A report by Peter Crisafulli

With a hint of autumn in the air, several members of the Hilbus Chapter set out to explore two exceptional instruments in the NW area of Washington, DC.

Our first visit was St. Paul’s Church, Rock Creek Parish. Superlatives are in order to describe the building, the acoustics, and the organ. Our host was Graham Elliott, Director of Music at St. Paul’s, who gave us a wonderful introduction to the history of the parish, its buildings, and the story of how the beautiful new Dobson organ came to be. Graham also had worthwhile words of wisdom about organ building and left us with much common-sense wisdom to contemplate, especially for anyone fortunate enough to be involved in planning a new organ project.

This smallish gem of an instrument is huge from a musical standpoint. Graham’s demonstration consisted of a brilliant improvisation that began pianissimo and gradually built up to full organ, complete with toccata-like figurations, and then back down to a whisper. It was a seamless progression — no one thing stood out. Even mixtures and reeds elegantly entered the build-up. And yet, the individual stops are filled with character and color. For anyone who has not yet seen and heard this marvel — you owe it to yourself to do so at the first possible opportunity. Also, St. Paul’s has just released a new CD featuring its professional choir and the Dobson organ in works of Elgar.

John Panning, Tonal Director for Dobson, has written a comprehensive analysis of the tonal design of this organ. It is well worth reading and can be accessed by clicking here.

8’ Open Diapason 8’ Geigen Principal 16’ Bourdon
8’ Hohlflute 8’ Lieblich Gedeckt 8’ Open Diapason
4’ Octave 8’ Salicional 8’ Bass Flute (ext.)
4’ Harmonic Flute 8’ Voix Celeste 4’ Octave (ext.)
2 2/3’ Twelfth 4’ Gemshorn 16’ Trombone
2’ Fifteenth 2’ Flageolet 8’ Trumpet (ext.)
1 3/5’ Seventeenth 2’ Mixture III  
1 1/3’ Mixture IV 16’ Bassoon  
8’ Trumpet  
8’ Oboe


Couplers: SG, GP, SP. Tremulant (general).
Mechanical key action, electric stop and combination action.

For pictures from the crawl at St Paul's, click here

Following St. Paul’s, we visited St. Martin of Tours RC, home of M. P. Moller’s Opus 6809 of 1939 — the Whitelegg era. A choir rehearsal in the organ loft was concluding as we arrived, and it was evident that choir members were thrilled that we had come to visit, as they are justifiably proud of this instrument.

Everything appeared to be in original condition and in working order except for the Vox Humana which was not playable. Two stops originally planned for have never been installed. The console is a three-manual stop-key in “theatre organ” style. Of note are the unusual Choir to Swell couplers at 16, 8 & 4.

The tonal compartments are divided on either side of the gallery, the enclosed Choir division and unenclosed Pedal Violone/Octave unit being placed to the right of the console, and the unenclosed Great to the left. The enclosed Swell is deeply recessed in a chamber behind the Great. Both sides are fronted by matching dummy pipe facades.

The sound of this instrument is characterized by rich, clear Diapasons, a restrained brilliance in the chorus, pretty flutes, a Gemshorn “with attitude,” a nice bright Trumpet and piquant Oboe, and a juicy Clarinet that I would have loved to take home.

8’ Diapason 8’ Diapason 8’ Viola
8’ Clarabella 8’ Rohrgedeckt 8’ Melodia
8’ Gemshorn 8’ Gamba 8’ Dulciana
4’ Octave 8’ Voix Celeste 4’ Rohrflute
II-III Mixture 4’ Rohrflute (ext. 8’ Rohrged.) 8’ Clarinet
(2 2/3’ + 2’; 2’ Flautino Tremolo
@ mid. C + 4’) III-IV Mixture (prepared for) Swell/Choir 8’
Tremolo 8’ Trumpet
Swell/Great 8’ 8’ Oboe
Choir/Great 8’ 8’ Vox Humana
Swell 16’, 4’
Choir/Swell 16’, 8’, 4’

16’ Violone (low end open wood, upper pipes metal)
16’ Bourdon (ext. Swell Rohrged.)
10 2/3’ Quint (from Bourdon & Rohrged.)
8’ Octave (ext. Viol.)
8’ Flute (Great Clara.)
8’ Gedeckt (Swell)
8’ Dulciana (Choir)
16’ Trombone (prepared for)
Great/Pedal 8’
Swell/Pedal 8’
Choir/Pedal 8’

Lunch followed at the Colonel Brooks Tavern — a great way to end a great crawl.