The present church building of St. Thomas Parish, designed by Spier & Rohn of Detroit in Romanesque style, was dedicated 26 November, 1899. Its original Lyon & Healy pipe organ was located in the rear gallery, in front of the rose window. In July & August of 1905, the organ was divided into two sections to either side of the window. In 1905 this organ was replaced with a new organ, built by Henry Pilcher's Sons of Louisville, Kentucky as opus 505. This mechanical-action organ was located in the present twin cases located to either side of the rose window. This organ was dedicated on 6 October 1905 with a concert by Professor York of Detroit.
The Pilcher organ was rebuilt in 1947 by Casavant Frères Limitée of Sainte-Hyacinthe, Québec, at a cost of $20,000. Louis Van Dessel was organist and choir director at that time. Casavant replaced all the organ's mechanisms, incorporating new electro-pneumatic chests, a new console and wind-system. However, the pipes of the Pilcher organ were all retained, with Casavant adding one rank of new pipes and various extensions of older ranks. Nonetheless, Casavant listed this organ as their opus 1873, and over the years this organ came to be known as a Casavant.
In 1974 the Diamond Jubilee Fund was established to raise money to redecorate and improve the church building. Parishioner Edward Olnecki was the architect who designed many changes carried out at that time (he was also architect for changes made in 1964). As part of these renovations, in 1975 choir members removed and cleaned all the organ's pipes. An additional $4,300 was spent on organ repairs.
In 1977, music director Mary Jarrett and organist Nancy Nowak recommended that the organ be renovated. This work was carried out and completed the following year by Thomas Wood, who worked both as an organbuilder and a professor of music at the University of Indiana at Bloomington (in 1980 he formed the organbuilding partnership Goulding & Wood). Wood's renovation involved the replacement of the majority of the organ's pipes, in an effort to make the overall sound lighter and brighter, according to the fashion of that time. Wood also modified the tone of many of the remaining old pipes along similar lines.
In 2003 a Capital Campaign was begun at Saint Thomas parish to fund many needed improvements in the church and school buildings. This made it possible to fund a much-needed renovation of the organ, carried out by Renaissance Pipe Organ Company, Inc. of Ann Arbor. Initiated under music director Gregory Hamilton, this renovation was originally planned only to restore, repair or replace the organ's mechanical elements as needed. This work was underway during the interim music directorship of James Wagner, who was succeeded by music director Lucia Lumachi Campbell and organist Timothy Tikker in September 2005.
The mechanical renovation has entailed the replacement of all the interior mechanisms of the organ's console (keydesk) with modern solid-state components, manufactured by Syndyne Corporation of Vancouver, Washington. The wooden exterior of the console was refinished by Hofmann Furniture of Ann Arbor, with new stop-jambs made by Renaissance Pipe Organ Company, stopknobs by Syndyne, and thumb pistons by Klann Organ Supply of Waynesboro, Virginia. Renaissance also refurbished all the chest mechanisms (which hold and feed air to the organ pipes to play them), releathering pneumatic pouches. The large bellows air reservoir for the right side of the organ was re-leathered, and various other repairs have been made.
Renaissance had determined that some of the reed pipes installed in 1978 were beginning to collapse, and they recommended that these be replaced when funds became available. In August of 2006 a donor generously offered funds for these and other new pipes to be purchased. Based on Mr. Tikker's extensive research on French organs, and his experience with such organs in churches of similar size and acoustics as Saint Thomas, it was decided to replace all the organ's existing reed pipes with new pipes in French style. Their design was based on the work of great French organbuilder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (1811-1899), famous for building the organ at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris (as well as the Basilique Sacré-Coeur and Église de la Sainte Trinité, both churches where Naji Hakim was organist). Their final design was determined by consultant Manuel Rosales of Los Angeles, California (designer of the recent organ at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles), and the pipes were hand-made by Jacques Stinkens Orgelpijpenmakers B. V. of Zeist, the Netherlands. They are made from a pewter alloy of 85% tin, hammered to ensure maximum stability. Stinkens also made two harmonic flute ranks, one based on similar pipes in the 1852-57 Cavaillé-Coll organ at Luçon Cathedral, the other from the Rosales organ at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon. Other new pipes were made by Organ Supply Industries, Erie, Pennsylvania (which firm also supplied a new, adjustable organ bench).
Starting in August 2007, Michael McNeil of Mead, Colorado undertook the revoicing of the organ. This entailed the adjustment of both existing and new pipes to produce their optimal tone quality and volume, with a special effort to reconcile and unify the contrasting tonal styles of pipes from different eras in the organ's history. Many damaged pipes were repaired, and various unsuitable pipes were replaced. It appeared that many of the pipes added in 1978 were never adjusted to produce their optimal tone in this church's acoustics; nor were they adjusted when the acoustics were changed in the church's 1992 renovation. McNeil improved the sound of the organ so as to make the organ "fill the room," i.e. be plainly and normally audible throughout the church, with optimal volume, clarity and tone quality. In the words of one parishioner, the organ now "adds joy to the singing," better leading and supporting the assembly's full participation in liturgy.
We wish to offer our sincere and heartfelt thanks to the many people who have worked so generously to
make this organ renovation possible:
Elgin Clingaman and David Hufford co-owners, Renaissance Pipe Organ Company, Inc., assisted by Kurt Heyer, Kevin Krueger, Dr. Geoff Stanton and Kris VanRiper for all their fine work in the mechanical refurbishment and ongoing maintenance of the organ; Michael McNeil, for his expert revoicing, for consulting on tonal design, and tuning the organ for tonight's concert; Manuel Rosales, for his excellent design-work for the new reed and flute pipes, and consultation with the pipemakers on their construction; Theo Albertse and all the staff of Jacques Stinkens Orgelpijpkenmakers for their extraordinary craftmanship in making these pipes. Thanks also to the staff of Saint Thomas parish for all their support, logistical and spiritual, especially: Fr. Jeffrey Njus, pastor of Saint Thomas parish; Glen Johnston, Business Manager; Angie Austin, Bookkeeper; Meghan Gilbert, Receptionist; Karen Belcher and Mark Moses, Maintenance; to Francis Lum and Suzanne Abdalla for their patience while holding keys at the organ for tuning and voicing; and to all others who have supported this project... thank you!
Finally, we especially wish to acknowledge the donor who made this all possible, providing funds not only for the rebuilding of the Saint Thomas Church organ, but also for tonight's concert: Saint Thomas parishioner Dr. Paula Davey. Thank you, Dr. Davey, for your extraordinary generosity!
Technical Description of the Organ
Renovated by Renaissance Pipe Organ Company, Inc., Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2004-08; with voicing by Michael McNeil, Mead, Colorado, 2007-08
Two manuals and pedal; electro-pneumatic key action, with pitman chests; electronic stop and combination action; 28 voices, 35 ranks, 2,029 pipes
Pipe sources: P = Pilcher, 1905; C = Casavant, 1947; W = Wood, 1978 (reeds by A. R. Schopp, Alliance, OH; flues by Organ Supply, Erie, PA); O = Organ Supply, 2008; S = Stinkens, 2008
Pipe materials: Sn = 85% tin; Pb = high-lead alloy; sp = spotted metal (alloy of c. 50% tin, 50% lead); Zn = zinc
Pipe forms: om = open metal; sm = stopped metal; ow = open wood; sw = stopped wood; harm = harmonic, i.e. double-length
PDF: program for Re-inauguration Concert of the Pipe Organ at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Ann Arbor, MI (6 October 2008) - including further pipe specifications.