Few people who have attended services in the Cadet Chapel have failed to be impressed by the beautiful tones of its magnificent organ. The majestic introduction to the cadet choir singing "The Corps"; the soft, almost hallowed prelude to "Silent Night"; the triumphant accompaniment to "The Son of God Goes Forth to War," — in all of these, the organ notes, blended with Cadet voices, form a perfect complement to the surroundings.
The Chapel organ is unique in the history of organ building. A modest-sized instrument was installed in 1911. The organ, which is today recognized as the largest church organ in the western hemisphere, represents the gifts of graduates and friends of the Military Academy.
The original instrument was built with funds appropriated by Congress. This organ consisted of three manuals, or keyboards, with thirty-eight ranks of pipes, a total 2,406 individual speaking pipes. The organ was obtained largely through the efforts of the Superintendent, Major General Hugh L. Scott. Specifications were prepared by the West Point Quartermaster, Major John M. Carson. The success of the original organ was due largely to the sympathetic supervision of G. Seibert Losh and to the artistic tonal-regulation in the Chapel by Charles Williams, both members of the M. P. Moller Company of Hagerstown, Maryland.
However, the striking location of the Chapel above the Plain, the natural surroundings ensuring the absence of disturbing sound from without, the dignity of Bertram Goodhue's modified Gothic style, the excellent acoustics, the beautiful Sanctuary Window — all these together with the religious significance of the Chapel and its intimate tie to the traditions and spirit of West Point inspired the plans for additions to the organ. Consequently, one year after the original organ had been completed, the Chapel Organ Fund was established. Organ recital offerings, gifts, and contributions from many sources went into this fund for the purpose of enlarging the organ.
In 1913, the first addition to the instrument was dedicated. This was p54 the Chimes, a stop given in memory of Brevet Lieutenant Colonel William Hamilton Harris, Class of 1861, who, as a cadet, had sung for four years in the Chapel Choir. Gradually, the organ increased in size as gifts from alumni and friends fostered the installation of organ stops as memorials which combined beauty and utility.
In the forty‑two years since the original organ was installed, nearly sixty-five individual stops, four complete divisions, and many accessories have been given as memorials. In this time, the organ has outgrown two consoles, the second being installed in 1920 and the third in 1950. The new console gives the instrument the greatest flexibility and ease of control possible for an organ of such great size. In number of pipes, the organ has grown to nearly six times its original size. Its financial value has increased more than thirty times.
Today, the Chapel organ has two hundred and thirteen ranks of pipes with a total of 14,195 individual speaking pipes. It is not only the largest church organ in the western hemisphere, but also the fourth largest organ in the world being surpassed in size only by the Atlantic City, New Jersey, Convention Hall organ of 33,112 pipes; the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Wanamaker Store organ of 30,192 pipes; and the Passau, Germany, Cathedral organ of approximately 19,000 pipes. Pipework has been obtained not only from the original builder, the M. P. Moller Company, but also from other outstanding firms in England, France, Belgium, and the United States. The Moller Company, however, has furnished the majority of the pipes, the three consoles, and most of the chestwork, action, and installation.
The organ now has the following main divisions and sub‑divisions: Pedal, Great "A", Great "B", Choir, Swell, and Solo. The floating divisions are: Harmonic "A", Harmonic "B", Orchestral, Viol, Reed, Vox Humana, Echo I, and Echo II. The voices and pipes are almost equally divided between the main and floating divisions. Of the total number of voices, one hundred and sixty are flue pipes, and forty-five are reed pipes. Wind pressures range •from three and one‑half inches to fifteen inches. The percussion stops include: Chimes, Harp, Celesta, Cymbal, Gong, and Large Drum.
The efforts of many graduates have done much to further the development of the organ. The largest and most important single contribution to the instrument was the presentation of the Harmonic Division by the Association of Graduates, under the presidency of General John J. Pershing in 1930. This division, the most complete of its kind in existence, comprises sixty‑two ranks of pipes, totaling 3,607 individual speaking p55 pipes. The function of this division is to corroborate, or reinforce, the principal harmonics, the overtones, belonging to the harmonic series of the various foundation stops.
Other outstanding contributions include gifts of Brigadier General John A. Johnston, Class of 1879, which made possible the acquisition of the second console in 1920 and the beginning of the East Gallery section; the Orchestral Organ given by Colonel Cornelius deWitt Willcox, Class of 1885; and the third console given by Colonel Edgar W. Garbisch, Class of 1925.
It is interesting to note that the Trumpet Stop is a memorial to Major George Pierce Peters, Class of 1808, a veteran of the War of 1812. Other stops have been given in memory of graduates who have fought in every armed conflict in which the nation has engaged. The Chapel organ is, therefore, a living memorial to the men who have fought wherever duty called.
The third console, installed in 1950, is one of the largest in the world in the number of controls. Moreover, it is also one of the most compact and convenient, having every register clearly visible and within easy reach of the organist without his having to move forward or to either side. There are 874 registers consisting of 757 stopkeys and 117 tilting tablets arranged in ten rows. The stopkeys are of specially curved shape, designed with an overhang above and below at an angle suitable for brushing on or off with p56 a sweep of the hand. There are 135 normal divisional couplers, 285 manual pistons, and fourº selective register crescendoes — Grand, Strings, Expressive, Great, and Pedal — each with an adjustable order of entrance for the various registers.
The console also includes many special couplers, some of which can be found on no other organ. These included: Pedal Divider; Sostenuto, which sustains the last key or chord pressed on each manual; Automatic Manual to Pedal, which automatically couples the manual being played to the pedal, thus enabling the following from one manual, or keyboard, to another automatically; and Pizzicato to Manual Percussion. This coupler enables the Harp or Celesta, while being played on a manual with other stops, to sound only when a pedal key is depressed and making contact, quasi pizzicato. Melody couplers to the upper and lower notes of the Great, Choir, and Swell divisions are being prepared. A registrator, now in a state of experimentation, will, if successful, use punched cards. The console has, under observation and control of the organist, 1,279 moving parts, 267 manual and pedal keys, and sixty-seven indicator and crescendo lights.
No description of the Chapel organ would be complete without giving due credit to Mr. Frederick C. Mayer who, more than any other one man, is responsible for the development of the Chapel organ. Arriving at West Point in 1911, at the time the original organ was delivered, Mr. Mayer supervised that installation. In the intervening decades, he has guided and shaped the refinement of the instrument to its present superb state. Mr. Mayer is known to generations of cadets who have sung in the Cadet Chapel Choir under his guidance or who have listened to his masterful interpretation of organ music.
General Hugh L. Scott, who as Superintendent sponsored the installation of the first organ in 1911, described the organ in "Some Memories of a Soldier" in this manner:
"The Chapel musical programs afford a musical, ethical, and artistic education of the highest value, introducing a spiritual refinement never known before at West Point. Nowhere in America are such impressive services to be seen. And under the spell of the light shining down through the stained glass illuminating the lofty chancel and the historic battle flags of the nation, consecrated by the blood of heroes, hanging high overhead, and the choir of one hundred and fifty voices leading the great congregation accompanied by the wonderful notes of the majestic organ, the most prosaic American soul is filled with religious and patriotic fervor.
"It may be said that the conjunction of the recent Chaplains, the Chapel, p57 and the Organist, and his organ has wrought a greater change in the spiritual life of West Point, with consequent effect on the American Army, than anything that has been instituted during the Academy's entire century of existence, without any exception. If you want to be thrilled to the marrow and to have your children filled with a religious and patriotic spirit, go there with them some Sunday morning and listen and let them listen to the music amid those historic surroundings."
Angels from the Chancel Hymn Boards
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The Cadet Chapel
(G. S. Pappas)
History of West Point
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Page updated: 8 Sep 14