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Part of the installation team from Dobson Pipe Organ Builders at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue

Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue tour with Lynn Dobson June 2017

On June 26, 2017 John Panning invited JAV Recordings to spend the day with the team from Dobson Pipe Organ Builders at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in New York to photograph the installation of their new pipe organ.  John could not be there so Lynn Dobson was our host. The organ is  Dobson Pipe Organ Builders’ Opus 93 and will contain 102 stops. 

The photographs taken of the organ at Saint Thomas Church on June 26, 2017 can not happen again as it did on that day.  Imagine  if a photographer had been given a similar tour by Ernest Skinner back in 1913?  We would marvel looking back at the 1913 installation.  

By the end of June of 2017 the installation of Dobson Pipe Organ Builders  Opus 93 at Saint Thomas Church had most of its structure setup. Lynn Dobson started the tour on the North side after walking up a “secret” narrow stair case we entered the first level of the organ. We then started climbing many ladders going to the top of the Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson organ case. Two photos were captured there: one of Lynn Dobson sitting on a walk-board with a content but large smile on his face with the reredos behind him. The second looked back through the empty Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson case, the stained glass windows on either side of the church, the vast expanse of the Saint Thomas Church nave, the magnificent stone vaulting all drawing your eye to the Taylor and Boody Pipe Organ in the West end. 

Lynn next took us to the South side of the organ. We walked through the Solo organ which only had some of its pipes installed. Lynn showed us the structural steel installed to hold up the organ case. I had never seen so many steel I-beams in any organ before; they were massive. The chambers were beautifully laid out. We then went out on the scaffolding on the South side. The new casework manufactured by Dobson Pipe organs is extraordinary. Add the carvings by Dennis O. Collier to the casework it is some of the most intricate I have seen. We arrived at the Great just as the crew was starting to fit together the framing of the lower case on the South side. A flash of childhood Lincoln Logs flashed through my head as I realized I was documenting something very special on that day. 

Taking photos of organ cases can be frustrating. From the ground one tries for a true perspective of the object without the problem of converging lines. The scaffolding at Saint Thomas Church presented the perfect opportunity to take a photograph of the beautiful Taylor and Boody Pipe Organ in the West end. Standing high above the choir, carefully thinking through what lens to use, how much to under expose the image to what the camera told me was an average grey and how to best compose the shot, I realized how lucky I was trusted by so many in the organ world. Gerre Hancock welcomed me as a recent college grad in the early 1990s, I was honored to be able to work with John Scott and now Lynn Dobson and his team welcomed and trusted me to photograph a day of the installation of the Miller-Scott Organ on June 26, 2017. 

John Panning, co-owners of Dobson Pipe Organ Builders, was asked what the inspiration and ideas for tonal design for the organ at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue were. This is his answer.

Our primary goal for the Saint Thomas organ is to support every sort of singing, whether a single soloist, the Saint Thomas Choir, or the assembled body of worshipers. To do this properly, the new organ has a wide variety of foundation tone, stirring solo stops, three divisions under expression, and a voicing treatment that encourages and inspires the human voice. Further, with its new case, the organ has been laid out so that its sound projects throughout the church, addressing participants all the way to the rear of the nave in a way not possible before. The new organ’s specification honors the French influence of the previous organ, even incorporating a number of its existing pipes, and the instrument retains the historic organ case and console cabinet, which were designed by Bertram Goodhue and date to the church’s construction in 1913. The opportunity to build an organ for a parish that so values sacred music is a rare privilege, tempered only by the loss of our friend and collaborator John Scott in 2015. It is a high honor to work with John’s successor, Daniel Hyde, the Rector, the Rev. Canon Carl Turner, and all at Saint Thomas Church to design, build, and voice this noteworthy organ, which we believe will inspire worshipers and delight music lovers for generations.

JAV Recordings looks forward to catching up with John Panning of Dobson Pipe Organ Builders this Fall to report on the process of voicing of the organ. The dedication of the new pipe organ at Easter is going to be magnificent. 

It is hoped the new pipe organ will always be used to praise God for generations to come and the parish and the Saint Thomas Choir School continues to flourish. This is a very special place in New York City. The Sacraments, excellent preaching and extraordinary sacred music cannot be taken for granted. 

As John Scott asked to have carved into the organ case, Soli Deo gloria. For that is the only reason for great music in church. 

Thank you Lynn and John and team of Dobson Pipe Organ Builders.


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