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A New “King of Instruments” Coming to the Neighborhood; First Baptist Church Organ Soon to be Heard

Accompanying images can be viewed on page 1 of the August 2013 issue PDF

By Lawrence (Lon) P. Schreiber*

First Baptist Church, located one block north of Scott Circle at 16th and O Streets, NW, built its magnificent Neo-Gothic sanctuary in 1955, replete with breathtaking stained glass windows, among the finest to be found in Washington. At the time it was not feasible to install a large pipe organ, so for the decades until now the congregation used a small organ dating from 1948.

In 2007 generous donors made it possible to purchase the finest concert grand piano available at the House of Steinway in Queens, New York, and this event opened a new concert venue for the church. Steinway artist Thomas Pandolfi played yearly recitals; he is scheduled again to play on March 16, 2014.

This very month –- August, 2013 — the monumental building task of the new organ in the 1,000-seat sanctuary is now nearing completion. There are actually four organs (in each corner of the sanctuary) and over 6,000 pipes are played from the five-manual console located behind the pulpit, but placed so it can easily be moved to the center of the chancel for recitals. This five-keyboard console is only the second in Washington (the other is in National City Christian Church on Thomas Circle).

The organs are beautiful to see, having enhanced the aesthetic of the chancel and gallery. Red oak casework surrounds the majestic zinc pipes on both sides of the chancel, perfectly matching the ornate tracery above the altar and around the baptistery. There are even angels in their lofty niches on each side. In the rear gallery stunning brass horizontal trumpets are seen in the railing, and the two organ chambers are seen in the Gothic arches of each corner, with the massive Redemption stained glass window facing 16th Street.

Another en chamade (horizontal) trumpet — this one is French, versus the English sound of the brass pipes in the center railing — is located atop the gallery great organ on the right side. The organ is rich with numerous reeds, all full-length, versus half-length, including a full-length 32-foot pedal reed!

The principals throughout the instrument are full-bodied, warm sounding, and the plethora of flutes are distinctive with much tonal variety.

The digital memory system (“virtuoso”) employs the latest technology, offering the resident organist and all visiting recitalists “unlimited” resources.

The inaugural recital on Sunday, September 15th at 4 p.m., with a reception following, will include two large pieces from the standard organ literature: the great “B Minor Prelude and Fugue” from Bach’s mature master period and his incomparable “Choral in E Major,” the first of the last three works by César Franck, and other French works, including the Mulet “Nave” from Byzantine Sketches and “Meditation,” a piece by Maurice Duruflé. Less lengthy pieces will be two Bach chorale preludes, an impressionistic piece by Seth Bingham, British pieces by Walford Davies and Edward Elgar, and a spectacular display of the commanding reed stops in a “Fanfare and March” by Malcolm Archer. These pieces are programmed to give some idea of the vast scope of coloristic sounds available in this incredible instrument.

Ed. Note: Dr. Schreiber will perform the inaugural recital on Sunday, September 15, at 4:00 pm, with a reception following. Special parking arrangements will be made to use the Colonial Parking underground garage beneath the Airline Pilots Association building at  Massachusetts Avenue and 17th Street, NW (entrance from Mass. Ave. only).

*The writer is First Baptist’s Minister of Music and serves as its   organist/choirmaster. Prior to being coaxed out of retirement several years ago to assume his current position, Dr. Schreiber served for 40 years as Minister of Music at National City Christian Church at Thomas Circle.