The History of The Organs at Cochrane Street
Since 1882, four organs have served the congregation. The present organ was installed in 1957. The cost of repair of the previous organ was almost the cost of a new instrument. Rather than select another English instrument, as the three previous organs had been, the present electric-pneumatic organ was built by Casavant Frères, based in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec.
THE ORGANS OF COCHRANE STREET United CHURCH
ORGAN 1 (1883-1909)
The first organ to serve the congregation when the church was built in 1882 cost $3000 with $2000 being donated by the Ladies Church and Parsonage Aid Society of Gower Street Methodist Church.
The organ was installed by John B. Ayre, organist of George Street Methodist Church, and was dedicated and first used for worship on Easter Sunday, March 25, 1883. This organ was a two manual tracker instrument with 1,210 pipes built by the well-known English firm of Peter Conacher of Huddersfield, England, a firm popular in Newfoundland at that time. The detailed specification of this organ has apparently been lost.
ORGAN 2 (1909-1916)
After twenty years, the growth of the congregation, the extension of the original church and advances in the technology of organ building inspired congregational members the Honourable James S. and Mrs. Pitts to donate a new, larger organ.
On June 27, 1909, the extension on the original Cochrane Street Methodist Church and the new organ, built by the Forster and Andrews firm of Liverpool, England, were both formally dedicated. The dedication of this organ was an event long to be remembered. Other city churches cancelled services to join in the celebration. Capacity congregations, morning, afternoon and evening, culminating with a “lengthy” sermon, the administration of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and the Hallelujah Chorus were unforgettable.
This organ was a three manual instrument, originally comprising 34 speaking stops, but the console was prepared for the later addition of 4 additional stops. Four years later, in 1913, an enlargement of the organ with the addition of these stops provided a large three manual specification of 38 stops, 2054 pipes and 14 couplers, with 52 draw stops.
This organ was operated by tubular pneumatic action, which did not necessitate the use of the unreliable new gadget, electricity. There was, in fact, an electric blower, but when power failed, which was often on Sundays, there was a hand blower mechanism for emergency use.
In keeping with the trend of the times, this organ had a sweet, romantic sound. Among its tonal features was a set of Bells which “sound like a distant Cathedral chime”. By 1917, the feeling was that the organ should have a more robust sound, and that influenced the decision to consider Harrison as the builder of the next organ.
The 1882 Conacher organ still had years of service to render, and because the new church, Wesley, in the west end of the city needed a better organ and because a relative of Mr. Pitts was the organist, the Conacher organ was donated to that church where it continued to serve until 1930.
ORGAN 3 (1916-1957)
Tragedy struck in January 1914 when Cochrane Street Church, the Forster and Andrews organ included, was destroyed in a disastrous fire. Almost immediately afterwards contact was made with English and European builders for a new organ.
Contact with the famous Walcker firm in Hamburg, Germany, was terminated in the summer of 1914. By this time, in addition to the sentiment of not wishing to deal with a German firm during the war, the feeling was that the organ should have a more robust sound, and that influenced the decision to consider the Harrison Company as the builder of the next organ.
The firm of Harrison and Harrison of Durnham and London, England was contracted to build a new organ in late 1914, but wartime conditions delayed its completion until November, 1916. The cost was covered by the insurance on the Forster and Andrews organ, supplemented by the generosity of, by then, the estate of Honourable J.S. Pitts. It is reported in the church records that Mr. Pitts was seriously ill at the time of the church fire and had not been made aware of the destruction of the church.
Furness Withy Company shipped the organ from England to St. John’s at no cost out of respect for the late Mr. Pitts.
The dedication of the organ took place on Sunday, January 14, 1917 and a choral and instrumental recital by the Choir and Arthur Mews, the Organist, was held on February 17, 1917.
The organ, the largest in the island at that time, had three manuals, fifty stops, 15 couplers, making a total of 65 draw stops, and 2,974 pipes. The mechanism was a combination of tubular-pneumatic and mechanical action. There were over 20 combination pistons, three being adjustable, a novelty at the time. It was tuned to the then new French pitch, i.e. 517 vibrations per second.
The size of the organ, its specification, featuring a Tuba on 15 inches of wind pressure, and the live acoustics of the building, gave this organ a big, rich and complete sound of a volume which was something to be reckoned with.
The inscription plate from the previous organ was found in the ruins of the church and was shipped to England for restoration and subsequently installed on the Harrison and Harrison instrument. It can be seen today on the organ case at the back of the choir loft.
ORGAN 4 (1957 – present)
After thirty years of use, the craftsmanship of wartime England resulted in the deterioration of the pneumatic action and the wind delivery systems of the Harrison and Harrison organ, worsened by the excessive drying of the wooden parts when subjected to the continuous thermostatically controlled heating system. This caused the organ to be unreliable, particularly after the long winter and the extra heat of the Lenten and Easter seasons.
The decision as to whether to rebuild the defective English organ at great cost or to negotiate for a new organ from a reliable Canadian builder, and helped by the skills of the fund raising Wells Organization, the church decided favourably for an expensive, at the time, Casavant organ. After 55 years of excellent service that appears to have been a good investment. The cost of the original installation was $45,000, and the replacement value now approaches $1,200,000.
The present organ, Casavant’s Opus # 2386, has four Manuals (Great, Swell, Choir, and Solo) and Pedal, CC to C, 61 notes and two and one half octaves of radiating pedals, 55 speaking stops and 3315 pipes which range in size from 3/4 inch to 16 feet in length.
There are five adjustable combination pistons to each manual and pedals, six general pistons and ten reversible pistons. There are twenty-six inter-manual couplers in tablets, and eleven inter-manual couplers in draw stops. There is a balanced expression pedal to Swell, Choir and Solo Organs, and a Crescendo on all stops and couplers.
The voicing makes it, besides the largest organ in eastern Canada, one of the most tonally satisfying. The Tuba, considered among the best in Canada, is enclosed in a Swell box in the current organ. This makes it more versatile without reducing its power and majesty. The organ lacks the more recent digital and midi enhancements of organs being built today, but that in no way affects its tonal beauty or its technical excellence.
In 2010 the Choir Organ was revoiced by Jean Francois Mailhot, resulting in a more balanced sound in the entire organ.
The organ’s front case and blower were retained from the Harrison installation of 1916, although the blower has since been replaced by Casavant. The pipes in the oak front case are now purely decorative, with the speaking pipes housed in the 25x15 foot organ chamber located behind the choir loft which can be seen through the acoustic mesh in the loft.
The organ is one unit located behind the existing Oak Case. The Console is detached and is located in the choir loft. The exterior wood work is of oak and the interior fittings such as the key-frames, stop jambs, etc., are of polished walnut.
The organ case, the pulpit and the pews were made by the Valley City Seating Company of Dundas, Ontario and are original to the building. The wall containing the three pulpit chairs separating the organ console from the view of the congregation has been removed. This facilitates choir processions and visual access to the organ, particularly useful considering the increasing use of the sanctuary for public performances.
The organ was dedicated on Sunday, June 16th, 1957 during the pastorate of Reverend Warren Langille. On June 19th the Dedicatory Recital was held, led by the Choir of 32 voices and David Peters, Organist.
On the 40th Anniversary Celebration of the installation the Choir and several city Organists performed some of the selections heard in 1957.
With sincere thanks to the late Dr. David K. Peters, Organist Emeritus, who made the history of our organs possible.