STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) — The giant fish on the hill along Bedford Street is as much a monument to acoustics as it is a home to First Presbyterian Church.
So when the congregation gathers for services in "the fish church," music is central to the celebration.
"One of the glories of this space is it's a spectacular building to see but it is also a spectacular building to hear, the sound is so immediate," said Jim Wetherald, minister of music at the church since 1978.
For his first 13 years on the job, Wetherald performed on an electronic organ he said did not live up to the space. It sometimes shut down during services because electronics would fail, so when a committee formed to discuss a replacement, he was thrilled.
With the new organ, Wetherald hoped for a mechanical action design. The mechanical action organs echo a 12th century design. When the organist plays a key, the action triggers reactions with sticks pulling one another to open valves and control the flow of air through pipes, creating sound.
The board fielded 20 bids for the project. Because the building itself followed the Modernist movement of fusing function with aesthetics, the congregation sought the same in the proposals. They chose a mechanical action design proposed by the Texas-based Dutch company of Visser Rowland, known for building organs to suit the rooms that house them.
"This room is 220,000 cubic feet of air space. In order to make it audible they had to build this organ so that it wasn't too bottom heavy, because this room by its shape is very bass responsive. So this organ is built with lots of clarity, high frequency stops to get that sounds out into the room," Wetherald said.
"Part of the spectacular nature of the sound on this instrument is that it has got this big broad bottom on it and this sparkling shimmering top," he added. "It has this great character that other builders just wouldn't get."
During the organ's installation, parts were spread throughout the sanctuary and piled onto the pews, Wetherald said. First beams were set to support three tiers of wind chests, then the wind chests to support the pipes and finally Honduran mahogany panels encased it all, 4,026 pipes in total.
"The whole point of building the case for the organ is to make it look like a work of art, but the truth is that all the pipes are at different lengths because each pipe has to reach a different length to get a different pitch," Wetherald said.
Wetherald has played the instrument almost daily since its installation. At 65, he says he is planning to stay with his beloved 1991 Visser Rowland for good.
"This building makes you feel fabulous. When you walk in it's goose bumps, and sound-wise when you make music in the building it's really thrilling," he said. "I love this organ. I hope that when the congregation hears me make music, I hope that they know I love this organ when they hear it."
Information from: The Advocate
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