With the 1997 decision to renovate their church, the people of First Presbyterian Church showed great enthusiasm to unlock the liturgical and musical potential of the sanctuary. The renovation transformed the church architecturally and has had a profound impact on the sound of the organ.
The building of Opus 119 presented the challenge of integrating the sound of a large three-manual organ in a small room with a barrel vault. The original vault, likely to be detrimental to the tone of the organ by focusing too much direct sound into the body of the church, was removed and replaced by a coffered design constructed of heavy plaster. The coffering diffused the high-frequency energy and unified the balance of the organ’s sound across the width of the church. Other acoustical improvements to the church included a new nearly silent HVAC system, windows with heavy glass capable of reflecting low frequency energy, and sculpted plaster walls to reduce tonal distortion caused by cross-room flutter echoes.
The tonal design of Opus 119 reflects the broad nature of many modern Fisk instruments. It is the result of much thoughtful discussion with regard to the requirements of organ in service playing and solo organ literature. The eclectic stop list is a unique, historically informed blending of stops representing many of the great eras and schools of organbuilding.
The success of this project is a credit to the design process; to the close collaboration between organ builder, acoustician, and architect; and to the support of an exceptional church staff and organ committee. Opus 119 was the focus of an article by Barbara Jepson on organ building in America, which appeared in the October 30, 2002 edition of the Wall Street Journal.