic Organ: A History in Letters.

            Richmond:Organ Historical Society, 1990.

______________ . AEolian-Skinner Remembered: A History in Letters.

            Minneapolis: Randall Egan, 1996.

Two volumes of letters, commentary, shop notes, and photographs which chronicle the history of the Skinner and Aeolian-Skinner Organ Companies.  Aeolian-Skinner Remembered also has essays and reminiscences by Donald Harrison’s son and other former A-S employees.

Diapason, The.  Arlington, IL, Scranton Gillette Communications, Inc.

Feller, Richard T., and Fishwick, Marshall W.  For Thy Great Glory.    Culpeper, VA: the Community Press of Culpeper, 1965, 1979.

A history of the construction of the Cathedral.

Workman, William G., and Dirksen,Wayne, comp.

The Gloria in excelsis Tower Dedication Book.  Washington Cathedral, 1964.  Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: R64-1214, with recording.

Contains the complete orders of service for the Dedication of the central tower on Ascension Day, 1964, together with the music commissioned for the occasion.

“Guide to Washington Cathedral, A.”  The National Cathedral Association, 1965. Library of Congress Catalogue Number 25-2355.

Contains much information and photographs about the Cathedral’s music and organs, including a stop list of the organ at that time.  Also contains information about the College of Church Musicians.

“Guide to Washington Cathedral, A.”  The National Cathedral Association, 1953.

Contains a photograph of the original Ernest M. Skinner and Son console, and other information on the organ also available in the 1940 edition.

Kinzey, Allen, and Lawn, Sand, comp., E. M. Skinner / Aeolian-Skinner Opus List. Richmond: Organ Historical Society, 1997.

Opus list and notes on the Skinner Organ Company, Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company, Ernest M. Skinner and Son Organ Company, and organs built by Carl Bassett, Skinner’s foreman.

Morgan, William.  The Almighty Wall: The Architecture of Henry Vaughan.  New York: The Architectural History Foundation, 1983.

Biography and analysis of the work of the noted architect, who was the first architect of Washington Cathedral and architect of Serlo Organ Hall, now known as Methuen Memorial Music Hall.  Includes an entire chapter on the patronage of Edward Searles in Methuen.

“View Book of Washington Cathedral, A.”  The National Cathedral Association, 1940.

Contains information about and photographs of the new organ.

Roy Perry Papers.

Files pertaining to the building of the Cathedral Organ 1973-76, consisting of correspondence and technical data.  In the possession of the author.

Liner notes on recordings of the Cathedral Organ 1964-1976.

Web sites:

Aeolian-Skinner Archives  http://aeolian-skinner.110mb.com

Opus lists, notes, and photographs of organs built by the Skinner Organ Company, Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company, and Ernest M. Skinner and Son Company.

Vermont Organ Academy http://www.vermontorganacademy.com

Writings and photographs of Roy Perry from the archives of First Presbyterian Church, Kilgore, Texas.

“Aeolian-Skinner Legacy” series of recordings.

Washington National Cathedral http://www.cathedral.org

Music pages include information on the Cathedral organs.

 


[1] Charles Callahan, The American Classic Organ: A History in Letters (Richmond:Organ Historical Society, 1990),                                                             63, 110.

Charles Callahan, AEolian-Skinner Remembered: A History in Letters (Minneapolis: Randall Egan, 1996), 1.

[2]  Aeolian-Skinner Archives.  http://www.aeolian-skinner110mb/com. (accessed 16 September 2008).

[3] William Morgan, The Almighty Wall: The Architecture of Henry Vaughan (New York: Architectural History Foundation, 1983), 146.

[4] This company continued well into the 1980s, first under Skinner’s foreman Carl Bassett, and later John J. Bolton, as a supplier of pitman chests to the trade and as a maintenance firm in the Boston area. It supplied new chests for the 1973-76 work in Washington Cathedral.  It has since gone out of business.

[5]Allen Kinzey and Sand Lawn, comp., E. M. Skinner / Aeolian-Skinner Opus List. (Richmond: Organ Historical   Society, 1997), 207.  Aeolian-Skinner Archives.  New York City Chapter AGO: The New York City Organ Project. http://nycago.org/Organs/NYC/ (accessed 18 September 2008)

[6] A-S Opus 1248.

[7] The entire letter is in Callahan AEolian-Skinner Remembered, p. 94, and in the Roy Perry Papers in the possession of the author.

[8]  “The Williams Family of New Orleans: A Life of Installing Aeolian-Skinner Organs” Interview with Nora Williams.  The Diapason, May 2006.  Also on the website of Vermont Organ Academy, http://www.vermontorganacademy.com/assests/textDoc/NoraInterviewRev.htm (accessed 9 September 2008).

[9] Callahan, The American Classic Organ, 433.

[10] Roy Perry’s files also referred to the 1973-76 work informally as 883-A.

[11] The 1940 Cathedral guidebook states that in these galleries there would be “accommodations for a concealed orchestra of sixty pieces and a choral group of about 120 voices.  Here it is planned to give the famous oratorios at regular intervals.”  This is no doubt a reference to the emerging Cathedral Choral Society, but to my knowledge they never presented their concerts from these galleries.

[12] Callahan, AEolian-Skinner Remembered.  The exchange of letters surrounding the creation of this stop begins on page 288 and provides a glimpse into the involvement of clergy, administration, donor, architect, and organbuilder, and invites the question, “will future historians have such a wealth of documentation in this electronic age?”

[13] Paul Hume, “Organ-ized Sounds at the Cathedral,” The Washington Post, 4 July 1976, H1.

[14]  Callahan, AEolian-Skinner Remembered.  The correspondence regarding the rebuilding of the organ in St. Bartholomew’s Church, New York—a project similar in scope and cost to the Cathedral job—in the last days of A-S’s existence begins on p. 378.

[15] Roy Perry Papers. This is the figure Perry quotes in his proposal, although the math comes to $5,775.

[16] These names on the 1958 console reflect Whiteford’s penchant for French nomenclature in the Swell division.  Ernest Skinner’s stoplist called these stops Muted String Ensemble, Aeoline and Unda Maris, and Vox Humana.

[17] The others are in A-S Opus 1173, First Presbyterian Church, Kilgore, Texas; Opus 1452, Central Union Church, Honolulu, Hawaii; Opus 1476, First Baptist Church, Chattanooga, Tennessee; Opus 1498, First Presbyterian Church (now First-Trinity), Laurel, Mississippi; and Opus 1485, Church of the Epiphany, Washington, D. C., which Perry undertook in 1977.

[18] Memo from Richard Dirksen to Cathedral Foundation, March 1975.  Roy Perry Papers.

[19] Measuring Worth. http://www.measuringworth.com (accessed 24 September 2008)

[20] The reader is referred to Volumes IV and V of “The Aeolian-Skinner Legacy” series of recordings on the Vermont Organ Academy label.  http://www.vermontorganacademy.com

[21] Roy Perry Papers.

[22] Roy Perry Papers. Bolton and Bassett are the correct spellings.

[23] A-S Opus 150-A, 1953.

[24] He died in 1986 in his 101st year.

[25] The 32’ Bombarde heard in on Volume X was borrowed from First Baptist Church, in nearby Longview, Texas, Opus 1174. Kilgore got its own 32’ Bombarde in 1964.

[26] A recording exists of Perry playing this piece this way on the Kilgore organ on Volume IV of the “Aeolian-Skinner Legacy” on the Vermont Organ Academy label.

[27] Callahan, The American Classic Organ, 398.

[28] Violoncelle II in the Sowerby Swell, and Viola Pomposa and Celeste in the Choir.

[29] A-S Opus 1119, complete with Willis Tubas in the Solo, at the request of Ernest Willoughby, the English organist of the church at the time the organ was built.

[30] A-S Opus 909.    Roy Perry Papers.

[31] A-S Opus 1432.  Roy Perry Papers.

[32] A-S Opus 1485.  Roy Perry Papers.

[33] Roy Perry Papers.

Revised as of 10/3/11

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Roy Perry, Paul Callaway, and the Washington Cathedral Organ

  1. Robert Tate

    FABULOUS ARTICLE!

  2. Pingback: Roy Perry: Musician and Organ Builder | Neal Campbell--Words and Pictures.

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