The Organ and its Restoration

Two hundred four years ago, in a German-speaking town in the North Carolina backcountry – in the wilderness, in a town with less than two hundred inhabitants, the church officials received a piece of technology so complicated and so large that it can best be compared to a present-day supercomputer. There was nothing like it in North Carolina. The closest devices like it were in two of the largest cities in the new country: Philadelphia and Charleston. If you’ve been listening to NPR recently you know that It was a pipe-organ, and not just a few penny whistles in a box but a huge instrument sixteen feet high, with 644 pipes, two manual keyboards, and a pedal keyboard. The elders ordered it from a fellow Moravian, David Tannenberg, living in Lititz, in Pennsylvania. He was too elderly to make the trip south, although he was to live and work for another four years, so he sent his son-in-law Philip Bachmann, also a successful organ builder, with many of the most crucial parts already made, and with the tools necessary to make the case and finish the project.

This is the oldest organ in North Carolina, the only surviving two-manual organ from Tannenberg’s output of 40-odd instruments, and in many ways one of the most intact American organs from the eighteenth century.

That such an expensive and sophisticated device should turn up in the backwoods goes along with almost everything else about the Moravian community in Wachovia. That the organ should survive today is both absolutely Moravian-typical and a major miracle, for in 1910 the Moravians decided to retire the Great Organ and replace it with a more fashionable instrument. So laborers were sent to dismantle the organ. The records suggest that at first the Church leaders intended to scrap it. But at the last minute (the Moravians being Moravians) someone decided it should be stored in an attic. So at very considerable labor, it was schlepped up three flights of steps to the Boys’ School attic and piled up. It was not packed up, just stacked up. Over the intervening years it was moved from attic to attic and to basements several more times. One of the pedal tower tops was mounted on the ceiling in a museum with some pictures of the instrument. All of the front pipes and many of the interior pipes got trampled flat. Between 30 and 35 years ago, I saw the organ disassembled in the basement storage at The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA), just when people were beginning to realize that they had a treasure, even if there were many impediments to its ever being anything but silent bits and parts in the dark recesses of a museum study collection.

But by 1998, many people were in agreement that the organ needed to be investigated and displayed. The sensitive organ-building firm of Taylor and Boody was called in to assemble as much of the organ as possible in a gallery at MESDA. And suddenly the pot began to seethe. Lots of decisions were made. Lots of money was raised. Lots of hard work was begun, and the restoration was under way. Those aforementioned trampled pipes were carefully restored.

A decision was made to purpose-build a suitable hall for its location, display, and use. A splendid room, carefully designed first and foremost to approximate the size and acoustics of the organ’s original home, was incorporated into the new visitor center of Old Salem.

In the meantime, Taylor and Boody were at work, and the organ was played publicly for the first time in 94 years on March 19, 2004. Its survival and restoration are truly remarkable. Two examples will suffice. When the organ was removed in 1910, it was still winded by its three original human-powered bellows. The bellows were already in the attic of the church, they were very heavy, and the stairs were narrow, so there they stayed; I saw them there over twenty years ago, in a visit with the Massachusetts organ builder Fritz Noack. We clapped a board over the sawed-off wind trunk, heaved on the huge levers, and raised the wind. Not bad for equipment that had only had one overhaul since 1800! They’ve had another overhaul now, and stand in a room adjacent to the organ. The first concert was completely hand-pumped by Taylor, Boody, and members of the restoration team. And when Taylor and Boody were assembling the organ in 1998, they discovered that 145 crucial pipes were missing. MESDA Vice President Paula W. Locklair led a hunt to the attic of the Boys’ School. Under the eaves were burlap packages containing the missing pipes….

The Organ Considered Musically

After all the hoopla, if the organ had been a dud, nobody would have been surprised if the king’s ministers had still ooh’d and aah’d. And if you went to hear the organ with any expectations at all, you might be disappointed, because it’s not a Schnitger sound-alike, or a Clicquot sound-alike, or a Cavaille-Coll sound-alike, or even a Möller or Allen sound-alike. It is unlike any organ I’ve ever heard, although it’s unmistakably an organ, and a beautiful one. (I am told that it is rather like the old organs of Saxony, a style not familiar in this country.)

NC backcountry Indians, upon hearing an earlier, smaller Tannenberg at Salem, were convinced that there were children shut up in the case, children who sang when stimulated by the keys. That’s a very good way to describe the Great Organ. It’s like being right in the choir loft with a church choir, well-trained to sing with each other, but without a “professional” voice among them. Most modern organs, by comparison, might be said to sound like a bunch of very highly finished professional voices, heard from a distance. The Great Organ is the most “organic,” “living,” “human,” singing, tender and lovely organ I’ve ever heard.

This is very much in line with what the Moravians wanted, for as we learned in the symposium on March 19 and 20, Tannenberg actually built in different styles for Moravians and Lutherans. Tannenberg’s “Lutheran” organs have mixtures and mutation stops, are brighter, and are much more suited to solo organ music. Moravians preferred vocal and concerted music, viewed the organ as an accompaniment and chamber instrument, wanted a “lieblich” sound, and had no use for mixtures and mutations. (The symposium speakers were Bruce Shull, project manager, and other members of the Taylor and Boody firm, plus Ray Brunner, Daniel Crews, Laurence Libin, Barbara Owen, and Kristian Wegschneider. Nola Reed Knouse was scheduled to speak, but the Friday session was disrupted by a power failure. If Knouse spoke, I missed it.)

The Great Organ has another interesting feature – lots of transient attack sound combined with an interesting action. The Tannenberg has rather stiffer springs than might be thought appropriate, but they provide a touch and a range of sound as broad as a clavichord. I heard several people at the symposium describe the Tannenberg as “a large winded clavichord” or “a clavichord with a bellows.” When a softer sound is appropriate, the performer can actually obtain this by pressing the keys part way down, or letting them up from their deepest. Organs partaking of the North German style have a tonal phenomenon called chiff, from the sound that a pipe makes when air is introduced into it. It is a rather harsh chopping noise that the player can control by pressing the keys sharply or slowly. But the Tannenberg would only be said to have “chiff” by those with the coarsest sensitivities. The Tannenberg sighs and breathes and sighs, all quite gently, but in a most human way. The contrast is the same as between a synthesizer and a husky-voiced jazz singer.

Peter Sykes’ Recital

The program:

  • Nine Preludes for Organ (1806) by Christian Ignatius Latrobe (1758-1836)
  • Ein Stück für einer Orgelwerk in eine Uhr, K. 594 by W. A. Mozart (1751-91)
  • Salem Sonata (2003, world premiere) by Dan Locklair (born 1949)
  • Sonate für zwei Klaviere und Pedal by Georg Phillip Telemann (1681-1767)
  • Sonate VI in g minor, Wq. 70.6 by Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach (1714-88)
  • Praeludium et Fuga in C pro Organo pleno by Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713-80)

I cannot imagine a performer better paired with an instrument than Peter Sykes and the Great Organ. He brings his well-known delicacy of touch worthy of the clavichord. He adds his own sense of drama and romance. He accepts with aplomb the tremendous idiosyncrasies of the instrument. The highly-critical audience (there must have been fifty professional organ builders and seventy-five professional organists in the room) hung on every note he played, jumped to their feet with the first handclap, and brought him back for a real encore, the second movement of the Locklair sonata.

The organ was organic, living, breathing; the pipes and wind were constantly interacting.

The four numbered movements of Locklair’s Salem Sonata, commissioned for this event and premiered Friday night, are associated with lines from the Moravian hymns and prayers used during the original dedication service and the service at which the organ was last played in 1910. Perhaps the composition might have been a little different if Locklair had been able to have several years’ access to the organ, but it is a totally successful piece.

I. “…to thee our cordial thankfulness…” was peppy, with flourishes, rising scales, and lots of forte-piano-forte manual changes. The repetitive notes took full advantage of the flexible wind supplied by the three hand-raised 4 x 8-foot wedge bellows. The ending was fast and abrupt.

II. “Hallowed be Thy name” was slow, very contemplative, dark, and in the lower keyboard range. Sykes chose eight-foot stops to emphasize these qualities. Sykes made the piece sound like a brilliant improvisation. This is the piece Sykes chose for his “real” encore.

III. “…We owe Thee thankfulness and praise…” was highly lyrical. It begins with a chorale theme clearly stated, followed by fanfares mixed with broken and legato playing, three very strong contrasts on this expressive instrument.

IV. “…Let His work your pleasure be…” was very complex, mixing the themes of “work” and “pleasure” in a strongly rhythmic dance with forceful Reggae overtones.

The other great playing among so much good playing was to my ears the central Adagio in the C.P.E. Bach. Although this is an organ piece, Sykes was able to evoke the clavichord to the point that I fancied I could almost hear the Bebung , so precisely delicate are his fingers joined with Tannenberg’s action and voicing. The final Allegro of the Bach had several exquisitely-heartstopping fermatas.

So great was the demand for tickets that the recital was played twice, once at the originally-scheduled time (8:00 p.m.) for those who had concert tickets only, and at 5:00 p.m. for symposium attendees. The second recital was played using the electric blower that fills the lower two bellows. Those who heard both recitals thought that the manually-raised wind gave a decided advantage to the organ and player.

To me the most evocative event of the weekend occurred at the end of the symposium, when Chris Bono of the Taylor and Boody firm played the organ to accompany the singing of “Now Thank We All Our God,” using the Moravian version of the chorale, so that everyone could experience exactly what the instrument was really built for. Bono was brave to play for this tough audience, especially since the flat pedal board is about a note and a half out of the alignment with the manuals that we have come to expect. But he acquitted himself well, and the sound was totally convincing. It’s a great instrument to sing with: it’s singing with you. With a room full of strong voices – unselfconscious church musicians, builders, players, and singers – I found this to be the most convincing reason for restoring this organ of any that was put forward during the weekend.

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Liturgical Rededication of the Tannenberg Organ (March 21)

by Mary Nordstrom

A liturgical rededication, presented on the afternoon of March 21, marked the close of a three-day celebration of the restoration of the original organ of Home Moravian Church and served as a tribute to organ builder David Tannenberg on his 276th birthday. The service of worship, presented by the staff and members of Home Moravian Church, was given in the James A. Gray, Jr. Auditorium of the Old Salem Visitors Center on South Main Street, now joined to Old Salem by a pedestrian walkway over the highway. The new Visitors Center accommodates busloads of tourists and houses the requisite information desk, an area where an interpretation of the history of the Moravian community is shown, a snack bar, an upscale gift shop, and the auditorium containing the Tannenberg organ. The church itself, site of the original dedication and the organ’s 1910 swan song, is located a short distance away, on Salem Square.

Itself a magnificent gem of antiquity, the David Tannenberg organ, meticulously restored, is a supreme example of the fact that simplicity is a gift. Readers will recognize “‘Tis the Gift to be Simple,” the tune immortalized in Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring . The Shaker tune came from another branch of Christianity and has nothing to do with Moravian music except to express and reinforce the concept. In extreme contrast to another colonial organ, in Shaker Village, Canterbury, New Hampshire, Old Salem’s white encased jewel with its gold leaf decorations is a reminder of “the affluence of our God.”

“Why was this organ not restored to its original placement in Home Moravian Church?” I asked myself prior to my visit. Given the cost of this resurrection, the organ might have been put back where it “belonged,” in the church. The reason became apparent when I was able to examine the organ after the event. The stoplist – not included in the Sunday program – reveals that, magnificent as it is, the organ is limited and is not suitable for present day church music.

A traditional Moravian trombone choir prelude to the service began at 3:30 p.m., out of doors. Just before four o’clock, a hush came over the congregation and the brass, under the direction of Nola Knouse, Director of the Moravian Music Foundation, could be heard at a distance, playing “My Jesus as Thou Wilt” (1820), attributed to Carl Maria von Weber, and the hymn tune Worship (“We covenant with hand and heart to follow Christ, our Lord”).

Beginning at 4:00 p.m., guest organist John Mitchener gave a lovely rendition of Bach’s voluntary, “Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier” (“Dearest Jesus, we are here”), S.731. The selection was appropriate to the stoplist that, briefly stated, includes principal chorus stops (8′, 4′ and 2′), flute stops (8′ and 4′), and Quintadena (8′ and 4′) on the Hauptwerk (principal) keyboard; on the Hinterwerk keyboard, flutes (amabile 8′ and douce 4′), salicet, and viola da gamba; and, on the pedal, sub bass (16′) and violin bass (8′). The pure tones of the Tannenberg were ample for a glorious sound.

The Introit, “This Is A Day,” from the cantata Psalm of Joy (1763) by Christian Gregor, was appropriate. Psalm of Joy , an historically significant work, was presented at the first known Independence Day celebration in the USA, which occurred in Old Salem in 1783.

A string quartet augmented the organ during the singing of the hymns and accompanied the choir together with the organ; violinists John Pruett and Fabrice Dharamraj, violist Marian Wilson, and cellist Salina Carter, playing period instruments, sounded like one would imagine a colonial village string quartet would sound. The first hymn, “Christian Hearts in Love United,” was introduced with a verse sung in German by the choir. The Salem Moravians had immigrated to the United States from Germany, by way of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. They had been sheltered for a time on the estate of Count Zicholas von Zinzendorf, himself the author of many hymns, some used interdenominationally today. Some residents of present-day Winston-Salem are descendants of the count. My favorite lines from this particular hymn are, “…Thus the world will plainly see that we,/as on one stem growing, living branches are in thee.”

These words were written by Count von Zinzendorf in 1723 and set to music by T. Cassel at Hernnhut, the Zinzendorf estate in Germany, c.1735. Ramona Prestwood conducted the children’s choir as they sang alternately with the seniors a hymn, “Blessed Jesus, at Your Word,” by T. Arnheim. The choral anthem was from a manuscript (presumably supplied by the Moravian Music Foundation) that has no composer attribution. The Moravian Music Foundation continues to edit manuscripts from its collection of over 10,000 early American items so they may be used in present day worship and performance.

A solo work, “The Lord is in His Holy Temple,” composed in 1786 by Salem’s resident Moravian composer, Johann Friedrich Peter, was beautifully rendered by soprano Martha Abernethy. This preceded the choir’s and congregation’s realization of The Church Litany in its 1791 version, edited and translated this year (2004) by C. Daniel Crews and Nola Knouse. Moravian liturgical music differs from Anglican or Catholic liturgy inasmuch as it includes four-part harmony rather than chant. The congregation was instructed to sing along either in unison or in parts; part-singing is always impressive in Moravian congregations. Hal Garrison, baritone, sang the words that, in the early congregations, were the responsibility of the pastor. For this, the Reverend Dr. Gerald R. Harris, Pastor of Home Moravian Church, profoundly thanked Garrison.

Lynda Alexander, director of the Fellowship Chorale assembled for this occasion and Music Director at Home Moravian Church, led her choristers, and as noted the string quartet augmented the “voice” of David Tannenberg – the organ – organ during the hymns. The use of various instruments was typical in Moravian services in the Colonial period and later; the justification for the practice is found in Ps. 150, read on this occasion, which exhorts the people to “Praise God in his sanctuary… with the sounding of the trumpet, …the harp and lyre…, tambourine (and dancing)…, strings and flute…, (and) the clash of … resounding cymbals.” Here, the organ and the strings and voices proved more than sufficient.

The Tannenberg organ expressed pure-toned clarity throughout the service in the hands of Mitchener, Kenan Professor of Organ at North Carolina School of the Arts. At the conclusion of the service the congregation was asked to be seated, untraditionally, for the postlude, in deference to the occasion. As it happened, the postlude was exquisitely performed using all of the possibilities of the restored organ. The selection was the Allegro assai vivace from Mendelssohn’s Sonata I, Op. 65.

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A recital series is being arranged, including midday recitals on all the Wednesdays of April, along with other major events. The midday schedule is posted in our Triad calendar and at [inactive 6/07]. There are 25 pages of interesting photos at An illustrated article on the organ is in the January 2004 issue of Our State .