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Sell Chapel, Masonic Villages, Elizabethtown, PA

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The great folks at Sell Chapel in the Masonic Villages of Elizabethtown, PA have been clients of the Buch Organ Company for years. About 13 years ago, the Buch Organ Company upgraded the original pipe organ console to a digital control system, a digital Choir Division was added and additional digital voices were added to fill in and update the original specification.

The organ was not re-leathered at that time, but many wind leaks now indicated that the time had come for this undertaking. During the preliminary discussions, organist Margaret indicated that she liked the digital sounds so much that, for comparison, she would like to have a bid to take the entire organ to digital generation.

Among the other issues were that the organ was terribly loud for the organist as the Great and Pedal division tonal openings were directly behind the organist – at ear level! This was compounded by the fact that even the full organ volume would drop 8-10 dB as soon as one left the carpeted Chancel. This essentially forced greater volumes for all the organ music, especially hymn-playing.

After further discussions, these and other issues led to the decision of building an entirely new three-manual console, removing the pipe organ, renovating the organ chambers, installing new flooring, upgrading the electrical system and starting a new digital Aeolian-Skinner specification from the ground up.

There are a number of items that make the organ at Sell unique but some of the highlights are:

1. A custom specification having both a “floating” Solo Division and “floating” Antiphonal Division.  It has a true Antiphonal Division, comprised of stops one might typically have found there.

2. The organ is specifically designed both in height of the console (shorter than most) and height of the bench (lower than most, though it is adjustable.)

3. The console features a Bird’s-eye maple interior which is unique for the “Skinner” style.

4. The installation also features acoustic enhancement in the nave.

Our first impressions of Sell Chapel were not the best to report on, as the interior acoustic was dry, the chambers were compartmentalized and the chambers were “leaking” sound in many places. Projecting the previous organ’s sound into the nave was not very successful.

The interior renovations have helped greatly, particularly the change from carpet to tile in the Chancel area. Other items that improved the projection of the organ were re-configuring the chamber spaces, firming up the structures (walls), tightly closing the chambers with solid doors and enlarging and removing obstructions of the tonal openings from which the sound is projected.

Moving the Digital Great/Pedal/Solo Divisions out of the chamber to the rear of the Chancel (invisible from the nave) allowed these Main Divisions unobstructed access down the center axis of the Nave. The Choir and Swell are completely separated, being in the Left and Right Chambers, respectively.

Each chamber had within it a secondary chamber, from which tone was scarcely audible in the nave. Buch Organ Company re-configured the chambers, closing off the secondary chambers yet not without access.

The Swell and Choir Divisions are now perfectly blended ensembles that speak into the Chancel, where they combine with the Great very cohesively. This configuration also allows these two divisions to “sneak” into the ensemble, much like the tight Swell and Choir Divisions of a fine European Cathedral organ might do.

The organ’s tonal quality is Aeolian-Skinner, Harrison period, with a decided E. M. Skinner presence in the reeds. The Harrison period has been described as the move from the old orchestral style of instrument to a more eclectic and “classical” style; hence, the scaling down of Diapasons and the increase of higher pitched ranks and mutations, which are present in all main divisions here.

In this organ, you will hear warm, velvety Diapasons, clear, charming and articulate flutes, bold, rich reeds and wonderfully shimmering, undulating strings.  Additionally, the nuances of pipe speech are captured everywhere your ear may guide you, from beginning to end of tone, and even after!

Features of the Chapel that guided the design were primarily acoustic in nature, though the architectural aesthetic of Sell Chapel (architect, E. A. Wightman, 1927) is reasonably contemporary to the formation of the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company (1932).

The primary features of the Chapel influencing the design were the presence of two wholly adequate and readily remediable organ chambers, the Chancel Arch and flooring, the carpeted aisles and pew cushions, the presence of the balcony and the exposed timber rafter structure.

The decision to re-floor the Chancel with tile would prove to be significant for good sound projection. The arch that frames the Chancel holds back the organ sound just enough to create a large, acoustically reflective “mixing” area before the sound is projected to the nave. While this is convenient for ensemble, it has its drawbacks as well, principally in diminishing the total amount of tone that reaches the nave.

To overcome this, the Antiphonal Organ was specified in the Balcony to help support a singing congregation, as well as provide additional aural stimulation in the performance of literature. One trend among builders today is to locate louder solo reeds in Antiphonal Divisions; for a variety of excellent reasons, you will not hear these large reeds from the rear of the chapel. Instead, you will hear them front and center where the organist has better judgment and control of their volume.

The carpet and pew cushions are also a contemporary addition with accompanying advantages and disadvantages. To overcome the challenge of rapid acoustical decay, as well as presence, an acoustical enhancement system is hidden among the rafters. The Acoustical Enhancement system can do what the Antiphonal Organ cannot and vice-versa.

In summary, the new organ is a custom designed console with a custom specification which includes 66 stops in 6 divisions on three manuals and pedal. The organ was dedicated in concert by Rodney Barbour.  Please view the specification below.

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Buch Organs, LLC | 1391 W. Main St, Ephrata, PA 17522

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