This is the console or "flight deck" which controls the historic 4-manual, 53-rank W.W. Kimball Masonic pipe organ of 144 speaking stops, 3,863 pipes, and 9 divisions constructed and installed in 1924 for the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Saint Louis, Missouri. Sitting at this control center is comfortable, like playing in half of an enclosed football stadium, well upholstered. The entire organ is fully expressive from top to bottom, supplied with some gorgeous sounds, and equipped with electro-pneumatic action. Forty per cent of the pipework sits on unit chests, the other 60 per cent being on pitmans. The Swell is the largest division with the Choir subordinate to it, the Great can be coupled to the Solo, the Antiphonal plays on the Great, Swell and Pedal keys, and the Echo is a floating division playable from any manual, either singly or on any pair of manuals at a time.
Good organ design is purpose driven, and the tonal design of this organ is about as complex as anything today's organist is ever likely to encounter. During the 1920's, using money that no longer exists, many organs supplied with very similar, if not identical, symphonic/classical/theatre features were built. The well-known Belgian-American organ virtuoso Dr. Charles Courboin served as tonal consultant for this as well as many other organs of the time. Conceived and constructed before the development of amplified sound, this instrument was supplied with Antiphonal and Echo voices placed far from the Main pipe chamber to provide a "surround-sound experience." Along with some very imitative orchestral voices this organ was provided with 6 Diapasons, 6 beautiful celestes, 8 colorful flutes, 2 Tibias, a separate 8-rank string chorus with soft Dulce Mixture, 21 ranks of theatre-style voices, plus many tuned percussions, traps, effects, 11 tremulants, and 22 reeds including 2 Vox Humanas, 2 big Tubas, a Harmonic Trumpet, and a stupendous Pedal Bombarde. Its tonal design is about as complex as anything organists would meet with during their careers.
The building faces south and is constructed with 6 floors altogether which are numbered with respect to floors above the underground Dining Room, which is Floor D when using the elevators. The library/lounge floor is on Floor 1, the auditorium/office/parking garage is Floor 2, mezzanine (3rd floor) level (choir room) is Floor M, balcony (4th floor) level is Floor B, and gallery (5th floor) level is Floor G. The console and choir balcony are situated in the southeast corner of the Auditorium, House Left (Stage Right). High to the left of the console and behind tone grilles situated on the east wall at 4th and 5th floor levels are situated the majority of the instrument's 128 swell shades. The Main pipe chamber is located directly behind these shades. This chamber is 28 feet high, rectangular in layout, widest north to south, and houses most (41 ranks) of the organ's tonal forces.
This Main chamber is entered through a 4th floor door situated at the south end and is home to 3,121 pipes comprising most (81 per cent) of the total pipe count. The swell shades and tone grilles are positioned on the extreme left as the chamber is entered with a solid concrete wall on the extreme right. Windchests for the Great/Choir, Swell, Solo, and Pedal Bombarde are found here along with a variety of tuned percussions, traps, and effects. A full-sized Kimball upright piano electrically connected to the console is situated just inside this entrance door to the left of the walking path. On the the right side of the walking path and situated on a waist-high platform will be found the largest pipes of the Waldhorn, and, behind these, the English Diapason and then the Bombarde which is up against the wall. The 25-inch air reservoir for the Pedal Bombarde is just past that, on the right at floor level, and directly opposite that, on the left side, many of the instrument's traps, percussions, and special effects are situated, with the swell shades and tone grille directly behind them. The pipes and passageboards of the Great and Choir divisions are located on the top section of the 4th floor level above these percussions and traps and are reached through a narrow aperture by means of an equally narrow, nearly vertical wooden ladder. The Choir chest is in front and furthest southwest, just east of which is an offset chest for the Pedal Bourdon (Great Concert Flute). Just south of these 2 chests are the Great front and rear chests. The wooden feet and mouths of the largest pipes of the Great Principal Diapason may be seen by looking upward on the right side. Still further back one finds the stupendous pipes of the bottom octave of the Contra Bombarde all lined up against the east concrete wall. The ladder to the Swell access door, passageboards, and pipes at 5th floor level are located deeper and high up in this chamber as one enters it.
On the way to the blower room one finds on the left side of the walking path the new solid state relay system and on the right side directly opposite is part of the original, now disconnected, Kimball electro-mechanical relay. The 30 hp Spencer blower which provides wind to the entire instrument is furthest back along the east wall behind a closed door which muffles the noise when it's running. The Solo pipes, percussions, and passageboards occupy the deepest parts of this chamber at west-most floor level and sit about 3 feet off the floor. An interior wall running north-south separates the Solo from the blower room, and a separate access door to the Solo was constructed after the organ was installed. Upon entering that door one finds the largest pipes of the bottom octave of the Cello stacked horizontally along the right side with the glockenspiel situated in front of them. To the left of the Solo access door the bars of the Solo Chimes are seen hanging west-most next to the Solo shutters among the pipes of the Melophone, French Horn, and Tuba Sonora. Further back and to the left of an elevated passageboard will be found the diminutive pipes of the "buzzy" Kinura, English Horn, Diapason Stentor, and Cello, with the Tuba Mirabilis situated opposite these on the right and the bottom octave of the Diapason Stentor lined up against the wall in the south.
On the 5th floor level in the Main chamber situated above the blower, relay, and Solo pipes will be found the pipes of the Swell, the largest division in the organ. These are reached by means of another narrow vertical wooden ladder situated just in front of the stupendous 32-foot bottom C pipe of the Contra Bombarde. This ladder takes one from the 4th to 5th floor level in this chamber. Yet another narrow, nearly vertical wooden ladder is provided at the Swell access door for reaching the tops of the largest Contra Bombarde pipes for tuning. Here the smaller Bombarde pipes of metal on the 5th floor level may be seen very high up looking north. Since this chamber is only 28 feet high and the resonators of the bottom octave of the Contra Bombarde are all full length, the 4 lowest wooden pipes (C, C#, D, D#) are mitred at their feet to accommodate their size. The longest metal pipes of the bottom (16') octaves of the Swell Horn Diapason and Viole also are mounted vertically but mitred at their tops near the ceiling for the same reason. The longest pipes of the 32-foot octave of the Swell Tibia Clausa (Pedal Contra Bourdon) are mounted horizontally and stacked along the back wall in this chamber with their mouths closest to the door. The largest pipes of the bottom (16-foot) octave of the Solo Cello situated on 4th floor level are stacked horizontally along the rear wall of the Solo chamber with their tops facing the Solo access door for the same reason.
The Antiphonal chamber is located on the opposite side of the stage at 5th floor level high above the 3rd floor orchestra balcony, House Right (Stage Left). Its pipes speak through another tone grille situated in the north wall of the auditorium about 160 feet from the organist. This chamber is accessed by walking all the way back through a music storage room on the 5th floor of the building, turning left, and entering a southside door. These pipes sit on their chests about 2 feet in the air with the reservoir underneath. Access to this chamber is very cramped with only about one foot of space on the right and even less than that on the left to squeeze through, a task that only a child or very slender technician can manage. Here will be found 389 pipes representing another 10 per cent of the total pipe count. Some of the longest metal pipes of the Viola in this chamber are mitred at their tops.
The rarely seen Echo pipes are situated in a small chamber at attic level midway over the chute entrance to the Auditorium. Echo voices speak through a small tone grille, oblong east to west, built into the ceiling and situated 58 feet above the floor about 80 feet from the organist. These pipes are not easy to get to and have been seen only rarely by relatively few people. Getting to it is intimidating and involves an obstacle course which, if one is careless, can leave a man in good physical condition with a broken neck. It's no stretch to say that the Kimball technicians who hoisted and hand carried all these pipes and parts into this little chamber without dropping or damaging something, who put everything together there, and who actually got it all to work -- every last one of them deserved at the very least an honorable mention in the annals of American organ building. This chamber must be accessed by climbing to the highest row of seats in the southeast end of the auditorium at gallery level -- "the nosebleed section" as some might call it -- mounting a wooden platform in the extreme upper corner of that huge room, unlocking a padlocked door, exiting to an exterior level of the roof, walking north in the open air about 10 yards, then reentering the building through an outside door on the east side, flipping on a light switch, descending 4 wooden steps, then walking about 80 feet along a narrow wooden catwalk in dim light to a very high and narrow, nearly vertical wooden ladder having 15 rungs each about 12 inches wide situated to the left of the catwalk. Keeping one's balance on that catwalk is critical because the strength of the ceiling on both sides of it is unknown, and the weight of a man stepping off that catwalk may cause him to fall completely through the ceiling, resulting in a fatal accident. One then ascends that ladder nearly straight up to a wooden platform at what would be 7th floor level. About a third of the way up that ladder one must duck the head and very carefully step around a large steam pipe and steel cable stretched across the ladder rungs, being careful not to trip and take a bad tumble. Once at the top of the ladder one then walks a few steps north along this platform (in near pitch darkness without a flashlight) to an unlocked door facing east, which opens into the Echo chamber. Here will be found a set of chimes, a tremulant box, and 5 ranks of pipes, 353 in number, representing the remaining 9 per cent of the pipework. The Echo swell shades face south on the right of this chamber. Sound waves from these pipes travel south through these shades and downward through a large rectangular air shaft on a 45 degree angle which then reflect off another 45 degree angle to pass vertically downward and through the Echo tone grille situated in the auditorium ceiling high above the Sound booth. The sound thus has to reflect around 2 air shaft angles which has the magical effect of making all the voices of this division sound much further away than they are.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The term "organ crawl" as organ enthusiasts often use the term refers to a visit by a group of tourists to an important instrument. It is understood in a figurative rather than a literal sense and is very different from what a trained technician must do to gain access to each and every functioning part of the instrument. Pipe organ technicians often find themselves closed in, squeezing through small, tightly constricted spaces to conduct routine trouble-shooting, maintenance, repairs, regulating, or tuning. They often work high in the air in poor light, holding on to a wooden framework with one hand and a flashlight with the other, standing off balance with all their weight on one leg, climbing up and down steep ladder rungs or steps and watching carefully before they move their feet to avoid walking off a passageboard. Certain parts of older wooden pipework frames, from repetitive use over the years for climbing and moving around, may also wiggle slightly and be unstable. There are also electrical issues to consider. What looks to the uninitiated public like simply another pleasant trip to the science museum is a tricky place to move through in which the potential for serious harm is there. Most pipe organs are on 2 circuits -- one for the blower and one for the low voltage power supply. One or both may be 3-phase, 220-volt. We organists DO NOT poke around in the high voltage system beyond the breakers. It can kill us. We should always get a technician or electrician. It therefore goes without saying that making a literal crawl through the pipe chambers of this or any other large instrument requires specialized knowledge and skill, a special awareness of the environment, physical fitness, strength, good balance and eyesight, loose clothes, rubber-soled shoes, and sometimes acrobatic skill to keep from getting shocked or slipping and taking a nasty tumble. This is no touring ground for someone with 1) a fear of being in confined places (claustrophobia), 2) a fear of heights (acrophobia), 3) poor balance or eyesight, 4) bad knees, 5) no leg strength, or 6) can't stand getting pot-black dirty.
The new organist should NOT expect to climb around inside a large pipe organ like this one that's crammed into a minimal space. DANGER LURKS THERE. The floor of the dimly lit Main chamber is in places a tangle of wind lines and wooden frame boards traveling the floor any of which can cause us to trip if we're not very careful where we put our feet; part of the time we may be high above the floor on narrow vertical ladders and walking narrow passageboards in very dim light; the passageboards may flex a bit under our weight; parts of the wooden framework we're holding on to may not be perfectly stable and wiggle a bit; if we don't move slowly and very deliberately with every step we can trip, lose our balance, fall, and easily hit our head or suffer other multiple, serious injuries that could mean surgery and a long hospital stay, provided, that is, that we survive long enough for someone to find us before what's left of our corpse is tagged and bagged for the undertaker of choice or the city morgue. Most of the pipes are made of a thin tin/lead alloy like solder, and they're very soft and easily damaged. We organists are not insured for this. We can create damage without even being aware of it by bumping into a pipe and bending a pneumatic stem or, if the action is mechanical, by dislodging a piece of it. There are situations when some of our training will allow us to fix a problem or at least get something playable, but crawling through the crowded, dimly lit bowels of a large instrument carries a risk even for professional organ technicians. Thus, for safety reasons, the chamber should be secured behind a locked door when unattended. Takeaway: A PIPE CHAMBER IS ... NO PLACE TO KEEP UNSECURED; NO PLACE FOR AN UNSUPERVISED PUBLIC TO TOUR FOR A FEE; NO PLACE FOR YOUNG CHILDREN TO BE LED THROUGH; NO PLACE FOR EVEN INFORMED, CAUTIOUS ADULTS TO EXPLORE AND PHOTOGRAPH -- without 1) KNOWING EXACTLY WHAT THEY'RE DOING, 2) BRINGING A FLASHLIGHT (headlamp-type preferred so both hands can remain free when climbing ladders and walking passageboards), 3) WEARING RUBBER-SOLED SHOES (for better traction on ladders and passageboards), 4) BRINGING A CELL-PHONE, and 5) INFORMING SOMEONE ELSE THAT THEY'RE GOING TO BE IN THERE for a certain time AND WILL REPORT TO THEM WHEN FINISHED. In summer months it's also a very good idea to wear light, loose clothing and bring along a bottle of water; it can get very hot in a building that isn't air-conditioned, and the temperature inside the pipe chamber can get up to 90 degrees. If this sounds like preaching, that's EXACTLY what it is. It's to help keep you, O ye organist, your instrument, and a curious public safe and out of trouble.
The console is flanked on each side by two enormous walls of drawknobs, 158 in number, grouped by divisions on 45-degree-angled jambs. The left jamb, from outside in, controls stops of the Pedal, Swell, and Antiphonal, with the Antiphonal stops arranged from top to bottom in the order of Antiphonal Swell, Antiphonal Great, and Antiphonal Pedal. The right jamb, from outside in, are grouped to control stops of the Solo, Great, and Choir, with the Echo stops situated below those of the Great (the Great division columns were supplied with one blank drawknob, presumably for an optional future addition). The double row of tilting tablets above the left side of the top manual are grouped from left to right to control couplers acting on the Pedal (top) and Swell and Antiphonal (bottom); those in the top row on the right side (L-R) control couplers acting on the Solo, Echo, and Crescendo, and those in the bottom row act on couplers of the Great and Choir.
Wind pressures in this organ are high. Most of the instrument save for 10 special ranks speaks on 10 inches of wind; the Swell Vox Humana and all 5 of the Echo ranks are on 7 inches, the Great Harmonic Trumpet is on 15 inches, both Solo Tubas are on 20 inches, and the stupendous Pedal Bombarde is on 25 inches. With all swell shades wide open, Great reeds drawn with Solo Tubas coupled, and the Pedal Bombarde fully employed, the sound is deafening. A ministering art of performance is required when drawing the stops and operating the swell shoes, much more so than one might expect. With 100 per cent of its tonal forces expressive from top to bottom the decibel gain possible when operating the Master Swell Lock is in fact many times greater than one can expect to find in the average, partly expressive church organ. Gentle opening of the swell shades from the fully closed position is all it takes to bring the sound a good bit closer.
When this rare and precious pipe organ was being constructed American organ building was going through a phase which downplayed the inclusion of independent upperwork in the scheme with the idea that the instrument's tonal structure would not suffer provided that the remaining stops were voiced on higher pressure and generated a greater number of harmonic upper partial tones. A limited number of symphonic organs like this one were specially created in those days to excel at playing transcriptions and to blend with a symphony orchestra without swamping the instrumentalists. These were instruments which had striking individual effects and a necessarily dark-sounding ensemble compared with other organs of equivalent size. This type of instrument was particularly well suited for the performance of arrangements of music not originally written for organ and could even take an entire symphonic score upon its shoulders, if or when required [See menu bar, Photos 3, Development & Design]. Organists seated at this vast machine get the sense that they're not just playing an organ -- they're arranging for and conducting a full symphony orchestra.
This organ is supplied with 11 separate tremulants controlled by drawknobs situated in the stop jambs, and, save for the Pedal, Antiphonal Pedal, and Antiphonal Great, each division is supplied with its own tremolo. The only 3 ranks in the organ which cannot be tremmed are the Antiphonal Diapason, Antiphonal Gemshorn, and Pedal Bombarde. The Swell is equipped with its own divisional tremolo, separate Vox Vibrato, separate Tibia Clausa tremolo, and separate tremolos operating at 2 speeds (fast, slow) for string stops -- thus 5 different tremolos all beating at different depths and speeds. The Solo, besides having its own divisional Tremolo, is supplied with a separate Tremolo for the Tubas. The Echo Vox has always been subject to the Echo divisional tremolo even though the console drawknobs indicate that it has its own separate Vibrato. This was evidently part of the original plan which was never carried into execution by Kimball when the instrument was installed. All of these tremulants beating at different depths and speeds permits an incredible and nearly endless variety of shimmering effects which can be infinitely nuanced by means of coupling and adjusting the positions and movements of the swell shades. The Antiphonal is also supplied with a drawknob for Main Great, Swell, and Pedal Off.
This is an "8-foot organ," meaning that all of its upperwork (with one exception -- the Swell Dulce Mixture) is derived by unification, i.e. by lengthening the wind chests to accommodate extensions of its 8-foot ranks and using this extended compass to derive more speaking stops, all of the same quality and strength of tone, at other pitches. With all of its Pedal stops, save for the Bombarde, wired to play manual extensions this permits an awful lot of organ to be packaged behind a system of swell shades. It's therefore very easy when an organist sits down to an instrument with this much tonal and dynamic spread and this much power, where the tendency to "play out" must be resisted at every turn, to overthink registrations and, if they're not very careful, to end up blasting the audience. The temptation to overdo it with stops and couplers has to be guarded against continually.
Dr. Courboin also was selected to play the first pair of dedication recitals for this organ, and he chose a major Bach work to open each program. This is significant because no independent principal chorus with mixture can be found anywhere in the instrument. He therefore had to contrive a chorus using his ear with judicious drawing of just those stops and couplers which would best approach the plenum sound which Bach knew. To do this one would consider drawing bright-sounding, not too assertive 8' Diapasons (Great English Diapason, Antiphonal Open Diapason, Swell Horn Diapason) along with the 4' extensions of the English and Horn Diapasons, the instrument's 4', 2-2/3', and 2' flutes, and the Swell Mixture; the Echo Corno D'Amour, which is a capped Oboe and the tamest reed in the organ, might also be included for its gentle voicing and good blending qualities. In an organ supplied with an independent principal chorus on the main manual, reeds like this would not take part in the Bach plenum, but in this organ this Echo reed with its gentle spread of harmonic upper partial tones imparts a subtle and much needed luster for this type of music. Any stops with poor blending qualities, any tubby-sounding flutes, tibias, or loud diapasons, imitative orchestral stops, big reeds, and noisemakers like the 64' Gravissima would, of course, remain retired. This foundation might then be further brightened by substantial octave coupling. On this organ, this same registration, or something close to it, would be used for the performance of all fugues -- Baroque, Romantic, Modern, or Contemporary where the whole effect of the music depends upon the clarity of its moving lines. For passages where this organ is called upon to produce its fullest sound the Swell Oboe Horn and/or Posaune along with the Solo Cello might be added for an additional layer of sound [See menu bar, Photos III, Combinations]. Here the tone of the Cello is not absorbed by the Posaune and is voiced with such precision that it almost sounds like a reed. Beyond this the Great Tromba and/or Harmonic Trumpet might be drawn along with the Pedal 16' Trombone and possibly a 32' stop for climactic passages.
Five expression shoes and a Crescendo shoe were provided to this organ. Five sliders placed in the center of the coupler rail gave the organist the freedom to assign expression of any section of the organ to any shoe, in any combination desired. Immediately below these 5 sliders a 10-position lighted panel was placed to indicate the relative degree of opening of these 5 shoes, plus the Crescendo shoe. From left to right these sliders were labeled Antiphonal, Solo, Great/Choir, Echo, and Swell, respectively, as the shoes themselves are labeled. The sliders were named from top to bottom in the same order. This meant that when all sliders were moved to the far left, the expression of each section of the organ remained assigned to its own shoe. When all sliders were moved to the far right position the expression of all 5 sections was assigned to the Swell shoe which then functioned as a Master Swell. A 10-position lighted display for all 5 sections of the organ, plus the Crescendo, was also provided immediately below the sliders to indicate how far each shoe was open. From left to right this lighted display is labeled Antiphonal, Solo, Great/Choir, Swell, Echo, and Crescendo.
These sliders were not working as far back as the 1980's and very probably from much earlier. Today the expression of all 5 sections of the instrument remains on its own shoe with all sliders sitting at the far left position. During the 2011-2014 rebuild, instead of restoring the sliders, the Pedal Separation tilting tablet was rewired as a Master Swell coupler tablet which, when engaged, assigns expression of all 5 sections of the instrument to the Swell shoe. The 10-position indicator lights for the Crescendo shoe are still functioning with as many as 187 individual Crescendo positions possible from the new computer control system. To maintain maximum control of the Crescendo feature however, it's best for the organist to program the Crescendo with only 10 positions to correspond with the lighted display.
Playing on the real McCoy like this also can teach things that electronic substitutes cannot. The manual keys of this organ, for the time being, have lighter spring tension due to there being only one set of brushes per key instead of two, a situation which came about during renovation and has yet to be restored to original condition -- thus, at the present time, less finger pressure is needed to make electrical contact. When that contact is made, it closes a circuit which sends an electrical signal to a small electromagnet, one of thousands in the instrument, to open. This allows pressurized air to enter a wind chest through a very small opening, and the pressure differential causes a leather pneumatic within the wind chest to collapse, thus pulling open the pallets below the pipes one at a time and permitting pressurized air to enter them. When the manual keys are so easy to depress like this the slightest touch or unwanted bump of a key will cause a strange blip of a sound to appear on the listener's radar. This has been a frequent lament among organists especially when intervals of time are separating when the organ must play and the hands are free for fairly long stretches to accidentally bump the manual keys. During such intervals it's been found advantageous with this organ to keep all stops and couplers retired with the Universal (General) Cancel piston and then, right before playing, set the desired combination.
The contract to build this organ, which was agreed upon in December, 1923, was signed 10 years before AGO console standards were codified. That contract called for "Pedals, A.G.O. pattern, corrected scale, concave and radiating." The 1924 Kimball pedalboard of this organ, like those of many other builders of the day including Wurlitzer, is built on a slightly different radius of curvature than the maximum permissible which was settled upon in 1933 for Guild standards (the Guild standard radiation specifies an 8-foot 6-inch radius minimum with 9-foot 6-inches maximum), and this slight difference is noticeable to the performer. This means that, when playing at or near the extreme ends of the pedalboard, today's organist used to a Guild standard pedalboard notices a need to stretch the feet further apart than what seems right. In addition, pipe organ pedal keys are typically equipped with 2 springs, one at each end, but electronic organ pedals generally have only one spring usually located underneath the heelboard. Organists used to practicing heavily at home on an electronic organ are apt to notice a little greater resistance and perhaps a deeper key fall on this pipe organ's pedals than that to which they've become accustomed.
Because of the shadow thrown by the overhead lighting of the console rack, most organists find the row of 8 general pistons ("typewriter" pistons) centered above the Solo manual better for setting their general combos; these are easier to see than the others which lie at a greater distance from the rack and are situated in the shadows of the overhangs of the manual keys. To minimize the creation of accidental, unwanted, strange notes it helps to remember, when using this instrument and those like it, to be very "sure-fingered" and "sure-footed" when we play it.
We are dealing here with a marvel of art and science of a type and quality we are not likely to ever see again in electro-pneumatic organ building -- an instrument with the capacity to barely whisper one moment with a sound that's almost inaudible and roar the next with a clobbering power sufficient to crack a diamond. Between these 2 extremes can be found an ocean of dynamic possibility and an endless mix of timbres. These complex tones speak into an Auditorium of over a million cubic feet of listening space bounded by wall-to-wall carpeting, 3 thousand upholstered seats, and a ceiling and east and west walls covered with brown, sound-absorbing asbestos tile, all of which is non-original with the building. These renovations have reduced the original reverberation field of about 2 seconds down to 0.9 seconds with the full organ, a reduction of over 50 per cent. This can make it a little tough on the organist who has to adapt to such dry acoustics -- changes with involve touch, tempos, changing a written score mentally in terms of chord durations and rests, release of big final chords, etc. -- to get the music to come across in this space. Additionally, the type, number, and placement of microphones needed to record the direct field and reverberant field with equal gain can be tricky and require some experimentation and listening.
An acoustical release, for example, if one were so inclined to use it, could be considered for any big final chord in spread harmony for both hands and pedal, a technique which could provide the illusion of doubling this extremely dry reverberant field and provide a nice "bloom" to the sound when big chords are released. Such decisions however, as always, have to do with artistic interpretation and depend upon prior training and the personal taste of the performer. Organists are all wired differently, and some would never ever, repeat never, consider injecting what's called an acoustical release of large final chords into their playing. What's undeniable however, is that if there ever was an organ installed in a space where an acoustical release stands to benefit the music, it's this one.
In addition to its powerful 32-foot Contra Bombarde voice an unlikely 64-foot Gravissima stop was inserted in this organ. Because the tone of stops of such grave pitch is acoustically coupled to the air in the room, home audio playback equipment generally does not reproduce their sound with quite the same realism. One really has to come to the Scottish Rite and listen to this organ in person to sense the real sonic impact of these stops in this space, which is quite impressive.
This is not an easy organ to play. Those who sit at its keys for the first time find a very large, nearly walk-in console sitting on top of most of its tonal resources with a pair of somewhat powerful divisions situated very far away. This makes it difficult if not impossible for them to do anything other than imagine what musical effects both of these remote divisions are having. They meet with a mix of classical and theatre colors and one of the most complex tonal designs they will ever encounter in their careers. They also notice the Swell, being the largest division in the organ by far, entering into all major ensembles and the magical effect the Echo pipes have on all the other voices. While most organists expect to find in an organ a Great principal chorus with mixture topped by other stuff, they find nothing of that in this instrument -- and, while the octave couplers ordinarily play no part in the ensemble and are only included for color possibilities with single stops, that isn't the case here. While sufficient 8-foot diapason tone is present a synthetic ensemble has to be contrived by using the strings for brilliance along with certain small unified pipes of refined flute tone and octave couplers. The result is dark, smokey, and British-sounding but nonetheless listener-friendly, capable of being listened to for long periods of time. They also find themselves playing in a space unexpectedly dry acoustically for its size with very little "bounce" and discover that touch and tempo must be adjusted accordingly to perform repertoire and perhaps even the score itself changed "mentally" and performed differently all the while gauging what effect the pipes placed at a distance might have on pulling the sound into the room. They also discover the effect wide seasonal temperature fluctuations in the auditorium have on the entire instrument which have it either more or less in tune, like a huge celeste, which make precise tuning difficult, if not impossible ...
And, as stated, the console's manual keys make electrical contact extremely early with almost no key fall and almost no finger pressure required, mostly due to the second set of Kimball brushes in the manual keys never being replaced during renovation. Organists have to be very "sure-fingered" and well-practiced at this console (maybe even avoid wearing shirts with French cuffs which extend well beyond the wrist) to keep down any unwanted strange notes that can intrude themselves and create an impression of sloppy playing when it's nothing of the kind. In short, they learn to play this vast machine within all these parameters in a very special way and to explore its tonal wonders with everything overshadowed by the beauty, joy, and sheer thrilling power of its sound.
Above all, the superb and remarkable quality of engineering, materials, construction, and voicing baked into this organ is quite evident to them. The Kimball Company was the most expensive builder in the world back in its time, rank for rank, because it used only the finest materials and employed some of the most talented chest builders, technicians, pipe makers, and pipe voicers in the world. Organists who play instruments with real pipes are well aware that they never know on any given day or evening what could be out of tune, what could be malfunctioning, or what kind of ambient air conditions may await them (such as a hot day with high humidity), all of which affects the response of the instrument. It goes with the territory, and they're well used to it. But once they learn the special approach this special organ demands, all of what is fascinating and provocative about it will have been met and overcome.