The Esther Wideman Memorial Organ, C.B. Fisk Opus 150
“The pipe organ is the closest instrument physiologically to the human voice, and with its capacity for sustained tone, the ideal accompaniment to the voice.” — Christ Church organist and choir director Parker Kitterman
On May 5 and 6, Christ Church Philadelphia will complete and dedicate the Esther Wideman Memorial Organ, built by C.B. Fisk Organ Builders of Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Christ Church and the Christ Church Preservation Trust contracted with Fisk in 2015 for a comprehensive three-manual organ to be incorporated into the existing historic case built by Henry Erben in 1837, with the pipework positioned entirely out of the church’s tower space and into the nave proper.
Christ Church and the Christ Church Preservation Trust have $220,000 remaining to raise for Fisk Opus 150, a $3.5 million project. Please help us by donating here.
The Esther Wideman Memorial Organ, C.B. Fisk Opus 150: Spring 2018 Dedicatory Events and Public Performances
March 26-29, 12:30-1 p.m.: Holy Week Organ Meditations
March 30, 7 p.m.: Organ with readings on Tournemire’s “7 Last Words of Christ”
April 1, 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.: Easter Eucharist, with Franklin Brass
April 15, 4 p.m.: AGO Young Artists Organ Recital
May 5, 7 p.m.: Alan Morrison in Concert; Tickets available here.
May 6, 5 p.m.: Dedicatory Evensong for C.B. Fisk Op. 150 (free)
Crafting a Pipe Organ and Its Home
To study the church’s sound audibility, singers and musicians performed for an acoustician at different locations and elevations in the sanctuary. Philadelphia’s most renowned preservation architects then made historically sensitive improvements, including the construction of a new acoustic wall to close the gaping portal in the steeple tower, also part of the Trust’s steeple preservation campaign.
Christ Church shipped the 19th-century wooden Erben case to Gloucester, Massachusetts, so the new organ could be built within it. There, the Fisk team had started the herculean process behind the making of a pipe organ.
For the new Christ Church instrument, welders cast, cut and shaped 3,099 pipes — each one then moved to Christ Church and handled, adjusted, and tuned by builders from the Fisk team. Through rods of carbon fiber, artisans connected valves at the base of the pipes to the organ’s keyboard: this direct mechanical connection, called “tracker action,” allows the organist’s fingertips to trigger the release of pressurized air through the pipes. As the source of a pipe organ’s sound, mechanical tracker action replaces the electricity relied upon by mass-produced organs.
Fisk craftspeople also built the wind chests that hold the organ’s pressurized air, inserted stops, and assembled the organ’s console. They sanded and repainted the moulding of the 1836 Erben case, and re-gilded the urns that sit atop the casing. As soon as the pipe organ sang to Fisk’s satisfaction and fit perfectly into the casing, it was disassembled and sent to Philadelphia, where voicers are once again engaged in the painstaking tuning process of each pipe, now to fit the acoustics of Christ Church.
Fisk Opus 150 is the only mechanical-action organ of its kind in Philadelphia. We look forward to sharing it with singers, chamber musicians, composers, teachers, artists, and students. Please visit Christ Church this spring to participate in one of our dedicatory events and performances.