The Church Organ at

The Church of the Pilgrimage


The Roche organ at The Church of the Pilgrimage was dedicated November 24, 1991, at a dedicatory recital performed by Brian Jones, and it has a history that, though not nearly as long nor as impressive as that of the congregation that it now serves, is also a pilgrimage of sorts.

In 1894, the Boston firm of Jesse Woodbury and Company installed a new, three-manual organ in the Baptist Temple on South Main Street in Fall River. This instrument contained 33 speaking registers and 2164 pipes controlled by an attached console with a tubular-pneumatic keyaction mechanism. Located at the front of the church, it had casework of quartered oak and facade pipes stenciled in gold and colors, as was the style in that era.
The dedicatory recital was played on Tuesday evening, Sept. 25, 1894, by the noted New York organist Samuel P. Warren, accompanied by a soprano and a tenor.

In 1926 a fire in the Baptist Temple building necessitated an extensive rebuilding of the structure. Although the Woodbury organ survived with only minor damage, it was extensively remodeled by William W. Laws of Massachusetts to suit the new church, which reopened in November of 1927.

At this time the organ was electrified and a new electric stop-key console was built. All of the organ's pipes and mechanisms were relocated into a side chamber high above the pulpit platform. Its sound reached the auditorium through a grille in the ceiling.

In 1972 the Baptist Temple signed a contract with the Roche Organ Company to build a new instrument, its Opus No. 14, which would incorporate some parts of the existing organ. The original Woodbury slider/pallet manual windchests were rebuilt in a new all-electric pulldown mechanism. Some of the original bass pipes were also retained and reworked. However, the majority of the stops were replaced with new pipework. The wind system was also replaced and a new mahogany drawknob console was provided.

The expectation during this rebuilding was that at some future date the congregation would sell its downtown building and move, along with the organ, to a new building to be raised on land that had been acquired for that purpose in the northern end of Fall River. Therefore no changes were made to the existing layout of the organ or its acoustically unfavorable location in the building. These changes, it was agreed, would be deferred until the anticipated move. The dedicatory recital was Nov. 2, 1975, by the late organist Alan G. Brown.

In 1987 the Baptist Temple building was sold to a community organization for use as a cultural center. However, it soon became obvious that the expense of rebuilding would far exceed the amount realized from sale of the old property, and the church reluctantly decided to offer the organ for sale.

As these events were transpiring in Fall River, the music committee of The Church of the Pilgrimage, in consultation with Brian Jones, was investigating options for replacing their aging Allen electronic organ with a real pipe organ. On a rainy night in October, 1987, the committee and Mr. Jones visited the Baptist Temple to see and hear the Roche organ there.

Based upon the committee's enthusiastic report and recommendation, in March of 1988 The Church of the Pilgrimage purchased the Baptist Temple organ, and the organ's "pilgrimage" to Plymouth began. Over a period of two weeks the instrument was disassembled by Roche personnel, with assistance from Church of the Pilgrimage volunteers and the church's Boy Scout troop. The entire organ, weighing over 15,000 pounds, was transported by moving van to the basement of the Newfield House Convalescent Home, in Plymouth, where it was stored to await its turn in the Roche Organ Company's work schedule.


During the summer of 1990 the front of the church sanctuary was extensively remodeled to accommodate the installation of the organ. Architect Frank Olney of Johnson Olney Associates, Inc., of Boston, in consultation with the organ builders and the church's organ committee, musicians and ministers drew up the plans. The principal goals were to provide the organ with an acoustically favorable siting and to increase the space and versatility of the pulpit platform to accommodate a wide variety of worship and musical events.

In order to provide a visual and acoustical balance in the front of the sanctuary, the instrument was split in half. The pipes and mechanisms of the Swell (Manual III) and Pedal divisions are located in the chamber on the left (Burial Hill) side of the chancel. The great (Manual II) and Choir (Manual I) divisions, as well as the nine largest pipes of the Pedal 32-foot Contra Bourdon, are located on the right (ocean) side. Each half is really an organ in itself, with its own structural, electrical, and wind systems.

The matching case facades on each side contain the largest speaking pipes of the Great 8-foot Principal (right facade) and the Pedal 8-foot Octave (left facade). They thus provide a functional and attractive screen for the interior mechanisms of the organ, while allowing good egress of tone. The hand-carved ornamental pipe shades above the pipes are modeled after those on an organ built in 1830 by Boston organ builder Thomas Appleton, which is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Michael Wise of Portsmouth, New Hampshire carved the flat pipe shades. Christopher Alden of the Roche staff carved the rounded ones in the towers.

Behind the elegant Classic Revival facades the nineteenth century ends and twentieth century engineering takes over. Because the instrument is now divided and has radically different layout from that in its previous home, new steel structural frames were designed and built to efficiently support the pipes and mechanisms on each side. Each frame contains over eleven hundred pounds of steel and nearly two hundred bolted connections.

In addition to the new framework, two totally new swell boxes were designed and built to enclose the pipes of the swell and choir divisions. These swell boxes are, in effect, small rooms with louvered fronts, which can be opened and closed by means of pedals at the console, thereby making the enclosed pipework acoustically expressive.

Each chamber has its own wind system with its own high-speed three-phase, one- horsepower blower. Each of these blowers pumps wind to a series of bellows and wind regulators which supply the pipework with air at pressures ranging from two and three-quarters inches to four and a half inches water column.

Each half of the organ, as well as the console, has its own 15-volt DC powers supply. The electrical signals from the console are sent to the chambers through four 100-wire cables, two cables going to each chamber. Inside each chamber a solid-state relay amplifies the signal current from the console and sends it to the heavy-duty solenoids, which open the windchests, valves and sliders.

In order to make optimum use of the space within the chambers and ensure that the bass waves of the largest pipes have good projection into the church, some pedal pipes have been placed in unconventional, yet acoustically effective, positions. The largest pipes of the Pedal 16-foot subbass are mounted horizontally at the top of the left chamber, with their mouths just above the opening at the top of the case facade. Likewise, the nine lowest pipes of the Pedal 32-foot Contra Bourdon, which produce the lowest frequencies in the organ (19-30 Hz), are mounted upside down on the back wall of the right chamber. This also permits the passage from the minister's study to the pulpit platform to continue to be used.

In the course of the remodeling of the organ for its new home several sets of pipes were totally or partially replaced. The Great 8-foot Principal and Pedal 8-foot Octave received new basses that are the pipes displayed in the facades. The twelve lowest pipes of the Great 16-foot Gedeckt Pommer are now of wood, instead of metal. The previous pair of Choir string stops has been replaced with an 8-foot Flauto Dolce and 8-foot Flute Celeste, which were scaled and voiced in 1949 by the famous American organbuilder Ernest M. Skinner. There is now an 8-foot Oboe in place of the previous Swell 8-foot Vox Humana. The rest of the organ's pipework has been carefully reregulated for optimum sound in the room.

The end result of all of this reworking is an instrument that is admirably suited to its new surroundings, both visually and tonally. Like a fine gemstone remounted in a different setting, it manifests itself in a new aspect, yet retains its fine original character. Because of the great amounts of labor and materials which went into the remaking of Roche Opus No. 14 for its new home -- almost as much as would take to build a new instrument -- it was decided that in its transformed condition it merited a new opus number, No. 34.

This text, with a few changes for publication here, was written by Matthew-Michael Bellocchio of the Roche Organ Company.

Employees of the Roche Organ company who participated in Opus No. 34 are:
Christopher Alden - pipe shades, bookkeeping
Matthew-Michael Belloccio - design and engineering
Bruce Gardzina - windchests, wiring, structure
Michael Morris - installation, tonal finishing
F. Robert Roche - installation, tonal finishing
Michael Tigano - installation, swell boxes
Brian Wicherski - installation, tonal finishing