The Fisk-Rosales organ was built entirely in Gloucester in 1995 and delivered to the Shepherd School on January 15, 1996.
The voicing of the organ pipes - the meticulous and painstaking adjustment of the tone, volume, and speech of each pipe - began six weeks later and was accomplished by both firms during the twelve months ending in March 1997.
Charles Nazarian, known for his design of numerous organ cases throughout the country, created the instrument's visual design. Inspired by French Classical examples that feature dramatic vertical towers, the Honduran mahogany organ case rises to a height of 49 1/2 feet. It integrates a three-manual and pedal console with 94 ebony and cocobolo draw knobs en amphithéâtre, a configuration that puts the control of the stops within easy reach of the performer. Recalling some of the most celebrated consoles of late-nineteenth century French organs, the elegantly curved terraces with gold-embossed leather borders surround the bone and ebony manual keys and the maple and ebony pedal keys. The various historic traits found in this organ coexist effectively with a state-of-the-art computerized stop action and memory system that allows hundreds of preset combinations of stops to be recalled at the touch of a button.
The organ contains 75 stops that control 4,493 pipes constructed from polished tin (façade pipes), hammered tin, scraped tin, spotted metal, hammered lead, poplar, pine, basswood, and cherry. A valve that brings wind to each pipe is connected to a keyboard by a direct mechanical link called a tracker. An ancient mechanical system, tracker action has been in use for more than 700 years and is still the most reliable, simple, and sensitive means of giving the performer intimate control over the speech of the pipes.
The tracker action on the lowest manual of this organ, the Grand Orgue, is augmented with a servo-pneumatic machine that reduces the resistance felt on the keys when playing with the sub octave couplers (octaves graves) or when other manuals are coupled to it. The servo-pneumatic machine was developed several years ago by Stephen Kowalyshn of C.B. Fisk, Inc., and differs from similar pneumatic devices in the past. The Fisk servo-pneumatic machine can be completely disengaged so that the lowest manual can be played without the assistance afforded by the machine. It also has the advantage of maintaining complete control over the speech of the pipes (as if playing without mechanical assistance) while still mitigating the physical energy required to depress the keys.
There are several distinctive tonal characteristics of this organ that listeners will easily recognize: a large number of distinctive flue pipes that give the organ its smooth foundation tone; an effective complement of mutation stops (indicated in the specification by pipe lengths containing fractions) that give color and pungency to the flue pipes with which they are almost always combined; and fiery reeds that can dominate the entire ensemble of pipes to give it weight and power.
The distinguished visual and tonal aspects of the Edythe Bates Old Grand Organ compel us to celebrate the inauguration of a new era of performance, study, and enjoyment of the King of Instruments as we offer to Houston and the nation a musical landmark of unparalleled significance.