Angelica’s Pipe Organ

“Casavant Opus 2123”

When the Angelica congregation moved ahead to construct its beautiful church edifice at the intersection of Park and Englewood in the early 1950’s, its plans included the installation of a new pipe organ. Various sample instruments were auditioned, and the committee voted to have its new organ built by the venerable Canadian firm, Casavant Freres (Brothers), of Ste. Hyacinthe, Quebec. The J.A. Hebert Company, located in the Detroit area, served as a sales representative for Casavant at the time, and sold and installed an impressive number of Casavant organs throughout the area. The contract for Casavant Opus 2123 was signed in September, 1950 (very shortly after the initial groundbreaking ceremony), with Fred Poneleit signing on behalf of the church. While the design and construction of the new organ were of course first-rate, budgetary constraints considerably limited the size of the new instrument. This resulted in a rather bare-bones specification with only two stops in the Pedal division, limited resources on the Great, and no reed stops whatsoever. The purchase price of the original organ, including a written-in addition of the Chimes, came to only $11,600. There were 15 ranks (sets) of pipes, with 850 pipes in total. Clara Mae Cochran (Prince), Angelica’s first organist, has fondly recounted the care lavished upon the new organ by those responsible in order to have it “just right” for the dedication of the church and the many years to follow.

During the “Project 77” renovation of the Angelica Lutheran Church building and sanctuary, additions were made to the pipe organ. (A small committee had been sent around to listen to various electronic instruments, but was – fortunately! – unimpressed.) The electrical wiring to the console was extended, and various new and used pipes and mechanisms were added in the pipe chambers. One set of original pipes, made of very soft lead-tin alloy, was removed from the organ in order to free up its actions, and was stored in the adjoining attic space; extensive repairs were later required in order to reinstate this useful soft-toned set of pipes. The overall tonal and mechanical success of the additions was poor, at best, and its doubtful that the added parts were ever very useful or reliable. Some parts crudely damaged in the course of the above work were replaced at a later time, and the console was again re-wired to the organ, with the cables routed up the wall and across the ceiling. The unfortunate console was successively color-varnished (incuding the pedal keys!) and then painted brown in attempts to match the church’s new walnut woodwork. The workmanship and effect left much to be desired, our organists and church members alike endured the instrument in its compromised state for nearly 20 years.

David Hufford began as Director of Music/Organist at Angelica in 1996, while he was also completing his Organ Performance degrees at the University of Michigan. He had much experience as co-owner of the Renaissance Pipe Organ Company, Ann Arbor, and it was natural that he set about investigating the history and current status of the pipe organ and making plans to improve it. The organ was experiencing many dead notes in some of the added stops, the expression louvers of the Swell division worked poorly or not at all, and about half of the limited console controls were inoperative. Wind leaked noisily from several mechanisms that had been poorly assembled and/or required replacement, and it was necessary to set the console controls in a certain way when the organ was not being played in order to minimize the sound of escaping wind. Quotes to repair some of the mechanical issues had been received in the past, but were never acted upon, possibly due to lack of funds, a lack of interest, and/or the lack of anyone knowing quite what to do. Certainly, the tone quality of the non-original pipework had nothing to do with the organ’s original aesthetic, and was so strident that the use of these stops routinely drew complaints from churchgoers whose ears had been offended. Something needed to be done.

Anticipating that budgetary concerns would weigh heavily in the feasibility of an organ renovation project, an ad hoc committee was formed with Melanie Flood as Chair, and the congregation was presented with a unique offer: Renaissance Pipe Organ Company proposed to undertake a project to restore and augment the pipe organ on the basis of cost (of materials) plus five percent overhead. Following an open meeting, the project received approval, and an Organ Fund was established. The work was underway! Preliminary plans and designs based on a very modest budget of $30,000 would soon develop into a project of a much more comprehensive and refined nature, always with the intent of rebuilding Angelica’s pipe organ within the context of its original character. Other pipe organs in the area served to inspire the re-design of Angelica’s organ in various ways, among them being the organs at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Detroit and St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church in Mexicantown. The latter, being a 1956 Casavant of similar character to Angelica’s, was also the source of certain measurements and specifications that would be used in the fabrication of new pipes for Angelica. The St. Gabriel’s organ further provided an example of the original builder utilizing certain ranks in capacities corresponding to those that would eventually be implemented at Angelica.

Preliminary work in the renovation project focused on restoring the organ to fully-operational condition. Most of the added pipes and second-hand machinery from the 1970’s were removed, save for the 8’ Trumpet stop which would later be revoiced and relocated to the Great division. Most of the disused pipes were eventually traded for the services of Barry Turley and James Hammann, who assisted in the early work to re-establish wind pressures and revoice the pipes on the new pressures. By late 1999, the Organ Fund had grown enough that it was possible to undertake the installation of new, state-of-the-art electrical systems to operate the instrument. Costing around $13,000 at the time, the new systems were prepared to operate the completed pipe organ according to the preliminary designs. With these systems fortunately being software-based, several revisions to the programming would be made over the course of the ever-evolving project as certain aspects of the design materialized in unforeseen and favorable ways. In early 2000, much of the renovation of the organ console was also completed, including professional stripping and refinishing of its envelope (casework) to match the walnut furnishings of the sanctuary.

Angelica gratefully acknowledges the tremendous support and interest shown by members and friends of the church, whose financial gifts and memorials make the ongoing Organ Renovation possible. Please view our Organ Renovations page for all the updates and changes that are continuing to be made to our wonderful pipe organ.

View the galleries below to see our many renovations along with complete descriptions:

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