Photos 3: Saint Louis Scottish Rite Cathedral Organ PLEASE SCROLL DOWN

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This page is an extensive and complete guided photo crawl (images courtesy of Dr. Keith Tomazi, Dr. Steven Ball, Mr. Alan Haker, Saint Louis Theatre Organ Society, Scottish Rite Valley of Saint Louis, and public domain) through the historic and unusual Saint Louis Scottish Rite Cathedral Kimball organ -- an acknowledged national treasure.

The sample pages of musical scores appended to these photos represent music written expressly for this instrument and which was dedicated to certain individuals who, over the years, have either helped to keep this organ refurbished and playable through some difficult times, have made other significant contributions in service to its cause, or who have inspired this author in using it.  These scores may be fully previewed, heard with sample audio, or downloaded and printed through the links posted elsewhere on this web site [See menu bar, Free Stuff].

A copy of the original contract for building this organ along with 6 attached pages laying out the specifics of its stops has been included on this visual tour for their historic significance.  The pages attached to the contract have faded with time but are still readable and outline the disposition of the organ.  All of this was drawn up in late 1923 by the Kimball Company in consultation with tonal design consultant Dr. Charles Courboin and the Scottish Rite Association of the Saint Louis Valley.  It seems likely that, during this consultation process, Kimball officials were told that the Association had up to $50K to spend on an organ, since the contract specified that exact amount.  The actual cost came in under that, at $47,805.34, evidently due to the Association anticipating the remaining payments by paying the Company in full and applying the discount specified in the terms or the contract.  

The Scottish Rite Cathedral in Saint Louis was built in 1924 at a cost in excess of 2 million dollars at the time.  It was designed by architect William B. Ittner, and its spacious style is one of grandeur and magnificent proportions.  With its multiplicity of passageways, rooms, and hallways it is in a very real sense the Saint Louis equivalent of the Paris Opera House.  The frontage on Lindell Blvd. is 235 feet with an average depth of 175 feet.  The height from street level to roof is 104 feet.  The great height of the Auditorium permits with a 3rd floor choir balcony and 2 mezzanine floors above that -- one on 4th floor ("Balcony") level and one on 5th floor ("Gallery") level -- thus making 5 floors above Dining Room level.

In passing through the great bronze doors ornamented with emblematic designs and up a short flight of stairs one reaches a spacious lobby or main floor.  It is here that the general offices of the Rite are housed and the entrances to the Auditorium are located.  This main floor is the 2nd floor above Dining Room level and connects with the 3rd floor of the parking garage at the rear of the building via a skywalk.  The lobby is 166 feet long and 23 feet wide.  The Auditorium which is entered on this level is 165 feet wide east to west and 130 feet long north to south, and its great height is 58 feet from floor to ceiling.  Its seating capacity is approximately 3 thousand people.  The stage on the north side or the Auditorium is 98 feet long, 4 feet longer than the Hippedrome stage in New York City.  On this stage 480 military personnel in uniformed formation can be placed.  The stage is supplied with a 50 foot high red velvet curtain (called the Grand Traveler) and 164 changes of priceless, hand painted canvas scenery suitable for the Rite's degree work.

On the east side of the Auditorium is the Candidate's Room, 35 feet by 85 feet long with a height of 25 feet giving a sense of dignity and spaciousness.  The seating capacity is 600 persons.  This room has been the traditional meeting place of the Class and of the officers of the Four Bodies where final instructions are given for the degrees or for the annual installation of officers, respectively.  It communicates on one side with the skywalk doors leading to the 3rd floor of the parking garage through which people routinely enter and exit the building.  On the west side of the Auditorium at floor level are 2 dressing rooms between which is the Wardrobe Room fitted with specially designed cases for housing the hundreds of robes, costumes, and associated paraphernalia used in the degrees.

The Lounge and Library are underground and may be reached by going down a short flight of stairs from the main entrance on Lindell to the 1st floor (above Dining Room level).  The Lounge is open daily for members and visitors.  It is 55 feet wide and 166 feet long with smaller rooms at each end (The Billiard Room, the Card Room, and the Ladies Lounge used by the Scottish Rite Woman's Club meetings, etc.).  The Lounge is beautifully decorated and furnished with restful chairs and tables.

The Dining Room is located further underground on the lowest level (one level below the Lounge), is 101 feet by 230 feet, and can provide for feeding 2 thousand people at tables.  The kitchen is at the rear and is practically a 2 story room.  It is 96 feet wide by 48 feet deep.   Here are assembled cooking and serving equipment sufficient for preparing a full banquet requiring about 3 tons of foodstuff.  This lower level also has a spacious meeting room where the Four Bodies and Preservation Association regularly meet.  The various floors, or levels, are numbered always in reference to this underground Dining Room, thus the Lounge and Library are situated on the 1st floor or level, the Auditorium is on the 2nd floor or level, the choir balcony is on the 3rd floor or level, etc.

A world class, one-of-a-kind concert pipe organ was tonally designed for this venue in December 1923 by the acclaimed Belgian-American concert organist Dr. Charles Courboin and was constructed the following year by the W.W. Kimball Company of Chicago.  The instrument took 8 months to build and was created to fill the following offices:  1) to lead the Scottish Rite choir, support congregational singing, and accompany vocal soloists, 2) to provide individual color voices and effects for the degree work, 3) to blend with a full symphony orchestra, even take an entire symphonic score upon its shoulders if called upon to do so, 4) to perform solo transcriptions of works originally written for piano or orchestra, 5) to perform arrangements of traditional melodies, 6) to perform the standard repertoire in an acceptable, if not stylistic, way, and 7) to even accompany silent motion pictures if called upon to do so, all the while being capable of filling a space of over one million cubic feet with sound.  To do all of this, the instrument was voiced on high pressure and equipped with electropneumatic action, 45 degree angled stop jambs, 4 manuals, 144 stops distributed in 9 divisions, 51 ranks, and 3,907 pipes distributed among 3 spatially separated chambers.  It was provided with, among other things, some beautiful foundation stops and celestes, some highly imitative orchestral voices, many orchestral percussion sounds, traps, and special effects, 12 tremulants, and many theatre-style voices.  A very fine unit theatre organ of 18 ranks which comprises about 3/8, or 37 per cent, of the total pipework is in fact incorporated within the 51-rank tonal scheme of this concert organ.  Finally, in imitation of the grand symphony orchestra, all divisions were enclosed thus rendering the entire instrument, from top to bottom, fully flexible and expressive.

The organist who sits at this vast machine is truly an orchestral conductor.  It was granted citation status for historic merit by the Organ Historical Society (OHS), which is the highest level of recognition the OHS may grant to a rare and precious instrument.  This organ was nominated for this recognition by this author in 2002, and a citation (No. 291) was issued the following year, in 2003.

One's first impression when sitting at its bench is the enormous wall of drawknobs on each side and the wide double row of tilting tablets across the top.  By having its entire tonal forces situated behind tone grilles and a vast number of 128 swell shades which can be operated all at the same time to nuance the music, one begins to realize that this is truly a musical instrument which can express the entire range of human emotion and sensitivity at the touch of a key.  One also gets the sense that playing a pipe organ like this isn't merely an aesthetic experience -- it isn't just something somebody does because they like it -- but it's attached to something sublime, something profound.  It's something that can open the gates of heaven before any and all listeners who have an open heart.  Keeping an instrument like this fully playable isn't merely a matter of giving to a noble project for this space exclusively, but it's something more broad than that.  It's supporting great organ music which spans hundreds of years, and this music will be heard by countless numbers of people, indefinitely into the future.

An organist seated at this instrument is awestruck not merely by its size but by how special it is -- by its beauty, dynamic palette, striking color stops, and that it's voiced to speak with the power of an organ more than twice its size.  When this organ was built the Kimball Company employed some of the finest technicians and pipe voicers in the world.  It manifests a quality of construction and a style of organ building that the Unitied States, and the world, is not likely to ever see again.  Against an ample background of foundation tone and an 8-rank string chorus has been placed a wealth of delicate, ethereal sounds, imitative orchestral string and reed color, colorful flutes, and some extremely big chorus reeds.  The result is just as responsive as a symphony orchestra while having a range which exceeds it.

Organists:  Don't let the rank or pipe count of this instrument fool you.  This is an awful lot of organ.  With every one of its 144 stops including that stupendous Contra Bombarde enclosed, it can raise a crescendo to full organ like nothing you've ever experienced in your life.  You'll find that out very quickly as soon as you start working with it.

Another thing organists will notice is that the pedalboard is slightly different from the Guild standards set in 1933, i.e., it was built on a slightly larger radius of curvature and thus has a little less radiation -- more like a Wurlitzer pedalboard.  A little practice with this pedalboard is therefore necessary in order for the organist to get a good "feel" for where the Kimball pedal keys were positioned back in the day.  For those used to an AGO pedalboard this is particulary noticeable when the feet approach the extreme ends where the pedal keys farthest away seem to require a bigger stretch of the legs to reach them.  It may be necessary to look down at these extreme pedal keys to avoid playing a wrong note [See blog, Looking Down].

People who have not experienced it just do not know what it is like to play a special pipe organ like this at full throttle.  It fundamentally changes you in a way that's difficult to describe.  Save for sitting at another completely expressive pipe organ of this size or larger, there's nowhere else on the face of this earth where one human being can be seated at an instrument and have this amount of tonal spread and this amount of power.  It's the top.

Donations made to benefit the ongoing maintenance of this Auditorium's national treasure of a pipe organ aren't simply to benefit this space exclusively, but it's something much more broad than that.  It's supporting great organ music which spans hundreds of years -- music which will be heard by countless numbers of people, indefinitely into the future.

REQUESTS FOR CD OF COMPOSITIONS WRITTEN FOR THIS ORGAN

(SUGGESTED DONATION $20)

MAY BE MADE TO:

Saint Louis Scottish Rite Cathedral

3633 Lindell Blvd.

Saint Louis, Missouri  63108

Phone:  314 - 533 - 7410

Fax:  314 - 533 - 7412

Email:  vgoede@scottishrite-stl.org

THIS MUSIC WAS WRITTEN

WITH THE SOUND OF THIS INSTRUMENT IN MIND

Proceeds from this CD are being given to this Saint Louis Kimball pipe organ's perpetual maintenance fund