Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Why No Pipe Organ at College Church?

It's one of the most beautiful churches in St. Louis. It's on the campus of St. Louis University. Lots of people have their weddings there; and, for the most part, a church wedding without a pipe organ is nowhere near as impressive as one accompanied by wonderful organ music.

So how is it that such a wonderful church has no pipe organ? There is the place in the building that is designed to house organ pipes. But there are no pipes and there is no organ. Do you know the story about what happened?

The answer says a lot about the utilitarian ways of St. Louisans.

7 comments:

Brent said...

There once was a wonderful Kilgen pipe organ, and some of the world's best organits, such as Marcel Dupré and Charles-Marie Widor came to St. Louis to perform on it. It was a large, warm, romantic instrument. Then during renovations in the 1980s an organist who favored a more classical style instrument managed to convince church to remove the organ and hoped to have it replaced by an instrument built by the Holtkamp company in Cleveland. However, once the renovations were complete, there were no funds left for the organ. There have been church staff members that have worked to replace the instrument, but they have not been successful or have moved on before they could accomplish the goal.

Rick Bonasch said...

Thanks Brent for your post. I heard a different version. It went like this.

The original organ in College Church was a fantastic organ, one of the best in the country. However, eventually, through normal wear and tear and lack of upkeep, it stopped working. It sat unplayable for years.

So, perhaps, as you say, during a time of church renovations, workers started dismantling the organ. They were loading the pieces into dumpsters on Grand Avenue. They had the whole thing pretty much torn out of the building when someone found out was happening and tried too late to stop them.

The man asked, "What are you doing!!!???" To which the workers replied, "We're taking out the old organ. It doesn't work anymore". Shaking his head, the other man just walked away and that was the end of it.

Talking recently with a friend familiar with the story. He told me in 2010 dollars, the cost to rebuild the old organ would have been about $250,000. To replace it new would cost about $3,000,000 - $4,000,000.

College Church is not a wealthy parish, so for many years now it's had neither a rehabbed old organ or a new one.

I wonder if anyone can verify this version of the story?

Brent said...

That is true, Rich, the organ was being thrown out and destroyed without much discussion, I have friends that retrieved some of the stopkeys from the dumpster. There was an organist there who did want to see the thing go and be replaced by something more "modern", and took advantage of the opportunity to have the old one removed.

The prices are probably right. Third Baptist has a very similarly sized instrument that is currently being rebuilt and expanded. It's a hefty price to rebuild an instrument, but to build new an exact copy of one of these lush, old instruments would be well over $1 million. $3-$4 million, I'm not sure, but organs are like houses, you can build them as big as your budget and spend as much as you want.

For as visible as the church is and as much use as it gets, it's sad that nobody at the university has managed to find the funds to put a suitable instrument into that beautiful building.

Anonymous said...

What does this post have to do with the "utilitarian ways" of St. Louisans?

Rick Bonasch said...

Utilitarian in that if something doesn't work, you throw it out in the dumpster.

MB94128 said...

This is a sad piece of history. The pipes and the console could have been salvaged for use by another church or a music school (e.g. one with an organ repair program or budget). I wonder if they at least had the good sense to have the requisite conduits kept intact / put in during the remodel. The absence of those conduits would mean that an organ installation (new or refurb.) would cost way more money.

Anonymous said...

I heard a different story -- the church had an organ consultant and there was the intention of replacing the organ. Cost to refurbish was est. at around $400,000 for an "old" instrument that was on "too high of wind pressure" and was not designed for "congregational singing", while a new would be $650,000. However, what was missing was the history of the Kilgen in that church, and the fact that the replacement instrument would be a mere shadow of the great instrument that was once there. The console at the time was NOT the original console that was played by Vierne and Yon, etc. However, the gallery organ was playable up until the time it was removed -- some parts were removed by some builders (don't know who) before the rest was discarded. Then, after the Kilgen was removed, the church was told there was no $$ for a replacement organ (the building is owned by the Univeristy, which conducted the fund-raising for the renovation of the church). I think many felt duped.......