The Organs of St. Ann's

..............The organ in the old church on Gladys Avenue was an old single keyboard harmonium which had served for a long time and no one seems to know much about its history, but when the new church was built a new organ was included in the plans almost at the last minute.

...............This organ was not quite new, apparently having been installed in a church somewhere in the Interior where for some reason it was removed after only a year or so, and became available at a substantially reduced price. The organ was built by the JC Hallman Company in Ontario, one of their standard models, designed for home use. The front we see in the wall of the church was actually the front of a free standing cabinet designed to fit under an eight foot ceiling. It was a very small organ, having only three sets of pipes, Principal, String and Flute, and these only down to Tenor C pitch. The large, bulky and expensive pipes normally sounding the lowest twelve notes in each rank were simply missing. Hallman replaced these with a system of brass reeds inside the console in a soundproof enclosure, complete with a small blower. Reeds were fitted with pickups and a small amplifier and a rather hefty speaker which originally fit neatly under the pipe chest and played through the grill cloth in the facade below the shutters. The opening can still be made out in the middle of the grille.

Although the City of Abbotsford has more than fifty actual church buildings, Saint Ann's is one of only five churches which have Pipe Organs

Rather than have what looked like an old fashioned wardrobe standing against the wall of the church, an opening was cut in the wall of the closet next to the confessional and the front of the organ cabinet was fitted over it and the compact pipechest and speaker were installed inside the closet on a subfloor two or three feet above the main floor. The installation was carried out by Hallman rep John Darbyshire of Delta, who later actually lived here in Abbotsford for several years. The black walnut console and facade while not matching the oak woodwork of the church were nicely designed and well finished, and still look good thirty five years later.

----------Hallman organs are typically a mix of Dutch pipework, English keyboards and Canadian made pedalboards and cabinetry. This extremely small instrument used an intricate system of electro-mechanical relays to allow the small number of pipes to play in every position immaginable allowing the three ranks to yield more than twenty stops. This system called unification is very much frowned upon by purists but makes a small organ sound very big. The tiled floor, hard plaster walls and ceiling surfaces and unpadded pews provided remarkably good accoustics in the church providing a very bright reverberation of about two and one half seconds duration which greatly enhanced the sound of the organ.

----------The organ was maintained by Mr. Darbyshire for several years until the welll known financial difficulties all parishes face from time to time forced the termination of the service contract. After some period of neglect, the parish organist, Jack Ellis, an electronic organ technician offered to look after the small electrical problems and do some tuning. The organ continued to serve well for two decades. During this time the first modification was made, adderessing the organ's weak spot, the electronic bass system. The amplified reeds while providing the correct pitches in the bottom of the scales did little to provide the appropriate sound of the pipes they replaced. To correct this, a system of electronic tone generators was designed and built by Mr. Ellis and voiced to imitate the characteristics of the pipes. While not perfect, a considerable improvement was achieved. An added bonus was the elimination of the blower inside the console and the consequential noise and vibration it produced.

----------In the mid eighties during one of the peaks in parish musical activity, the organ fund which had been accumulating since the seventies was released and a major upgrade of the organ was authorized by Father William Ashley. The object was to remove a lot of the unification which would involve some radical additions. This contract again went to parish organist Jack Ellis who by this time had built several pipe organs. The first stage involved separating the pedals from the orignal 3 rank swell organ which was serving all three keyboards. The low ceiling and limted floor space stilll demanded a synthesized system, so a discrete nine rank tone generator system was built providing a speaker and amplifier for each pedal stop. As well as having all the pedal voices independent, 16' Principal and 16' Trombone were now available on the pedals.

----------The major part of the project was to provide separate Great and Swell divisions for the two manual keyboards. With no more closets available, it was necessary to create more space, so a room was built on next to the sanctuary with openings cut into the wall behind St. Ann's altar. This provided enough space to house a completely separate Great division, although again limited to Tenor C and up. A new pipechest was designed to accomodate seven sets of principals from 8' through to three rank mixture, and also a unit flute which would be unified to 8 and 4' pitches. New pipes of nearly solid tin were built by Heissler of Germany for all the principal ranks. These pipes were voiced completely un-nicked and were complemented by moving the original Dutch Rohrflotes from the Hallman organ, also un-nicked to the new division. These were replaced in the Swell by an older set of wooden Gedeckts, probably by Cassavant providing some strength and fundamental to this rather weak division. The original electro-mechanical unit switching system was replaced by one of Ellis's TTL based solid state systems which were working well in over a dozen organs by this time. This took care of the remaining unification in the swell organ and provided inter-manual couplers which were not included in the original specification for obvious reasons. The original principal did not play on the swell keyboard and so this rank was also used as part of the new great division. A set of celeste strings was installed in the Swell in it's place. Finally, two entirely electronic reeds were included, Trumpet on the swell and Krummhorn on the Great, with the intention of replacing them with real pipes at some point.

----------Finally, with new stop names needed for all of the changes and different numbers of stops in the divisions, it was practical to replace the entire stop rail including woodwork. A matching walnut rail and base were made and a set of motorized stop keys were installed. These were connected to a Solid State multi-page computer type memory system designed by Ellis providing capture settable pistons in four groups, Great, Swell, Pedal and Generals. As many as sixteen different organists can set and store their own registrations using a selector switch on the console.

----------About five years later pastor Father Stephen Jensen authorized the final upgrade, to replace the original nicked principal pipes with a set of pipes to match the rest of the new pipework in the Great. Using the specifications from the original order, Heissler built a set of matching principals to complete the chorus. The old pipes were installed back in their original position on the swell chest, and wired to speak at the 4' pitch, providing an independent Octave 4' stop. The displaced celeste pipes were replaced with yet another electronic rank which actually worked quite well, as this voice could not be played without its complementary unison string pipes playing at the same time.

The two openings in the Great chamber were originally covered with a fine screen so that the polished tin pipes inside could be clearly seen from most of the church. The openings have since been covered with curtains behind wrought iron grille work, hiding all traces of pipework from the congregation.

---------After Father Tran ran his very succesful campaign to raise funds for stained glass windows in which individuals could each buy a window, Jack Ellis half seriously suggested a drive to raise funds to replace the electronic trumpet, in which about sixty parishioners could each buy a pipe. Father Tran took up the idea and funds came in very quickly, and so now another upgrade is beginning. As no more room is available, it will probably require a complete re design and rebuilding of the swell pipe chest, possibly the whole chamber. This will be a significant change which people will be able to hear, as the electronic trumpet is being used, but it is turned down in volume.Being electronic it is not desirable for it to be too prominent.

----------Any further upgrades will require a fairly radical re allotment of space, such as another closet or even confessional, and would involve converting electronic bass voices to real pipes. This is expensive and space taking, and would not make a proportional difference in the sound of the organ. It could be considered more idealogical than practical, and will be considered low priority. In the meantime, this instrument is probably one of the finest sounding organs in the whole archdiocese, thanks largely to its European pipework and the accoustics of the church itself.


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