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Three Organs in Shelton

It was Old Home Week at Shelton United Methodist Church as AGO members from the Tacoma, Seattle, and Olympia chapters gathered to begin their day of organ exploration in Shelton.  Fritts  Opus 1 is there, and Tacoma AGO member Paul Fritts was present to discuss his first mechanical action organ.  Tacoma AGO member Paul Thornock grew up as a member of Shelton United Methodist and met Paul Fritts  when the organ was being serviced a few years after installation.  Fourteen years old at the time, Paul Thornock began studying organ, continued those studies through college and graduate schools, and was on hand to demonstrate “his first organ.”  That church has produced a number of other organists, including Doug Cleveland, who is a member of the Seattle AGO chapter, and who served as Shelton UMC organist when he was in high school.

Paul Fritts stands in front of Opus 1 at Shelton United Methodist Church

In 1979, Shelton UMC was using a beloved Hammond “organ”, and many saw little reason for a change.  The town had a population of only about 7,000 but with a disproportionate number of scientists and visionaries due to the presence of a research institution.  Many attended Shelton UMC, and several ended up on the organ committee.  Paul Fritts was in his twenties and knew that he wanted to build tracker organs.  He had spent a few weeks in Holland, learning voicing and pipe making, but had not been to the rest of Europe.  He knew that he wanted to produce a sound like the “antique” organs of Europe but had not actually heard that sound.

With help from family, associate Ralph Richards, and pipe makers in Holland, Paul produced Opus 1, a 2-manual, 16-stop organ with suspended mechanical key action, mechanical stop action, and a flat pedal board.  Paul is clearly proud of his first organ and with good reason.  It has a bold sound that fills the room, thanks to a combination of good acoustics, narrow-scaled principal pipes in the Dutch tradition, and a higher wind pressure than would be found in his current organs.  The practice of using higher wind pressure with more closed voicing parameters at the mouth has been described as a “vocal” sound.  Many builders at the time, following John Brombaugh’s lead, took this approach.  Paul Fritts’ current organs use dramatically lower wind pressure, with more open voicing parameters, a practice known as an “instrumental” sound.  The pipe shades, an essential component in blending and focusing organ sound, were designed and carved by Paul’s father.

Paul thornock plays Opus 1 at Shelton United Methodist Church

Paul Thornock began the musical demonstration with Johann Gottfried Walther’s Partita on Jesu, meine Freude, followed by a Buxtehude prelude.  Audience members helped bring the program to an end by singing a setting of Hyfrydol as Paul improvised an accompaniment.

Curt Sather plays Pilcher Opus 595 at Faith Lutheran Church

The day’s program, organized by Curt Sather, organist at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Olympia, reconvened at Faith Lutheran Church.  The organ at Faith Lutheran, Opus 595 of Henry Pilcher’s Sons, was built in 1907 and delivered to First Baptist Church of Sidney, OH.  Failing to recognize their good fortune, the Ohio Baptists sold the organ in 1979 but retained the case to house the electronic device they were purchasing.  Thus, in its Shelton home, the organ is housed by a makeshift case of plywood and glass.  The organ has two manuals, 13 stops, with a 30-note pedalboard.

Curt began his association with Faith Lutheran when he was asked to figure out why a pipe wasn’t working.  He solved that problem by removing the dead bird.  The birds apparently learned their lesson, so the organ was in good shape when Curt began his demonstration.  Using Bach chorale preludes, he showcased individual stops, groups of stops, and full organ.

St. David of Wales Episcopal Church

The group moved on to St. David of Wales Episcopal Church, which had prepared lunch.  According to the rector, the church was using an “electronic thing” when somebody left money for a new organ–and the gift specified a pipe organ.   The organ committee settled on purchasing an existing organ, but the sellers had underestimated its size by 3 feet and it didn’t fit.  Contracting for a new organ would be more expensive, but the vestry agreed to it if the organ committee could sell the Rodgers, which they managed to do.  The committee approached Paul Fritts, and he agreed to build the organ, but only if the church would remove the acoustical ceiling tile and replace it with spruce–which they did.

With the livelier room on the horizon, Paul set out to design Opus 2A.  Opus 2A was one of four organs sharing the same case design but with differences in disposition and voicing.  Opus 2B went to the home of David Dahl; 2C went to a former student of David Dahl; and 2D went to Joan Lippincott in Princeton, NJ.  All of the Opus 2 siblings featured Dutch pipes, but Paul was beginning to think about casting his own pipes because he ran into continued trouble with the Dutch firm failing to meet his standards.  One of the problems was that Paul wanted pipes with a high lead concentration, and the Dutch supplier was unable to produce them because their casting tables could not withstand the high heat required.  Instead, the supplier produced pipes with 15% lead that can be cast at a lower temperature.  Unfortunately, the 15% lead alloy is structurally weak.  Paul revived and honed the more ancient practice of casting pipes on sand tables and has been making his own pipes since Opus 4.

Fritts-Richards Opus 2A at St. David’s Episcopal Church

Opus 2A, in St. David’s, is a 2-manual, 8-stop organ, with suspended key action, mechanical stop action, and a flat 30-note pedalboard.  Since it was to be placed against a side wall, it had to be voiced in a robust way to fill the church.  At that time, most of the voicing was done on site.  Paul was still finding his way, and was very cautious, making small changes and then listening to the organ with the room empty as well as during church services.  Voicing an organ required prolonged site visits, sometimes sleeping in the church for days at a time.  Today, thanks to experience, Paul’s crew is able to do most of the voicing in the shop, having learned what pipes need to do in a particular room.  The final voicing, of course, is done on site, but goes much faster thanks to the “pre-voicing.”

Paul laughed when asked if there were things he would have done differently when he looks at his early organs.  For example, the regal at St. David’s has a tendency not to stay in tune.  Experience has taught Paul how to resolve that problem, and he would like to fix the regal some day.  There are other things that, when Paul looks at his early works, he wonders why he stopped doing them.

April Kuhr plays Opus 2A

Following Paul’s discussion, a demonstration of the organ was given by April Kuhr, a Shelton resident and member of the Olympia AGO chapter.


Many people contributed to the success of this program.  Curt Sather, organist at St. John’s Episcopal Church, conceived of this program and organized it.  Thanks to Paul Fritts for discussing the organs–and for building two of them!  Thanks to Paul Thornock, April Kuhr, and Curt Sather for demonstrating the organs.

Special thanks to our three host churches for graciously opening their doors and making us feel welcome–for cookies and coffee, and lunch, and for contributing to the discussions of their organs.

Upcoming Spring AGO Programs

We have interesting programs in store for you this spring! Please mark your calendars.

Our February program is a field trip led by Curt Sather to visit three wonderful organs in Shelton, starting with Fritts Op. 1 at Shelton United Methodist  Church and also including Fritts Op. 2a at St. David’s Episcopal Church plus the Pilcher organ at Faith Lutheran Church.  He will be assisted by Paul Thornock and April Kuhr, and Paul Fritts will provide an  introductory overview.  Please reserve Saturday, February 10 starting at 10:30 a.m. for this special day-long meeting, which includes lunch provided by St. David’s parish.  Since we do need a head count  for lunch, please register by visiting this page. Sign-up is easy and does not require logging in to our site.

On Monday, March 12 at 7:30 p.m., you can sit back, relax, and enjoy beautiful music in the delightful space at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in North Tacoma as we bring you a collaborative concert featuring the organ plus vocal and instrumental soloists: sopranos Carlyle Jacinto and Patricia Hendrix, violinist Gwendolyn Taylor and our own cellist Karen Bredberg.  We will also introduce to you our scholarship recipient Collin Whitfield as soloist.  He and others will provide accompaniment for our soloists on the Casavant organ.

In April, we are very proud to be presenting a masterclass by renowned concert organist Bruce Neswick — on Monday evening the 16th at 7:30 p.m.  Bruce will open the evening with a short performance on the Fritts Op. 8 organ in Kilworth Chapel at University of Puget Sound, and he will end it with an improvisation.  In between, he will work with four performers on either prepared repertory or improvisation — one of them could be you!  See the accompanying article for more details, and sign up here to participate.  We are limited to four slots, which will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis;  so, hurry!

That leaves our final meeting of the year in May, which will include the installation of new officers.  Details on that final meeting for this program year will be coming soon.   Please stay tuned!

February 10, Saturday at 10:30 a.m., Shelton United Methodist Church for a day-long exploration of three Shelton organs.  Please sign up to give us a head count for lunch, which will be provided!

March 12, Monday at 7:30 p.m., Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Tacoma for a collaborative concert with organ plus vocal and instrumental soloists.

April 16, Monday at 7:30 p.m., Kilworth Chapel at University of Puget Sound for a masterclass with concert organist Bruce Neswick. Please sign up  for one of four slots to play!

May 21, Monday at 7:30 p.m. Details TBA.  Stay tuned!

Wonderful Things Come in Small Packages

“The 1820’s were good years to become an organ builder in the United States.”  So explains Tim Drewes, who, along with Cheryl Drewes, presented our January 2018 program at St. Matthew-San Matteo Episcopal Church in Auburn, Washington.  In the 1820’s, the country was growing, expanding westward, and becoming home to many Western European immigrants who were accustomed to having organs in their churches.  In addition, the tenor of religion in the Northeast, previously largely Calvinist, was becoming more diverse and more open to using organs in church services.

In this promising business environment, two brothers in Salem, Massachusetts became interested in organ building and apprenticed with established organ builder William Goodrich.  They eventually moved to Boston, where they became successful builders, moving ultimately to a large, steam-powered factory where, at the height of their popularity, they produced a new organ each week.  As they looked toward the ends of their own careers, and the future of their company, they selected Frank Hastings, one of their employees, to become a partner.  Beginning in 1871, the organ name plates were engraved with the names “E and GG Hook and Hastings.”

In about that same year, the Hook and Hastings company produced Opus 591, a 10-stop 2-manual organ, for Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.  Tim Drewes points out that it was common for small organs to move from church to church, often many times.  Opus 591 moved from Philadelphia to Camden, New Jersey, then to Auburn, Washington in 1999.  One of the oldest organs in Washington, it is largely unchanged.  It was restored by Patrick J. Murphy and Associates prior to its move to Washington, at which time the oboe, having been removed, was replaced with a similar one.  The pitch was lowered from A450 to A440.

Tim Drewes explains the hitch-down swell

There may have been one additional modification prior to its 1999 move.  The organ has a “hitch-down” swell–a lever to control the swell shades rather than a balanced swell pedal in common use now.  This swell arrangement is similar to that used by César Franck on the Cavaillé-Coll organ at St. Clotilde, Paris.  The swell lever can be hard to reach while playing, and this organ has an extra piece of wood attached–which, according to Tim Drewes, looks suspiciously like a dining room table leg.

Cheryl Drewes practices before the meeting

Once each year, the Tacoma and Seattle AGO chapters hold a joint meeting, and on the occasion of today’s program, the Tacoma chapter was joined by our Seattle colleagues as Cheryl Drewes opened the program by reading from a Hook and Hastings catalog.  “The object of this little circular is to briefly invite attention to our claims as superior organ builders.” Their stated goal was to provide pipe organs that “shall be simple, durable, inexpensive, portable, and effective. ”  Organs could be had for as little as $400.  “No church can afford to be without one of these really excellent and useful instruments.”

Providing musical examples to demonstrate the various tone colors available for $1500, Cheryl Drewes began with the first movement of Mendelssohn’s Sonata in F Minor.  This magnificent piece uses the Great and Swell divisions in dialog, features the oboe, and filled the church with its robust sound.  Proceeding to two pieces meant to showcase “the flutes to die for,” Cheryl played a Sweelinck echo fantasy and Bach Pastorale in F Major, pointing out that the organ made her feel as if she were playing an actual flute–surely a hallmark of a well designed instrument.

Perhaps to demonstrate the flexibility of the organ, and definitely demonstrating the flexibility of the organist, Cheryl Drewes ended her musical examples with her own theater-organ style transcription of Cole Porter’s “Another Op’nin’ Another Show,” made famous in the 1948 musical Kiss Me Kate.  Her transcription included a little surprise–a quote from César Franck’s “Pièce Héroïque”.

Tim Drewes continued the demonstration, pointing out that the organ has quirks that one has to consider when choosing and performing literature.  There are cost saving measures–for example, the oboe doesn’t include the lowest octave.  The pedalboard is only 25 notes–enough to play most pieces, but still holding the possibility of a surprise if the organist is not expecting to run out of pedal.  The layout of the keyboard is a little odd. Possibly cost saving, or possibly as a way of making organs narrower, the keys are smaller and closer together than normal.  This innovation didn’t last long, as organists didn’t like getting their fingers stuck between black notes.

The Auburn organ has knobs facing the player that adjust the key depth.  Most organs have such a feature, but accessible only from within the case.  Offered as an innovation in the 1860’s, the purpose was to be able to adjust for key depths that changed because of cold or dry buildings.  The feature was not popular and subsequently removed.  Tim Drewes speculates that those particular knobs might have been tempting to 1860 children who came up after church to see the organ.

Tim Drewes continued the musical examples with “Response” by George Whitefield Chadwick, a major American composer of the late 19th century.  The piece was chosen to demonstrate the organ’s flutes and strings, individually and in combination with each other.  Continuing with Franck’s Pastorale, Tim began with oboe alone, and changed stops many times to demonstrate the organ’s colorful possibilities.

Using only the diapason and 4-foot octave, Tim Drewes ended the program with Bach’s 9/8 C Major Prelude.  The sound was clear and distinct, filling the room and proving that it was capable of rendering Bach in addition to the Romantic literature for which it was designed.


Many thanks to Cheryl and Tim Drewes for an extraordinary program showcasing one of the historical gems of the Pacific Northwest, and giving us a glimpse into the history of an important American organ builder.  Thanks also to David Dahl for program guidance, to Una Hwang, our program chair, to Karen Bredberg for providing refreshments, and to Father Antonio Illas and St. Matthew-San Mateo Episcopal Church for hosting the meeting.

Additional Images


The handout provided at the meeting is attached as a PDF file.  it includes the list of musical examples, portraits, a drawing of the Hook factory, and additional historical information.


April 16 Masterclass with Bruce Neswick

The Tacoma Chapter is very proud to present a masterclass with concert organist Bruce Neswick on Monday, April 16 at 7:30 p.m.  at Kilworth Chapel at University of Puget Sound.  Mr. Neswick will begin the evening with a short performance and end it with an improvisation.  In between he will work with four performers on either repertoire or improvisation (free or hymn-based).

To sign up as a performer for this masterclass, please visit this page and register before Monday, April 2.  There are four slots which will be assigned to members on a first-come/first-served basis.  We encourage all who are interested to start practicing and register!


Bruce Neswick

Bruce Neswick is Canon for Music at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Portland, Oregon. Prior to this appointment he was the Director of Music at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, where he directed the choirs and had oversight of the musical life of that historic Cathedral.

Mr. Neswick holds the Fellowship degree from the Royal School of Church Music, for whom he has conducted numerous courses for boy and girl choristers. He has served on the faculties of, and performed for, several church music conferences, including the Association of Anglican Musicians, Westminster Choir College Summer Session, the Sewanee Church Music Conference, and others. Recital engagements in 2016-17 have taken him to Seattle, Vancouver, Silver Spring (MD), Sacramento, and Detroit. He was a featured recitalist at the National AGO Conventions in Washington, DC (2010) and Boston (2014).

A celebrated composer of organ and choral music, Mr. Neswick’s music is published by Paraclete, Augsburg- Fortress, Selah, Vivace, Hope, Plymouth, and St. James’ presses. Mr. Neswick’s skill at improvisation garnered him three first prizes from the 1989 San Anselmo Organ Festival, the 1990 American Guild of Organists National Convention in Boston, and the 1992 Rochette Concours at the Conservatoire de Musique in Geneva, Switzerland.

He is a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University and the Yale School of Music and Institute of Sacred Music. His teachers include Robert Baker, David Dahl, Gerre Hancock, Margaret Irwin-Brandon, and Lionel Rogg. He was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2016 by the University of the South, Sewanee, TN.

Bruce Neswick is represented in North America exclusively by Phillip Truckenbrod Concert Artists, LLC.

New Anthem by David Dahl

Anthem: How Dear to Me Is Your Dwelling by David Dahl

In commemoration of the one hundredth anniversary of their founding, the congregation of First Lutheran Church of West Seattle commissioned David Dahl to write a celebratory anthem.  That anthem, entitled “How Dear to Me is Your Dwelling,” will be published by The Sacred Music Press.  Its premiere performance will be at First Lutheran Church, West Seattle, in September 2018 during a commemorative service.

Andrew King, organist at First Lutheran, and one of David Dahl’s first organ students at Pacific Lutheran University, asked for a setting of the opening verses of Psalm 84, to be followed by the last stanza of the Lutheran Chorale “Praise to the Lord the Almighty.”   David admits, “It became a challenge to write ‘new’ music for a hymn text wedded to such a familiar chorale tune as Lob den Herren.”

The finished work consists entirely of newly conceived music, inspired by the various poetic texts of the psalm and the hymn, featuring alternating accompanied and unaccompanied sections, mostly four parts.  The organ accompaniment is inspired by the organ in the church–an eighteen-stop mechanical organ built by the Fritz Noack company in 1976.

Drawing of Noack Opus 83 in first Lutheran Church of West Seattle
David P. Dahl

David Dahl is organist emeritus at Pacific Lutheran University, a member of the Tacoma Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, and a prolific composer of organ music and choir anthems.