SMU Gains Ownership of Significant Historic 1927 E. M. Skinner Op. 563 Organ
Because of a major steam pipe incident in SMU’s Perkins Chapel in January 2018, the chapel’s Aeolian-Skinner organ was significantly damaged and became unplayable. Plans were made to replace the instrument. The organ will soon have a new home at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Dallas, where it will be restored and used for Our Redeemer services. Consequently, the Perkins School of Theology at SMU purchased another instrument, the 1927 E. M. Skinner organ, Op. 563. This instrument was the last one from the E. M. Skinner company to be built without the influence of G. Donald Harrison.
The Skinner Organ Company is commonly regarded as America’s finest organ builder from 1905 until 1932, when the company merged the organ department of the Aeolian Company to form Aeolian-Skinner. The period 1924–32 is further regarded as the zenith of the firm’s work in that period, mechanically and artistically. In 1925, Fourth Presbyterian Church of New York City contracted with Skinner for its Opus 563. Due to Skinner’s backlog, the organ was not built and installed until 1927. The organ, with its three manuals and 37 ranks, was designed specifically for Fourth Presbyterian. The bulk of the instrument was erected in a freestanding case in the church’s rear balcony. Two ranks, forming an “Echo” section, were installed in a room to the left of the chancel area, to create mysterious, distant effects. (Coincidentally, the New York organ is almost identical in size to the original Perkins Chapel Aeolian-Skinner.) In 1953, Fourth Presbyterian sold their building to Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church. Because the pipe organ is not an integral part of Orthodox worship, the then 26-year-old Skinner essentially went into a mode of slumbering storage. Because it was not used, there was no need to tune or service it, thus no intrusion from organ technicians or others. The instrument is a pristine example of a company in its prime.
The organ was recently moved out of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church and is now in a storage facility in Norwood, Massachusetts. A superb team of organ experts and builders, under the leadership of Jonathan Ambrosino and Jason Alden, has done a superb job in conjunction with the administrative leadership at the Perkins School of Theology as well as Stefan Engels and Christopher Anderson for this exciting project to become a reality. The organ is in a completely unaltered and pristine restorable condition. We will now enter the phase of identifying a possible donor so that the restoration of the organ can begin as soon as possible. Once the restoration and installation of this instrument in Perkins Chapel is completed, we expect that it will attract international attention, serve many generations of organists in their goal to achieve artistic excellence, and be an inspiration to the daily needs of the SMU community.
Stefan Engels & Jason Alden