THE OPUS 327 ORGAN
THE OPUS 327 ORGAN
The Skinner organ at St. Luke’s Church in Evanston, Illinois, Ernest M. Skinner’s “Opus [work] 327,” is both magnificent and exceedingly rare. Fully restored in the 1990s, Opus 327 is today one of a very few close-to-original Skinner organs left in the United States, a rare surviving example of Skinner’s artistic and engineering genius.
The organ and its acoustic space are inseparable. The St. Luke’s nave, or central worship space, is itself a powerful musical instrument. The Gothic-style building was begun in 1906 to the designs of John Sutcliffe and erected in several stages. In 1914, the nave was completed to a height of seventy feet. Construction halted after the 1929 stock market crash and never resumed.
In 1922, the Skinner Organ Company of Boston, Massachusetts, installed its Opus 327, a four-manual organ. The organ is in chambers to the right (south) of the chancel area. The Choir and Pedal divisions have the lowest position; the Great and Solo are above; the Swell division is at the top. The main façade, facing the chancel, includes some speaking pipes. A smaller façade in the south aisle is composed of dummy pipes. In 1959, the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company installed the Fanfare Trumpet above the west doors of the nave.
Opus 327 was built to mimic the sounds of a full orchestra. The organ’s console, to the left (north) of the chancel, allows the musician to create sound using “a sophisticated electro-pneumatic computer” that Ernest M. Skinner invented and perfected. The voice of each of its thousands of metal and wooden pipes (see the specifications) is controlled by air that enters a leather pouch through a valve. The pipes sit in “windchests” that receive air from reservoirs that must be kept at optimal pressure and humidity. A motor forces air into the reservoirs through a blower in the church’s lower level.
In the 1990s, after 70 years of steady use and wear and tear, every pipe was cleaned and repaired and every leather part was replaced. The entire console was gutted and rebuilt to update its brass, wood, leather, and steel components and miles of wiring. In 2013, the original Opus 327 motor was replaced. In 2014 the church launched a $1.8 million capital campaign to restore the nave, a process completed in 2016.
"The Diapasons in the Great division of the organ in St. Luke’s Church, Evanston, Illinois, are most satisfactory to me and are of ideal Diapason character. This church has fine acoustics and, in their locations, these Diapasons have an indescribable glow and richness, making them exceptionally churchly."
— Ernest M. Skinner (Composition of the Organ)