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Los Angeles, CA 90010
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The David John Falconer Memorial Organ

A Twenty-five Year Journey with the David John Falconer Memorial Organ

by Canon James Buonemani

One crisp morning in October, 1994, I was seated at my desk in the music room of the Church of the Epiphany, Washington, D.C., when I ran across an intriguing post in the American Guild of Organists magazine: St. James Church, Los Angeles, seeks an organist-choirmaster . . . expecting soon a rebuilt 1911 organ by Murray M. Harris. I had never heard of the organ-builder Murray M. Harris, and this post piqued my interest considerably.

I had been in my position as organist-choirmaster at Epiphany since 1987. Conducting a wonderful semi-professional choir and playing the church’s 1968 Aeolian- Skinner organ was an honor and delight. I was also blessed with a wonderfully supportive Rector, the Rev. Edgar Romig, and operations manager, William Johnstone, both of whom became dear friends and admired colleagues. But with Edgar’s retirement and William’s departure for the Diocese of Belize, my time had come to consider jobs elsewhere and the West Coast had always allured me. 

I began my research on the historic Murray M. Harris organ by telephoning then organist-choirmaster Thomas Foster of All Saints Church, Beverly Hills, and Los Angeles’ premier organ builder, Manuel Rosales. From these two men I learned quite a bit about Murray M. Harris and his distinctive 1911 instrument, Opus 88, originally built for St. Paul’s Pro-Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles. 

Murray M. Harris (1866-1922) was well trained in organ construction with George S. Hutchings of Boston. He first visited the Los Angeles area while installing several organs for Hutchings in Pasadena, CA. Not long afterward, Harris returned and settled in Los Angeles to provide organs for the city’s burgeoning churches. He is perhaps most famous for building the world’s largest organ at the time for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, which later became the core of the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ in Philadelphia. His organ for St. Paul’s Pro- Cathedral in Los Angeles was one of his last large instruments and it included the first full-length 32’ Bombarde rank west of the Mississippi. Made of zinc, the lowest of these conical pipes was two inches in diameter at the bottom tip expanding to a diameter of 24 inches at its top. It remains one of the largest scaled metal bombardes in the world. 

As Los Angeles grew, so did its Episcopal Diocese and the need for a larger Cathedral. St. Paul’s Pro-Cathedral was torn down in 1922 with the organ moved to storage awaiting its relocation to a new and larger St. Paul’s Cathedral, an elegant structure in the Romanesque style consecrated in 1924. The organ served this new cathedral well up through the 1950s and, like so many organs of the mid-century, it received “upgrades” to its tonal palette as musical tastes began to shift toward a more neoclassical direction. Fortunately, little of the original pipework was lost or discarded during this period. In 1979 the cathedral was controversially razed due to earthquake damage and with the heroic efforts of curators Manuel Rosales and David Dickson the organ was moved to storage for the second time in its history where it languished for a decade. 

Meanwhile, St. James Episcopal Church on Wilshire Blvd. was investigating solutions to replace its aging 1926 Kimball organ. David John Falconer, then organist of St. James, in conversation with Manuel Rosales approached the diocese to inquire about the Murray Harris organ. The Rt. Rev. Robert C. Rusack, diocesan bishop at the time, welcomed the idea of giving the organ to St. James and alleviating the diocese of ongoing storage costs. 

       To fund its rebuilding in St. James Church, Falconer approached Lee Walcott, managing director of the Ahmanson Foundation and an organist himself. Lee was interested in the organ as both an important part of Los Angeles’ musical history as well as its potential as an artistic contribution to the community of Southern California. Upon Ahmanson’s approval by its Trustees, the Schlicker Organ Company of Buffalo, NY, was awarded the project under the direction of its artistic director David Dickson. David knew the organ well from his work in Los Angeles with Rosales and excitedly accepted the challenge to rebuild and enhance the instrument for St. James Church. 

As plans developed, the decision was made to improve the dry acoustics of St. James Church by removing asbestos and hardening the walls. All of the extant Murray M. Harris pipework along with its bellows and St. James’ existing 1926 Spencer blower would be restored. The newly conceived tonal scheme allowed the reworking of several of the church’s Kimball organ stops, including its 4-rank Echo division, and, most importantly, the addition of sixteen new stops in the style of Murray M. Harris. New slider wind chests, two new Gothic cases for both sides of the chancel and a new console were also required. 

Several unforeseen circumstances delayed the project’s progression. First was the distressing untimely death of David Dickson in 1991: a great loss to the organ-building world. Second was a financial crisis at the Schlicker factory which eventually suspended its operation. 

St. James’ recently called rector, The Rev. Kirk Smith, was instrumental in reviving the project and in 1993 the Austin Organ Company of Hartford, Connecticut, was hired to complete it. The re-organized Schlicker company, having completed the chests, Gothic cases and console, was to oversee those portions of the installation while Austin’s job, under the direction of David A. J. Broome, was to complete the restoration of the original Harris pipes and create new pipework in collaboration with Manuel Rosales. 

Soon after Easter in 1994, a tragic incident plunged St. James’ parishioners into shock and grief. David John Falconer, on his way home from a choir rehearsal one Thursday evening, was murdered in a gang-initiation rite at a local convenience store. Falconer, much loved in the community, especially by St. James’ school community where he had taught since his appointment in 1984, was largely responsible for the unfolding organ project. Fate had cruelly decreed that he would not see the fruits of his labors. In an effort to honor Falconer’s extraordinary contribution toward resurrecting Harris’ Opus 88, the organ would appropriately be named the David John Falconer Memorial Organ. 

Succeeding Falconer as organist-choirmaster in January of 1995, the lingering effect of Falconer’s death was palpable, and I endeavored to expand the church’s music program with as much sensitivity and sympathy as I could muster. The David John Falconer Memorial Organ was to become the foundation for the parish’s new venture into an ever-widening musical ministry, just as Falconer had hoped. 

Upon my arrival, I found that the organ chambers on both sides of the chancel were concrete caverns, void of any remnants of the previous Kimball organ. Since the removal of the Kimball in 1993, the church had rented a Rodgers electronic organ which was placed in the rear gallery of the nave. Although the newly enhanced acoustics to the church allowed a favorable bloom to the Rodgers’ electronic voices, it was the anticipation of sounds from real pipes that kept my excitement level in high gear. 

The console arrived in spring of 1995. As I silently sat at this disembodied control-center, I was struck by its simple elegance, its beautifully polished woods of red oak and black walnut and its lovely English styling. Almost daily I would quietly draw each stop knob and imagine what the pipes would sound like when they were finally installed and allowed to speak. 

In preparation for the rest of the organ’s arrival, the church had engaged Mike Ishler, a structural engineer who was also an expert in seismic retro-fitting, to develop plans for the steel supports to meet or exceed Los Angeles’s strict seismic safety requirements. (For an East-Coaster like me, this was both fascinating and nerve-wracking.) Together with Christopher Smith and Stanton Peters from Schlicker, these supports were attached to the outside walls of the church and cantilevered into the chancel to support the entire weight of the organ, its pipes, chests and solid wood case. 

Finally, in several large trucks, the rest of the organ began arriving: large sections of the English-styled red-oak Gothic cases (fitted together as pieces in a puzzle), metal and wood pipes spread out atop the pews of the nave and leaned against the sanctuary walls, and all manner of cables, ductwork, lumber and wind chests that would ultimately be assembled into a cohesive whole. 

A pivotal moment arrived in August when a test keyboard was brought in to the middle of the nave and gingerly wired to the newly installed First Open Diapason in the Great division. Manuel Rosales and I were to listen to the very first utterances of the organ in this central location. We were both anticipating a noble bloom of sound from these diapason pipes, so admiringly described as “buttery,” and my expectations were high. I played a note. We listened intently. I played several more notes. We remained silent as we listened. I finally remarked, “are you sure that’s the diapason?” Manuel had me play several more notes. Yes, it was the Great Diapason, and no, it wasn’t what I expected. I recall the sound as delicate – too delicate, almost anemic. 

Being young and impatient, I lashed out at Manuel saying this was just not going to do. I was expecting a big, luscious sound that would fill the whole room. Manuel, mildly perturbed at my exclamation, patiently explained to me that voicing an organ to its unique spatial requirements is an expected part of any organ installation and this was no different. It was decided that some major “opening up” of each pipe of this rank, and probably every other rank, was required for the organ to make its magic heard in this particular space. I trusted Manuel’s reassurances and breathed a sigh of relief. 

Zoltan Zsitvay and Daniel Kingman of Austin were on hand to begin the arduous process of voicing each pipe of the organ. One by one, the diapasons and other ranks gave way to their intrinsic beauty. With the oversight of David Broome and Manuel Rosales, every pipe received its due. Slowly but surely the brilliance of Murray M. Harris’ Opus 88 was unveiled. 

All Saints Sunday, November 9, 1995, was the day of dedication. The morning service of Holy Eucharist featured the Missa Salve Regina for 2 Choruses, 2 Organs, 3 Trumpets, 5 Trombones by Jean Langlais as well as his Hymne d’Action de Grâce: Te Deum with the choir processing while singing the plainsong version of the Te Deum, Parry’s I Was Glad and, of course, concluding with Widor’s Toccata from his 5th Symphony. That evening, Australian organist David Drury performed a dedicatory recital which featured Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre, Jongen’s Improvisation-Caprice, Prière, Choral from Opus 37, Naji Hakim’s Finale from his Symphonie en Trois Mouvements, Mozart’s Fantasia and Fugue in F Minor, K 608, Francis Jackson’s Toccata, Chorale and Fugue, and an Improvisation on submitted themes. All in all, it was a glorious unveiling of a glorious instrument! 

Since its completion in St. James Church, the organ has received a number of refinements and additions*, both small and great. Most of these projects were made possible by the unfailing support of Lee Walcott, now managing director emeritus of the Ahmanson Foundation. 

The most notable enhancements to the organ were made in anniversary years. As we neared the 5th anniversary, a vision emerged to enhance the space under our magnificent gallery window at the liturgical west end with a commanding trompette en-chamade. The organ had justifiably earned critical praise in its first several years and I approached Lee Walcott about celebrating its 5th anniversary with this dynamic addition. Lee committed the support of the Ahmanson Foundation and I sought Manuel Rosales’ advice on who might be the best builder of such a stop. We turned to David Broome once again, and asked if he would consider a chamade in collaboration with Manuel Rosales. He said yes, and as excitement grew, a chamade division of two ranks emerged, one with a noble, almost tuba-like sonority at 16’, 8’, and 4’ pitches and another louder and more snarly rank at 8’ pitch only. It was to be accessible on all manuals and in the pedal. 

A flash of inspiration occurred to me when I happened to see an orchestral trumpet played by one of our Easter trumpeters. It had the unusual and beautiful characteristic of containing two metals that formed its valves, slides and bell: pure copper, appearing reddish in color, and brass, an alloy containing copper and zinc and exhibiting a golden hue. I wondered if it would be possible to construct each rank of our chamades in contrasting metals? How would this affect their sound? In reviewing the concept, Rosales and Broome agreed this would produce a striking visual element and the softer copper metal would be suitable for the nobler sounding 16-8-4 Tromba and the stiffer brass alloy for the snappier 8’ Trompette. Several visual layouts were suggested by Kevin Gilchrist, Manuel’s associate. The final version resulted in a stunning display of generously-scaled reeds which have been named the Walcott Tromba, in honor of Lee Walcott, made of polished copper, and the Trompette des Anges, made of polished brass. 

As the day of reveal arrived – All Saints Sunday, November 12, 2000 – I remember gleefully the audible gasps from the congregation as they were invited to turn around and view the inspiring set of flared en-chamade pipes that heroically projected beneath the beautiful stained glass window of the west end. A service of Solemn Evensong that evening concluded with the chamades resounding in my arrangement of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man complete with timpani, tam-tam and bass drum. David Drury, who inaugurated the organ in 1995, was invited back to give the dedicatory recital for the new chamades as we celebrated the organ’s 5th anniversary. 

As the 10th anniversary approached, there was one more addition that I believed would complete both the aural and visual statement of the organ in the church building: an Antiphonal Positiv division which would be placed in the center of the gallery rail with the chamades projecting over it. Again, a discussion ensued which led to our hiring a relatively unknown builder, Joseph Zamberlan & Co. of Ohio, to collaborate with Manuel Rosales on an elegant Gothic case to complement the interior of the church with three ranks of pipes: a Principal 8′ & 4′, a Gedeckt 8′, a Sptizflute 4′ & 2′ and a cymbalstar. Pipes were provided by Gebrüder Käs of Bonn, Germany and Ken Coulter of Eugene, Oregon, with elegant pipe shade carvings by Fred Wilbur and gilding by Sandy Jensen. This time, funding was secured not only through the Ahmanson Foundation but also through direct donations from parishioners and friends. Our pattern of All Saints Sunday celebrations was maintained with a 10th anniversary celebration presented on November 13, 2005: a blessing of the Antiphonal Positiv at Solemn Evensong followed by a Dedicatory recital by Thomas Trotter. 

All of these enhancements and additions required the retrofitting of the console and computer system to accommodate them. We have been blessed with the brilliance of Richard Houghten of Milan, Michigan, who accomplished these tasks with enthusiasm, grace and ingenuity. 

With the passing of some 25 years, the David John Falconer Memorial Organ continues to inspire organists and listeners alike. The International Laureates Organ Series has brought over 150 of the world’s most prestigious organists to perform on it annually. As envisioned by Falconer and made possible by Lee Walcott with funding from the Ahmanson Foundation, the people of Southern California have been enriched by a cultural and artistic treasure: a voice rescued from oblivion, and today sounding with restored grandeur for many generations to come.

*Addendum on further refinements to the organ.

Since its completion in St. James Church, the organ has received a number of smaller alterations and refinements in addition to the major enhancements referred to in the article above. As the organ celebrates its silver jubilee, it is worthwhile to review and document these smaller modifications made during the past 25 years.

Early on it was decided that a restored Kimball Harp that was originally to be included in the rebuilt organ was problematic in two ways: first, tuning its tone bars to the ever-shifting pipework (depending upon temperature variations) was not optimal, and secondly, finding space for it within the enclosed chamber was a challenge. Since the organ already contained two digital 32-foot flues by Walker Technical Company (a Lieblich Gedeckt and Bourdon) it was decided to include both a digital harp and chime to the organ as well. Oddly enough, the inclusion of these stops manifested a problem with the Schlicker action of the keyboards: whenever a key was depressed, Schlicker’s exclusive “tracker-touch” affected the digital stops adversely by causing them to sound a second time as the key was released. Various adjustments were made to the action to avoid this double-trigger effect to no avail, and it was eventually decided to replace these keyboards with new ones built by P&S Organ Supply Company in the UK. In so doing, the opportunity of increasing the number of pistons and other thumb-controls presented itself, and not only were the number of memory pistons increased but also the addition of “Up” and “Down” sequencer buttons. (The Solid State Logic memory system was increased from 256 to 512 memory levels at a later stage.) 

Two tonal modifications were made in the first decade of the organ. First, the Swell division’s Cornopean 8’ was one of the original Murray Harris ranks that needed to be voiced louder to serve as the foundational reed of that division. Unfortunately, this rank did not adjust well and after several years of playing the organ a scheme was hatched that might solve two issues with one solution. In addition to an inadequate Swell 8’ reed, the Pedal division had no intermediate 16’ reed between its sedate Contra Fagotto 16’ (borrowed from the Swell) and its pompous Harmonic Tuba 16’ (a unified stop at 32’, 16’, 8’ and 4’). Playing Bach with a clearly defined 16’ line was nearly impossible with either of these reeds. Would moving the Cornopean 8’ outside of the Swell box and utilizing the Great Trumpet 16’ for the bottom octave (also exposed) provide what was needed? In short, this solution was a resounding success and the matching timbre of the lowest octave of the Great Trumpet was nothing short of miraculous. 

The relocation of the Cornopean outside of the Swell division meant that space opened up on its chest for a new 8’ reed. It was also noted that the Austin Clarion 4’ in that division was rather unstable at the lower wind pressures required for the other ranks on the chest. A decision was made to manufacture a new 2-rank chest on 6 inches of wind where a new 8’ trumpet would be located along with a revoiced Austin Clarion 4’. For the trumpet, we first acquired an 8’ rank from Killinger Pfeffen of Freiburg, Germany which was eventually replaced by another Trumpet 8’ from the revamped Austin Organ Company with David Broome’s son, Christopher, as its builder. The new Trumpet and the revoiced Clarion, sharing the same wind chest on higher pressures, balanced perfectly in the room and settled into a stable tuning condition. In the end, we now had suitable 8’ and 4’ reeds in the Swell to complement the Murray Harris Fagotto 16’, and the original Murray Harris Cornopean was not only playable in the pedal at 16’ and 8’ but also playable from the Choir manual, also at 16’ and 8’ as an exposed ensemble or solo reed. (I find it especially pleasing when paired with the Murray Harris Harmonic Tuba.) 

These relocations now left the original Swell chest with space for two additional ranks to fill the holes originally assigned to the Trumpet and Clarion. And today, plans are underway to fill that vacancy.

Acknowledgments:

Manuel J. Rosales, curator of the David John Falconer Memorial Organ, provided invaluable information and insight for which I am deeply grateful. Additional thanks to Canon Robert Williams, historian-archivist and canon for common life of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.

The organ is maintained by Rosales Organ Builders with special acknowledgment given to Kevin Gilchrist. Today, two more recent associates of Manuel Rosales care for the organ: Kevin Cartwright and Aaron Doyle, both of whom have become the new proprietors of Rosales Organ Builders. 

Click here for a list of concert organists who have performed on the International Laureates Organ Series (funded by a generous grant from the Ahmanson Foundation). 

For a Celebratory Video Series on the organ, please visit Great Music at Saint James’ on YouTube.

© 2021 by James Buonemani

The Specifications of the David John Falconer Memorial Organ

GREAT

16'

Double Open Diapason

8'

First Open Diapason

8'

Second Open Diapason

8'

Gross Flute

8'

Gamba

8'

Doppel Flute

8'

Gemshorn

4'

Octave

4'

Harmonic Flute

2 2/3'

Octave Quint

2'

Super Octave

III-IV

Harmonic Mixture

IV

Mixture

V

Cornet

16'

Double Trumpet

8'

Trumpet

4'

Clarion

Tremolo

8'

Harmonic Tuba

8'

Solo Trumpet

16'

Walcott Tromba*

8'

Walcott Tromba*

8'

Trompette des Anges*

4'

Walcott Tromba*

SWELL

16'

Bourdon

8'

Open Diapason

8'

Horn Diapason

8'

Stopped Diapason

8'

Salicional

8'

Vox Celeste

4'

Octave

4'

Open Flute

2 2/3'

Nazard

2'

Flautina

1 3/5'

Tierce

III

Dolce Cornet

IV

Mixture

16'

Contra Fagotto

8'

Trumpet

8'

Oboe

8'

Vox Humana

4'

Clarion

Tremolo

16'

Walcott Tromba*

8'

Walcott Tromba*

8'

Trompette des Anges*

CHOIR

16'

Double Dulciana

8'

Open Diapason

8'

Melodia

8'

Dulciana

8'

Unda Maris

4'

Fugara

4'

Harmonic Flute

2'

Piccolo

III

Sharp Mixture

8'

Orchestral Oboe

8'

Clarinet

Tremolo

16'

Double Cornopean

8'

Harmonic Tuba

8'

Solo Trumpet

8'

Cornopean

16'

Walcott Tromba*

8'

Walcott Tromba*

8'

Trompette des Anges*

4'

Walcott Tromba*

ANTIPHONAL POSITIV

8'

Principal

8'

Gedeckt

4'

Octave

4'

Spitzflute

2'

Spitzflute

Cymbalstar

Tremolo

ECHO

8'

Cor du Nuit

8'

Viole Aetheria

8'

Voix Celeste

8'

Vox Humana & Tremolo

PEDAL

32'

Bourdon

32'

Lieblich Gedeckt

16'

Open Diapason

16'

Violone

16'

Bourdon

16'

Lieblich Gedeckt

16'

Bourdon (Echo)

8'

Octave

8'

Flute

8'

Violoncello

4'

Super Octave

VI

Mixture

32'

Bombarde

16'

Trombone

16'

Double Cornopean

16'

Contra Fagotto

8'

Tuba

8'

Cornopean

4'

Clarion

16'

Walcott Tromba*

8'

Walcott Tromba*

8'

Trompette des Anges*

4'

Walcott Tromba*

Chimes

Harp

Cymbalstar (chancel)

*en chamade