That was an excellent summary. I joined St. Thomas Church in 1975 (after
some major upheavals in my life). I then began recording there and they
were very interested in supporting my work.
The organ that was there in 1975 had been rebuilt in the late 1960s
(with ongoing work) by Gilbert F. Adams. There were difficulties with
reliability of some of the Solid State Logic organ note magnet drivers
that Adams installed, so I designed and had manufactured a whole bunch
of replacement ones.
Lawrence Trupiano (who did work at Riverside Church) was there in 1978
when I recorded Judith Hancock for the record.
I have a partial discography of St. Thomas recordings on my website, and
this page contains the ones I made.
The organ specification as of 1978 is here:
There I state:
> The Chancel Organ of St. Thomas Church was originally built in 1913
> by the E.M. Skinner Company of Boston. In 1956, G. Donald Harrison,
> then president of the Aeolian-Skinner Company of Boston, built a new
> instrument incorporating much of the original pipework. Most recently
> [as of 1978] G.F. Adams, Inc, of New York City repaired and rebuilt
> portions of the organ in the years 1967-1970. [A major rebuild took
> place in 1996.]
The text (minus the parts in brackets) came from the Judith Hancock LP
liner notes. The bracketed parts were added when I put up the Web page
As to the Guastavino Tile, at St. Thomas, it was not removed, but rather
sealed. The work begun in the early 1970s by noted New York acoustician
David L Klepper. Many coats of sealant were applied over the years. At
the same time, Klepper designed the pew-back sound-reinforcement system,
itself having gone through many upgrades over the years. I re-amped the
system in the late 1970s.
Guastavino Tile was a remarkable material, allowing large spaces to be
speech-friendly (with detriment to the music).
Emily Thompson discusses some of the firm's work and the St. Thomas
installation in her "The Soundscape of Modernity."
Thompson talks about the "modern marketing methods" of US Gypsum as one
of the factors leading to the demise of Guastavino.
Guastavino tile in multiple varieties was an exceptionally strong
material used in vaulting. I've walked on top of the St. Thomas vault
and lived to tell about it. The acoustic absorption feature was an
There is a wealth of information at:
There is an interactive map at that site and a book here:
And a Spanish exhibition on the New York construction:
Also of note in our discussion, the central "temporary" dome at the
Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC is made of Guastavino tile and
was a solution to how to close in the building before the final
construction of the central tower. I believe it has been there for close
to a century, but don't quote me on that.
On 2015-04-19 6:22 PM, Michael Fox wrote:
> Going even farther into the organ weeds: the original St. Thomas
> organ (E. M. Skinner, 1913) was 77 ranks; the 1956 Aeolian-Skinner
> "rebuild" was 160 ranks, and basically only the pipefront, the
> console shell, and some windchests were retained -- much to the
> chagrin and fury of E. M. Skinner, who was still alive and active
> then. It really was a new organ. It acquired its almost mythic status
> because it was the last organ built by G. Donald Harrison, the
> Englishman hired by Skinner in 1928 as his putative successor.
> Harrison died on a hot summer night in June 1956 after spending the
> day at the church working with the tonal finishers; there was a
> transit strike, so he walked twenty or thirty blocks uptown, and died
> watching television. The changes that were made to the organ not long
> after his death, and again and again through the next forty years,
> were very significant, to the point that today's failing organ is no
> longer considered to be an Aeolian-Skinner. One welcome change has
> been to the building rather than the organ: St. Thomas used to be
> covered with those Guastavino tiles that look like stone and succeed
> in suppressing live sound to a remarkable degree, and St. Thomas used
> to look much better than it sounded. With the removal of those tiles
> -- the same thing happened to Riverside Church -- the room has become
> much friendlier to organ and choral music.Had this been done fifty
> years earlier, the Dupré recording would have been even more
> Michael Fox
> On Sun, Apr 19, 2015 at 1:45 PM, Tom Fine
> <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>> Getting a bit into the organ weeds here ...
>> The St. Thomas Church organ that Richard recorded was somewhat
>> modified from what Mercury recorded in 1957 (and, in fact, in 1956,
>> the organ had been extensively modified from its original
>> construction). There was a roof leak in 1966 that damaged the
>> organ, requiring repairs. And then there was a renovation that
>> somewhat changed the sound. Richard's recording of Ms. Hancock is
>> very detailed, some of the best hearing of what that organ's
>> higher-pitched pipes sound like. It also fits very nicely with the
>> Dupre pieces, because they are thickly arranged (ie many notes
>> sounding in quick succession), and a closer-in perspective prevents
>> the notes from being buried in a muddy echo haze.
>> The St. Thomas organ is being replaced. In fact, in this video the
>> church produced featuring former Newsweek editor Jon Meecham:
>> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6uf2uUzABZQ a dismissive tone is
>> taken toward those who loved the old organ. Note that when Meecham
>> gets talking about the organ, the Mercury Widor recording by Dupre
>> is in the background.
>> I was just in the church on Friday. There is construction going on
>> all over the place. Despite the hustle and bustle on 5th Ave, and
>> the construction, it was surprisingly quiet and peaceful in the
>> chapel. I was happy to see the old organ before it gets ripped
>> -- Tom Fine
>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Richard L. Hess" <
>> [log in to unmask]> To: <[log in to unmask]> Sent:
>> Sunday, April 19, 2015 4:09 PM Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Quality pipe
>> organ recordings
>> I can recommend "Organs of New York, Vol I" Judith Hancock at St.
>>> Church on the HESSOUND label.
>>> Actually, the two Dupré pieces on it were re-released on the
>>> Priory Label out of the UK, but it appears to have gone out of
>>> I have not heard this one:
While this is a Christmas album, recorded by moi at St. Thomas in 1982
>>> --the hiss is organ windchest noise, not tape hiss--the mastering
>>> engineer still tried to remove a bit of it.
It has some nice snapshots of the organ and the noted choir is in good
>>> Both the ProOrgano and the JAV recordings I've heard were good. I
>>> don't know if ProOrgano is still carrying the Dorothy Papadokos
>>> recordings at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, but she did a
>>> great job in that wonderful space. She left since there was no
>>> organ to play after the fire maybe fifteen years ago.
>>> For Theatre organs, the late Tom Hazleton Pipes of the Mighty
>>> Wurlitzer at the San Sylmar organ in California.
>>> On 2015-04-19 1:21 PM, John Schroth wrote:
>>>> Good question - I should have been more specific. Classical
>>>> mostly although I might have an interest in picking up some
>>>> theatre as well.
>>>> Kind Regards,
>>>> John Schroth
>>> -- Richard L. Hess email:
>>> [log in to unmask] Aurora, Ontario, Canada
>>> 647 479 2800 http://www.richardhess.com/tape/contact.htm Quality
>>> tape transfers -- even from hard-to-play tapes.
Richard L. Hess email: [log in to unmask]
Aurora, Ontario, Canada 647 479 2800
Quality tape transfers -- even from hard-to-play tapes.