I've been interested in and drawn to pipe organs for as long as I can remember. I also remember the very day, as a boy of ten or so, when I discovered William H. Barnes' book, The Contemporary American Organ, in the local library. It was then the standard volume on the subject. In it, I encountered the description and photographs of his four-manual residence organ ... perhaps my first 'life-changing event' when I realized that people could have pipe organs in their houses! It's been the stuff of fantasies for most of my life, and early on I promised myself that I, too, would have a pipe organ of my own.
As fate would have it, I've been lucky enough to own two. At first, I had intended to build one myself and even began collecting parts ... some old pipes, a pedalboard, a couple of keyboards, and so on. Then one day a wise friend of mine warned me about the folly of any project - but especially an organ project - that begins with "all you have to do is...." That reality check was enough to divert my attention to pursuing an instrument made by a real organbuilder.
In 1987, when I was 34, I commissioned a 2-manual, 14-rank tracker organ from Gabriel Kney of London, Ontario, Canada. I had played one of Gabriel's organs for a year or so in a church down the road from my house in Bethlehem, Connecticut, and half a dozen others in the US and Canada, and I had a great respect for him and his work. Although I had played the organ for 20 years by then, his instrument's crisp, concise action and wonderfully musical sounds really taught me how to play the organ all over again, and I would not be nearly the organist I am today if I had not had that superb instrument on which to hone and expand my skills. It was a splendid musical instrument, and I was honored to own it. It was originally installed in my library, but after a couple of years I built a purpose-specific room for it that measured 43' feet long, 15' wide and 20' high. It had a splendid acoustic and the organ energized it beautifully. I even recorded a CD there which I called Christmas in Bethlehem, Connecticut.
At that stage in my life, it never occurred to me that situations, houses and jobs wouldn't last for ever. As it happened, in the late '90s I was pushed out of my job in a wonderful, traditional Episcopal Church by a new rector who announced she wanted me to provide "music we could dance to." I told her to find another dance partner, and left after thirteen years of faithful service, which included having spearheaded the project to provide the church with a fine new organ. As my 12' tall tracker organ wasn't something that could go just anywhere, it was with much reluctance that I ultimately bid it, and Connecticut, adieu and began a new chapter in my life south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
A couple of years later, in 2001, I acquired my second house organ from a mid-Western university that was purging its campus of its electric-action organs (even though the vast majority of its organ students would have to play such organs in their careers). It was originally built in 1957 (when I was four years old) by the M.P. Moller Company in Hagerstown, Maryland, and it seemed practical for my needs as it fit neatly under an 8' ceiling. It had 2-manuals and 4 ranks of pipes that through the wonders of electricity would boast 25 stops. It wasn't in the best shape, but as I enjoy tinkering I had a great time bringing it back to life. In 2006 I added three more ranks (the pipes that can be seen in the photograph), bringing the stop-count to 28. The latest addition to this organ is the bottom octave of the 16' Trompette stop, which Santa delivered during Christmas, 2014. Those pipes stand behind the screen to the right of the organ. While it is indeed a far cry from my wonderful Kney organ, it makes a mighty sound and provides the great luxury of being able to practice at home. And I think it's the only pipe organ on the block!
Gabriel Kney, London, Ontario 1988
13 Stops - 14 Ranks
HAUPTWERK Manual I (56 notes)
1 1/3 Quinte
III Mixtur (1 1/3)
BRUSTWERK Manual II (56 notes)
1 3/5 Terz
PEDAL (32 notes)
* from Subbass by mechanical extension
Brustwerk + Hauptwerk
Hauptwerk + Pedal
Brustwerk + Pedal
M.P. Moller, Hagerstown, Maryland
1957 and 1972
with additions by Thomas Brown, 2006 & 2014
7 ranks - 28 stops
MANUAL I (61 notes)
2 Super Octave
II Cornet (2 2/3+1 3/5)
Manual II + Manual I
MANUAL II (61 notes)
1 1/3 Quinte
PEDAL (32 notes)
Gabriel Kney Organ
Woods Edge House
A photograph taken at the Kney organ's
opening ceremony in 1988.
The gentleman behind my head is organbuilder
Gabriel Kney, and the priest in the tan suit
is my good friend John Andrew, Rector of
St. Thomas Church NYC, who was kind
enough to say a few words of dedication.
M.P. Moller Organ
Chapel Hill, North Carolina