The organs at St Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Houston were built by the San Francisco firm of organ builders, Schoenstein & Co. They replaced the original Allen digital organ installed in 1972. Initially a six-rank, two-manual and pedal, extension organ was installed on the gallery in 2000 and this was used to accompany all services for two years. In 2002, a 36 rank, three manual and pedal chancel organ was added.
The selection of a suitable organ builder required considerable research as the space available to accommodate the pipework was limited. Schoenstein & Co. are known for their imaginative solutions to challenges such as the ones faced at St Thomas’. A solution to the space and acoustic considerations was provided by the installation of the antiphonal nave organ on the one hand and the use of special techniques to gain acoustical projection of the chancel organ into the nave on the other. The chancel organ has been ingeniously designed to perform a variety of roles. In the first instance, the main task, when combined with the antiphonal organ, is to provide leadership in hymn singing and service music for large, school congregations at daily Matins (Morning Prayer), and at the various church services on Sundays and other holy days throughout the liturgical year; in addition, the stop list is has been designed to allow for the accompaniment of the full range of music from the Anglo-American choral tradition.
A diapason (principal) chorus of noble, singing tone underpins the chancel organ. Skilful use of the multum in parvo concept ensures that a wide variety of chorus stops (flutes, celestes and chorus reeds) combines with solo voices to guarantee the organist a broad tonal palette. The antiphonal organ is modelled on the best examples of Scudamore extension organs found in the United Kingdom. It may be played from its own moveable console in the gallery or from the chancel console. The marriage of both the chancel and antiphonal organs combines to produce a result that appears to be greater than the sum of its parts and has the effect of drawing the sound from the chancel organ into the body of the church.
Not only are the organs an unqualified success as accompanimental instruments for the Anglican liturgy, they are also an excellent medium for the interpretation of major schools of organ literature.
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