By: Firmon E Hardenbergh
Comments on: Harvard’s Historic, Controversial Fisk Organ: Last Local Utterances 2017-08-18
I was a student and frequent attendee at Morning Prayers in Appleton Chapel and Sunday worship services at Mem Church from 1948-1956 and 1958-1960. Having taken organ lessons and even been a recitalist on a wonderful E M Skinner at Independent Presbyterian in B’ham AL (chamber openings into the choir and not on the transept walls facing the nave – a favorite arrangement of Mr. Skinner) during high school I remember not once wishing for more sound in the nave at Mem Church. It was absolutely wonderful. And I heard such a wide variety of offerings – even Aaron Copeland!- from G Wallace Woodworth, organist and director of the choir and the Harvard Glee Club. Nor do I remember hearing or hearing of Woody’s wish for more. The Skinner in Mem Church was quite adequate and most musical. This “controversy” is more abhorrent historical revisionism rather actual facts reporting, in my opinion.
There was no need for removal/disposal of the Skinner, even with the Fisk unfortunately placed at the east end of the Chapel. It has been my understanding that CBF himself wanted it placed in the balcony. My suspicion is that the forces heading the move for a “North German” descendant instrument for Mem Church, led by E P Biggs (for certain the newly arrived John Ferris was not at all a pusher) simply dictated that the most economical thing to do was to dispose of the Skinner rather than re-leather and refurbish it – and the money changers in the administration jumped aboard – so off went the beautiful Skinner to California. And EPB had his new toy on center stage without the adjacent, and potentially negatively distracting contrast for the newcomer. (In answer to my query not long before he died, President Pusey, likewise a faithful attendee at Sunday worship services, wrote to me all he remembered was that a new organ was installed while he was president!) It is ironic that Mr. Biggs became such a major factor in the de-fashioning of Skinner organs, particularly since it was his long enduring CBS Sunday morning live broadcasts during the 40s and 50s on the small “demonstration” Aeolian-Skinner in the location of the present Flentrop at Busch-Reisinger which played such a significant role in his becoming so famous and influentual.
With the magic being worked by Mr. Jones and the Rev. Dr. Peter Gomes, perhaps we shall finally have the best of the two pipe organ worlds in/for Memorial Church, though whether it will match the wonder of the Aeolian and the Flentrop in the Chapel at Duke University remains to be seen. I am ever hopeful.
A hearty thank you, best wishes and congratulations to all involved, Firmon Hardenbergh AB ’52, MD ’56
A PS for Larry Phillips. As I understand it, the replacement for the Appleton Chapel chanbers is an E M Skinner, not an Aeolian Skinner. Aren’t we all the more fortunate?! feh