Grace organ gets a second wind (make that, sixth)

Photos by Andrew McKeon Just some of the 5,000 pipes of Grace Church’s new Taylor & Boody-built Bicentennial Organ.
Photos by Andrew McKeon
Just some of the 5,000 pipes of Grace Church’s new Taylor & Boody-built Bicentennial Organ.

BY ALBERT AMATEAU  |  A deep swelling tone, felt even before it was heard, opened the concert inaugurating the new organ of Grace Church.

The music of the Taylor & Boody organ, with its 5,000 pipes and 75 stops, played by Grace Church organist and choirmaster Dr. Patrick Allen, was gentle as well as majestic. Filling the landmarked church, it was joined by the voices of the combined boys’ and girls’ choirs, conducted by Dr. Barry Rose, a distinguished visitor from England.

“The organ isn’t finished yet but it’s well on its way, and strictly speaking, we heard it played for its first hymn on Christmas Day, and at full power on Easter Sunday. But this is our opportunity to introduce it in a formal way,” Reverend J. Donald Waring, rector of Grace Church, told the more than 300 parishioners and friends at the Friday evening concert on April 26.

The great instrument, The Bicentennial Organ, Opus 65, by Taylor & Boody, Organbuilders, celebrates the 200th anniversary of the founding of Grace Church. The church opened in 1808 on Broadway and Rector St., and moved in 1846 to the Gothic Revival church, designed by James Renwick, on Broadway at E. 10th St.

Reverend Waring paid tribute to the generous parishioners who have taken part in three fundraising campaigns for the new organ (a $3 million project) over the past five years. The current “Adopt a Pipe” campaign is still open to donors.

Of course, the builders, George Taylor and John Boody, were at the concert and at the reception that followed. It was a double celebration for Taylor, who observed his 70th birthday April 26.

“We hope to be finished by June,” said Boody, regarding the completion of the organ, the 65th since the founding of the company in Staunton, Virginia. It took more than three years for Taylor and Boody’s 15 employees to build the instrument, transport it piece by piece to Manhattan and install it in the historic church.

Parts of the organ — the bellows, the wind system and much of the tracker action — usually installed in the visible casework or nearby, are built into a climate-controlled space beneath the chancel floor at Grace Church.

“Some of the trackers [rods connecting the keys of the console to the pipes] run for more than 40 feet,” according to the builders’ brochure. Two miles of carbon fiber — with a self-adjusting key action of wood, plywood, aluminum and nylon — go into the system, along with electronic controls.

Since the Bicentennial Organ is intended to accompany hymns and Grace Church choirs, one set of stops is chosen especially to accompany the boys’ and girls’ choirs.

Moreover, the organ is partly a restoration project.

“We felt it was important to retain the surviving 12, open wood, 32-foot pipes built by E.M. Skinner, which have stood in the gallery since 1907,” the company brochure says. Indeed, the 12 pipes have been “adopted” by a group of donors.

The new organ follows six earlier instruments, counting additions. An instrument built in 1830 by Henry Erben was moved into the new church in 1846. An organ by Hilborne L. Roosevelt was installed in 1876; and in 1902 the E.M. Skinner organ with 89 ranks was installed and enlarged three times. In 1961, a new instrument by the Schlicker Organ Co. was installed.

But by 2007 the Schlicker Organ was beginning to show its age while the great organs of Europe are still going strong after 300 years.

“In the summer of 2007 our choristers traveled to Amsterdam for a concert tour, and there Patrick Allen accompanied their singing on an organ that was not only 400 years old, but a delight to play and hear,” Waring wrote in a welcome to the concert last week.

That was when the planning and fundraising for the new Grace Church organ began.

Allen, organist and choirmaster at Grace Church for the past 13 years, has high praise for the new instrument.

“This beautiful organ is indeed an icon,” Allen said, “reaching beyond time, and by her special nature, reflecting the past, supporting the present and dreaming of the future of this parish.”

“If all goes well,” Waring said, “Grace Church will have no need to convene another Organ Replacement Committee for 500 years.”