Our Pipe Organ Project

St. Mark's Reformed Episcopal Church in Rydal PA was built in 1956. The architects and builders used time-tested materials for the interior and exterior of the sanctuary including hardwood floors; plaster walls, and traditional proportions to yield an excellent acoustic for speech and music. There also was foresight to provide chamber space for a pipe organ in the chancel area of the sanctuary.

Several noted musicians served as Organist/Choirmaster including Dr. Walker Taylor (head of music for Abington Schools), Nelson Buechner (Curator of the Wanamaker Organ) and Beverly Flack. Each musician played one or more of a series of electronic organs rather than the fine pipe organ for which the chambers were built.

Recently a donor provided funding for a pipe organ to accompany divine worship. Providence allowed fine instruments to become available at low prices as changing musical tastes or mergers in some churches override stewardship and craftsmanship of previous generations. With the funds, St. Marks is assembling a pipe organ, which matches the liturgical needs of the Anglican musical tradition while supporting the ordered needs of a church organ.

The instrument uses components from three separate instruments. These integrate well tonally due to a historic basis in Anglican Church music and kinship to instruments of the Henry Willis firm. (Willis furnished most of the major cathedral, church and concert organs in Great Britain, including St. Paul's London, Lincoln Cathedral, Liverpool Cathedral, and Royal Albert Hall.)

The Willis lineage continues in the St. Mark's organ.

The largest portion of the organ are the Swell and Choir divisions from Wicks Opus 3241 while the firm was still under the tonal influence of Henry Vincent Willis, who was trained in the firm his grandfather had founded. The Choir division contains mostly soft stops for choral effects, while the Swell division contains equivalents of the orchestra's strings, woodwinds, and brass sections. These divisions occupy the original organ chambers, and are under expression, being made louder or softer by means of a venetian-blind-type device known as "swell shades".

The Great and Pedal divisions serve as the "backbone" of the organ. The pipework was created by the Moller organ company under the direction of David O. Whitelegg, who came to the Moller firm following a long apprenticeship with the Willis firm. His work for Willis included duties as chief voicer at their magnum opus, Liverpool Cathedral, the largest church organ in Britain. The "Whitelegg-era" Mollers are now considered to be among the finest pipe organs ever made in America. St Marks was blessed to receive this instrument which having lost its console, relay, blower, and swell shades, is otherwise intact and is used in its entirety in the St. Mark's organ. This division will be unenclosed on the Gospel side of the chancel, with the 16' Open Diapason pipes on either side of the stained glass window at the back of the chancel.

The Positif division is unenclosed and located on the Epistle side of the chancel. Designed as a "foil" to the Great division, this division was built by the Peragallo Organ Company. Still a family-run business, the grandfather who founded the firm had worked for the E. M. Skinner Company of Boston, MA. The Skinner firm and its successors were the most influential American organ builders of the 20th century, with a tonal pallette grounded in British organ building while adding the best of German, French organs to arrive at "The American Classic" organ, an instrument designed to play church music from any number of countries and periods well. A Pennsylvania native, founder Ernest M. Skinner was greatly influenced by Willis organs, particularly the concert organ in St. George's Hall Liverpool, which had great impact on his own instruments. The Positif division bridges both the Willis tradition and the "American Classic" traditions of pipe organ craftsmanship.

The St Mark's organ, known as the Joyce H. Harvey Memorial Organ at the request of the donor, is being assembled by volunteer congregation members with on-site supervision and design by the current organist/choirmaster (who has had professional experience in organ building), and retains Charles W. Gibson, former assistant curator of the Wanamaker Organ, as Technical Consultant.

The completed instrument will have 5 divisions using a three manual (keyboard) console, with a total of 31 different voices (including struck chimes), 42 total ranks of pipes, and 2734 pipes. Of the sets of pipes, 6 will be available at 16' pitch, the lowest range of the orchestral Tuba and String Bass.

If you are interested in working with the volunteers to help in the assembly or would like to donate to the organ restoration fund, please use the 'Contacts' page.

- By Mr. Bernard J. McGorrey III, Organist & Choral Director