The pipe organ at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church was custom designed and built for our parish by the firm of J. W. Walker & Sons, Ltd. of Brandon, Suffolk, England. It arrived for installation on Shrove Tuesday of 1991 and was blessed and first used in services at the Great Vigil of Easter of that same year. While the organ is designed with electric stop action, the keyboard action is mechanical, or tracker. This means there is a direct physical link between the player and the pipes, and not an electrical one, as is usually the case. The two manuals and pedal are currently served by 22 stops, or voices, comprising 29 ranks, or sets of pipes voiced as a unit. At this point, the organ contains some 1,612 individual pipes, all of which have been made by hand. There are also places reserved for six additional stops which are yet to be installed. This will bring the total to 28 stops, or 38 ranks. The case is made of American Red Oak with hand-carved pipe shades depicting the four Gospel writers in their traditional symbols: an angel for Matthew, a lion for Mark, an ox for Luke and an eagle for John. The gold-leaf inscription on the case is in Latin and is taken from the final verse of Psalm 150: “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord.”
In addition to having the organ blessed, its first year of use was celebrated with St. Mark’s first recital series, beginning with a Dedicatory Recital given by the late Dr. Gerre Hancock of St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, New York City. Thereafter followed seven other concerts featuring not only the organ but the Chicago String Ensemble, the St. Mark’s Brass Ensemble, and guest organists from as far away as Switzerland. This series was made possible in part by a generous gift from the family of Ellen Porter. Every organist who has played it thus far has given the instrument high praise for its flexibility, action, and warmth and breadth of sound. Here are some of their comments:
“The instrument at St. Mark’s Church is a beauty in every way to play. The flexibilty, the finesse, and the pure musical quality make the performer both admire the organ and want to play it.”
– Dr. Gerre Hancock, February 21, 1934 – January 21, 2012.
“St. Mark’s has an organ of great distinction. It is an instrument of unusual flexibility and musicality that will only be enhanced with the addition of the anticipated stops. At its completion, this organ will be one of the very best of its kind in the country.”
– Mr. Bruce Neswick, Associate Professor for Organ, Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University
“…an instrument built for the ages. The workmanship, materials, and tonal finishing are all of the highest standard. Artistically, the organ makes a very distinguished statement, and will serve as a source of musical leadership in worship and in concert for generations to come.”
– Mr. Richard Webster, Trinity Church Copley Square, Boston
“…a smashing success! Rarely have I enjoyed the privilege of playing an organ which meets the needs of solo repertoire and service music equally well.”
– Dr. Robert Poovey, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Rochester, New York
On June 11, 2014, some 23 years and four months after the installation of our the Walker organ, St. Mark’s signed a contract for the completion of this wonderful instrument.
When the organ was installed in February of 1991 we were not able to afford all of the stops called for in the original design. Therefore, as is often the practice with organ contracts, we installed a majority of the stops, but left room for some additional ones to be installed later. This meant leaving space for them on the wind chests and providing stopknobs and switches. The only thing left to do was add the pipes.
Early on, two of these prepared stops were added. One was a result of a lot of fundraising by the choir, and another was given as a memorial gift by some former choir members. This meant that six sets of pipes remained to be included. We decided that, rather than adding one stop at a time, we would wait to add the last six all together, thereby saving additional expenses for shipping and installation.
With the encouragement of Tanya and Jerry Carey, as well as a very generous gift from them, we will be undertaking a capital campaign in the spring of 2015 for the purpose of raising the funds needed for several things: the completion of the organ (which will include a complete overhaul and cleaning), a grand piano for Mahon Hall, possibly a grand piano for the nave, and funds for a four-month recital series. This campaign will be chaired by Ellie Dunham.
We have already selected a grand piano for Mahon Hall which we are purchasing from an Episcopal priest in Chicago, Father Tim Yeager. This is a wonderful 7-foot Baldwin grand piano which he acquired some years ago from Wheaton College. We will have it in place during the summer of 2014.
The organ should be completed by the summer of 2015. Then in February of 2016 we will observe and celebrate the 25th anniversary of its installation. That month, and for the next three months, we will host a series of four organ concerts to commemorate this important anniversary. Included in that roster of performers will be some of the world’s most well-known concert organists. They will include Martin Baker from Westminster Cathedral in London, Isabelle Demers of Baylor University, Raul Prieto Ramirez from Madrid, and Marie Bernadette Dufourcet Hakim from Paris. This will be an incredibly exciting and momentous occasion in the life of our parish.
The complete specification follows: