The tracker-action pipe organ at First Congregational Church, Branford, CT was a significant addition to the organ world of northeastern United States when it was installed in 1969, and remains one of the largest instruments in the northeast United States by the noted Dutch builder Dirk Andries Flentrop. It followed the organ at Harvard's Adolphus Busch Hall (then the Busch-Reisinger Museum), made famous by the recordings of E. Power Biggs, and takes its place among Flentrop Orgelbouw installations at Duke University, Oberlin College, and the Episcopal cathedrals of Seattle and Cleveland.
Like all Flentrop organs, it follows classical principles of organ building from the 17th and 18th centuries in being housed in a free-standing case with the largest pipes of the Principal family of stops, the Prestants, from each of the two manuals and pedal placed in the façade, and in having direct mechanical key action and slider windchests.These all promote a colorful and blended sound and afford the player sensitive control over phrasing and articulation. The design of the mahogany case helps delineate the sounds of the three divisions of the organ, with the Hoofdwerk(main work) placed in the center at the rear of the gallery, the Rugwerk (literally "back work," or to the backof theorganist) placed on the gallery rail closer to the listeners, and the Pedaalsplit to either side of the Hoofdwerk. The spatial differentiation of the various sounds created by this placement are a hallmark of northern European organs from the baroque period. The decorative moldings and hand-carved pipe shades and gold leaf embellishments pick up timeless shapes allowing a visual connection to the organ's baroque heritage while blending artfully with the architecture of the meeting house.
The key action is entirely mechanical, the organist's fingers directly opening the valves beneath the pipes through a system of levers and thin wood connections called trackers. This ancient system gives the organist intimate control over the speech and release characteristics of the pipes, for sensitive control of musical phrasing and articulation, and through careful design and construction, promises longevity measured in centuries.
The stop action is electric with a combination action to allow the player maximum flexibility in controlling the many tonal colors of the instrument. In the renovation a new solid-state combination action with two hundred levels of memory and an increased number of control pistons was installed for recall of numerous stop combinations, along with new actuators for the windchest sliders using simple and long-lived solenoids instead of the original electric motors.
Our organ is unusual in being very large for having only two manuals, giving it a completeness and flexibility rarely found in such organs. Particularly notable are its beautiful flutes and variety of reed and mutation stops, stops whose pipes sound off-unison pitches to create new tone colors.
The four major families of organ tone, principal, flute, string and reed, are all well represented in this organ. The principals are the foundation stops of any fine organ, a sound unique to the pipe organ. Choruses of these principals (prestant, octaaf, sesquialter, mixtuur, scherp),representing the higher harmonics of the sound, are present on both manuals and pedal. The tonal essence of the organ springs from the rich and articulate quality of these pipes, with their clear speech under sensitive control of the mechanical key action.
Flute stops, of a mellower tone somewhat imitative of recorders and flutes, appear in many varieties and pitches on the three divisions. New, following the renovation,istheViola, a stop from the string family. Though it is the quietest stop in the organ, constructed particularly with vocal accompaniment in mind, it combines with other stops of the Hoofdwerk to make new and delicately subtle colors.
Our organ's reed stops are quite varied, ranging from the strong Trompets and Bazuin (Trombone),to the sweeter Cromorne and Dulciaan, ancient forms of the clarinet. The Vox Humana is new, modeled after 18th-century Dutch stops, which attempted to emulate the human voice.
The Flentrop pipes (numbering more than 3400) are made from alloys of tin and lead and some from mahogany, encased in four towers of African mahogany. The façade pipes contain a high percentage of tin, with interior pipes ranging in the tin content from 20% to 75%. The organ is tuned in equal temperamentand is winded by a centrifugal blower installed in the base of the main case which feeds pressure regulators built into each wind chest. The new Cymbelster (bell star), comprised of six small bells similar in quality to our handbells, and a rotating star in the middle of the Rugwerk case, add a festive touch to the organ.
When it was installed in 1969, the Flentrop organ represented the highest level of organ building in the classical style, and it has served the Branford congregation with distinction for thirty-five years. Former Director of Music, Kenneth Rudolf, pointed out several years ago that after such time a general cleaning, repairs to the largest façade pipes and several reed stops, and replacement of small connector links in the key action were needed, along with replacement of the electric slider motors, which had proven somewhat unreliable. His leadership initiated the process leading to the renovation completed in July of 2004.
Building on vastly expanded scholarship and experience in organ building since 1969, Flentrop Orgelbouw has greatly enhanced the tonal quality of the organ during this renovation. Newly-revoiced principal pipes, about 1240 of them, now have a mellower and more articulate sound, and blend superbly in chorus. Among the reed stops, the Bazuin, the two Trompets, and the Dulciaan were rebuilt and voiced for more fullness and for greater tuning stability. Along with the new Viola and Vox Humana, this tonal work greatly enhances the color and tonal flexibility of the organ, while matching its sound more harmoniously to the acoustics of the room. New solenoid slider actuators, along with the solid-state combination action, are designs which have been proven reliable over many years.
The Branford congregation has been served well by artisans from the United States and the Netherlands during this renovation. Richard Houghton and his assistants upgraded the stop and combination actions in a way that blends seamlessly with the original construction. Cees van Oostenbrugge, managing director of the Flentrop firm, entrusted this project to Frits Elshout, deputy director and tonal supervisor. Mr. Elshout worked closely with former Director of Music, Kenneth Rudolf, former Minister of Music and Pastoral Care, the Rev. Kathryn Nichols, and consultant, Mark Brombaugh to develop the overall plan, supervised all stages of the work and personally voiced all of the reeds and the new Viola. The flue voicing was done by Dick Koomans. It is of prime interest that Mssgrs. Oostenbrugge, Elshout and Koomans are all accomplished organists. On the final day of voicing Frits Elshout and Dick Koomans gave a lively demonstration of the organ to members of the Branford community, Koomans playing examples from the great organ literature and Elshout treating us to a superb improvisation on the Genevan psalm tuner endezàdieu.
Crucial to the success of this task has been the tireless work of the Organ Committee, chaired by Margaret Hampton, and the generous financial support of the church family. First Congregational Church has been blessed to have such a skillful and dedicated team carrying out this project.
Mark A. Brombaugh, consultant
Flentrop Organ Specifications
Prestant 8 I-II
Vox Humana 8
Fluit 2 + 1
RW/HW HW/PD RW/PD
Cymbelster with rotating gilded star
Balanced Mechanical Key Action
Solid-state combination action (200 memory levels)
The History of the Organs of First Congregational Church
First Congregational Church built its fourth and present Meetinghouse in 1843, and our first organ was installed in 1847. Pumped by hand, and with tracker action similar to our current Flentrop, it gave way to a larger organ in 1869 built by the renowned Boston firm of E. & G.G. Hook. In 1938 this organ was extensively (and unfortunately) rebuilt by the Hall Organ company of West Haven, who discarded the splendid slider action wind chests and replaced tracker with electro-pneumatic action. This action, then in vogue, had the advantage of allowing the console to be placed at some distance from the organ itself. More complex in design, it proved less reliable in function and costly to maintain. More important, organists were no longer able to sense with their fingers the actual release of wind pressure into the pipes, and hence lost subtleties of control and tone. Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the celebrated organist, medical doctor and missionary, did much to rekindle international enthusiasm for tracker action organs, enclosed in shallow, reflective cases, using low wind pressures and classic scaling and voicing techniques for the pipes.
In 1965 Dr. George E. Becker, knowledgeable member of our church's MusicCommittee, organist and orthopedist, began the process of engaging the congregation in discussion of the organ's inadequacies in tone and structure. This ultimately led to a decision to commission a 33-stop tracker action organ from Dirk Flentrop Orgelbouw of Zaandam, Holland which was the best possible musical solution for the congregation's needs at the time. Installed in the summer of 1969 the organ has served the congregation admirably. Now, equipped in 2004 with renovations and additions, it will continue to offer its breath in praise of God for countless future generations.
Appreciation must also be noted for our small 3-stop Flentrop organ, installed in the early 1980s, which graces our Walker Chapel and blesses us with its gentle voice whenever services are held there.
May our music always be offered to the glory of God!
For more information on Flentrop organs, please visit the Flentrop Organ Home Page