Photos 3: Saint Louis Scottish Rite Cathedral Organ




This page is a complete guided photo crawl (photos courtesy of Dr. Keith Tomazi, Dr. Steven Ball, Dr. Steven Monrotus, Alan Haker, Saint Louis Theatre Organ Society, and public domain) through the historic Saint Louis Scottish Rite 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 or have made other significant contributions in service to its cause.  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 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 50 thousand dollars 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 style is one of grandeur and magnificent proportions.  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.  There are 3 main stories of which the great height of the Auditorium permits with 3 mezzanine floors, thus making 5 stories above the 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.  The lobby is 166 feet long and 23 feet wide.  The Auditorium which is entered on this level is 165 feet wide and 130 feet long, and its great height is 58 feet from floor to ceiling.  Its seating capacity is approximately 3 thousand people.  The stage is 98 feet long, 4 feet more than the Hippedrome stage in New York City.  On this stage 480 men in military uniform formation can be placed.  Large curtains hang from the ceiling of the stage having 164 changes of 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 where final instructions are given for the degrees or for the annual installation of officers.  It communicates on one side with the 3rd floor skywalk doors at the rear of the building through which the building is routinely entered via the adjoining spacious multi-level parking garage.  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 hundreds of robes and costumes used in the degrees.

The Lounge and Library may be reached by going down a short flight of stairs from the main entrance.  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 on the lower 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.

A world class, one-of-a-kind pipe organ was tonally designed for this venue in late 1923 by the acclaimed Belgian-American organist Charles M. Courboin and was constructed the following year by the W.W. Kimball Company of Chicago.  The instrument took 8 months to build and was conceived to serve the following multiple functions:  1) to lead the Scottish Rite choir and the singing of seated membership, 2) to provide individual 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 when 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, 52 ranks, and 3,859 pipes distributed among 3 spatially separated chambers.  It was provided with, among other things, a number of highly colored orchestral voices, many orchestral percussion sounds, and some special effects.  Finally, in imitation of the symphony orchestra, everything was fully enclosed behind a system of 128 swell shades thus rendering the entire instrument -- from top to bottom -- flexible and expressive.

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

One's first impression when sitting at its bench is the enormous wall of drawknobs on each side and the wide double row of rocker-tablets across the top.  By having its entire tonal forces situated behind tone grills 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 also 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.  During the Roaring Twenties and quite a while before and after that, the Kimball Company employed some of the finest technicians and pipe voicers in the world.  This machine manifests a quality of construction and a style of organ building that we are 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 color, and some extremely big reeds.  The result is just as responsive as a symphony orchestra while having a range which exceeds it.

NOTE:  Another thing the organist will notice is that the pedalboard is concave but only slightly radiating; it seems to be built on a radius of curvature which is something larger than the maximum recognized as a standard by the AGO (a radius of 8 feet, 6 inches is considered standard, with 8 feet, 6 inches being minimum and 9 feet, 6 inches being the maximum permissible).  Many of the recommended AGO standard console measurements first developed in 1933 were taken from the Kimball builders.  A little practice with this pedalboard is therefore necessary in order for the organist to get a good "feel" for where the pedal keys were built back in the day, as the pedalboard has a little bit less radiation than that to which some players may be accustomed.  This is noticed particulary when the feet approach the extreme ends of the pedalboard where the pedal keys are a little bit further away.

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.  Cool