Marshall & Ogletree’s Opus 10

A Revolution Rattling the World of Organ Music

This is an extensive article by Malcolm Gay of The Boston Globe that provides a lot of information with not a lot of hyperbole — except in the headline and lead statement:

“The passionate and proudly obscure world of organ building is torn over a revolutionary digital organ created by a Needham company.”

I surely understand and agree with “passionate,” but I’ve never heard organ builders or organ building as “proudly obscure.” Personally, I have never been refused entrance to a shop; nearly always those in the shop are proud to show me and others their work and answer all question. This does not strike me as obscure.

In the photo above, we see a man seated in the aisle of a church in Wheeling, West Virginia.

Doug Marshall wasn’t thrilled with what he heard.

Seated at a makeshift desk at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, the organ maker ascended the keys of a plastic keyboard he’d propped on a pew to his side. A laptop glowed before him. But the real object of his attention stood by the altar: Opus 10, his newly minted digital organ with four keyboards, a gleaming shell of burnished wood, and the full sonic force, filigree, and thunder of 9,000 pipes — all without a pipe to be found.

I am pleased to see an article that presents the quality, the effort and care, and the modern techniques and equipment used in creating an excellent organ sound. It’s so easy to present attention-grabbing performers and overuse the word “revolutionary” because you really can’t think of anything else to write and you won’t take the time to find out the necessary information to create a balanced and informative article. Malcolm Gay did a fine job here.

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Embracing This Style of Music

“Thanks so much for the music, and for the organ console cloth! I will store it for our new console, which will be installed in 2017 with the upgraded organ in place. I have several arrangements of the Tchaikovsky [Andante Cantabile], but I did not know of this one, and, the Biggs sounds great. I actually never heard the piece and yet I’ve owned it for 45-plus years (moreover, it was OOP then). Please do not hesitate to ask for anything you may need. You are doing a marvelous service to all of us, especially since the organ reform movement has started to fade. Organists are really embracing this style of music.”—New Jersey, USA

Thanks very much for the kind words and the loan of your music. If anyone reading this blog has now-unavailable music in good condition that he thinks deserves restoration and that he would be willing to lend me for a while to restore it, leave a comment below, and maybe we can make it happen. —Michael

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A Toccata with Substance

Re: Toccata by Biggs: “Thank you, Michael. I am so glad that you resurrected this wonderful Toccata — one of the first toccatas to give a student that has substance!” —Pennsylvania, USA

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News of Donald McDonald

Photo by Karen Holtkamp

News of Donald McDonald

This note will be of interest to all friends and students of Donald McDonald, beloved organ teacher at Westminster Choir College for many years. For those who did not have the chance to know him, he graduated from Union Theological Seminary, and was on the roster of the Lillian Murtaugh Artists Management. John Apple was among his students. The following information was sent in by Mark Laubach.

Dear friends and past students of Donald McDonald:

Glenn Miller (WCC Class of 1977) just sent me this update on “D McD” and I wanted to be sure to share the news with all of you on my list. Please, if you know of other past students and friends of Donald’s who are /not /on my list here, feel free to pass this information on to them.


I just learned this weekend from a friend in NYC, Ronald Berresford (WCC ’74), that Donald McDonald is now in an assisted living facility in Dallas TX. In February he planned a 49 day cruise to Australia. He fell on the ship very early in the trip and was air lifted to Dallas where he has a niece who has taken a strong part in assisting him. I
haven’t spoken with him, but I learned also from Ron that he is probably now confined to a wheel chair for the remainder of his life and that he’ll remain in Dallas. Ron says that he’s made peace with that and doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him. Ron also said that his mind is sharp as a tack.

His new address is:

Grace Presbyterian Village
550 E. Ann Arbor
Assisted Living #2
Dallas TX 75216

214 778-6008.


You may remember that Donald turned 90 this past February 22nd. I emailed and tried calling him around that time, but as we now know, this is when he was on his cruise to Australia. Please do keep D McD in your thoughts and prayers. I’m sure he’d be thrilled to hear from you, either by mail or by phone!

All best wishes to each and every one of you!

Mark Laubach
Canon Mark Laubach, Organist & Choirmaster
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church
Pro-Cathedral of the Diocese of Bethlehem
35 South Franklin Street
Wilkes-Barre PA 18701
Church Phone: (570)825-6653
Mark’s Mobile Phone: (570)704-7055

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The Favourite Piece

Re: Tchaikovsky Andante Cantabile: “Thanks for this. When I saw this piece listed in your email, I knew I had to buy it as it is the favourite piece of our biggest ‘trouble maker’ on the parish council. It is the only piece he has ever requested me to play, and I have been using a simple manuals-only version in a wedding music book up to now to keep him on my side.” —Australia

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Tiento & Batalla á la Mexico

Tiento & Batalla á la Mexico

Here are two videos that I recently watched and they are of a Spanish/Mexican style organ built by Manuel Rosales. It’s his Opus 14 in the historic Mission San Jose in Fremont, California. It’s a sound you could listen to for a long, long time.

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Restoration Planned for Kings College Chapel

Organ Restoration 2016

This world-famous organ is receiving more loving care in the coming year. I just hope they’ll remove those ugly wires.

Today’s instrument remains fundamentally as it was designed to be at the time of its restoration in the mid-1930s, but after many years of frequent use it is becoming unreliable; major work is now being undertaken by Harrison & Harrison to ensure that it continues to function optimally for the next generation.

There will be no significant tonal alteration, except that, with cleaning, the sound will return to a former brightness.

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Tchaikovsky’s Cantabile, Biggs’s Toccata, Lemare’s Dance, and Olsson’s Sonata

October’s pieces include the highly-requested Olsson Sonata and one of my own favorites, the Andante Cantabile by Tchaikovsky, arranged by an AGO Founder. You can see my complete list of all music available from all publishers of Founders at; additions and corrections are requested. Also, be sure to visit each piece below to hear recordings for all except the Alpine Dance. Enjoy!


1. ANDANTE CANTABILE, by Tchaikovsky, arranged by Charles H Morse. From 1879 comes the best arrangement of this gorgeous movement from Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet, Opus 11. Morse was an AGO Founder and Professor of Music at Wellesley College. His arrangement is of the entire movement, but it could be abridged for use as service music.

2. TOCCATA, by Richard Keys Biggs. Biggs dedicated his Toccata on Deo Gratias to none other than David Craighead. This exciting piece makes a brilliant postlude after the priest sings or says “Ite, Missa est.” “Deo Gratias” is the people’s response: “Go, the Mass is ended. Thanks be to God.” I offer an exclusive recording by Christoph Bull; it will be included on his next CD.

3. ALPINE DANCE, by Edwin H Lemare. This little piece is one of Lemare’s more than 475 pieces that is not considered big or important enough to include in a collection of his music. It is charming, though. It is one of four original compositions published in 1925 while he was civic organist in Chattanooga, Tennessee. September was the 150th anniversary of his birth, so I hope you will consider this little characteristic gem.

4. SONATA, by Otto Olsson. If you’re not familiar with Swedish organ music, you have a treat in exploring the music of Otto Olsson. He wrote dozens of organ pieces, and this is his only published sonata. His love of counterpoint will remind you of Merkel or Rheinberger. “We do not get many sonatas from our contemporary composers, and this one is particularly interesting, as it comes from one of our greatest living contrapuntists. Dignity and solidity are always among his chief characteristics. There is also a tenderness and a certain poetic vein which comes only from the north. This is best heard in the middle movement, a Meditation-Fugue, which adds a new form to organ music.” (The Organ, 1925) The first movement is widely played alone in Europe.

MONTHLY DISCOUNT BUNDLE. To get the four pieces mentioned above, I offer a special price so you can buy all of the pieces above with one click and save money in the deal. I welcome your support, and if you don’t want to play a particular piece in the group, consider giving it to a student or another organist.

Thank you for your interest in this music. Keep sending me your suggestions because I want to restore music that you want to play. The Biggs and Olsson were both requested!


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Cowan takes Portland

Organist Ken Cowan Revisits the Kotzschmar

I am so happy to see an organist of the ability and visibility of Ken Cowan playing the music that I enjoy and that I restore. This review by Allan Kozinn is of Ken’s concert at the Kotzschmar Organ in Portland, Maine, from September 26. He played the Prelude to Hansel and Gretel  which I plan to release shortly. He played the grand Overture to Die Meistersinger in his own combination of Lemare’s transcription (my favorite) and Warren’s. I’ve already released the Prelude to Act III of Die Meistersinger and the Overture is coming next. And, he played the Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as transcribed by Warren and adapted by Ken. Bravo! I only wish I lived a lot closer to Portland. :(

Several of the works Cowan played on Saturday – Sifgrid Karg-Elert’s “The Soul of the Lake” and the first part of Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” Prelude, for example – seem to have been chosen specifically because they included delicate passages, and the sound Cowan drew from the organ in those passages was clear and silken, and entirely untroubled by extraneous noise.

But Cowan, not surprisingly, tested the organ’s more robust symphonic timbres as well in a colorful program that was split between transcriptions of orchestral scores and virtuoso works by organist-composers. Among the latter, the most striking was Cowan’s encore, George Thalben-Ball’s “Variations on a Theme of Paganini,” an extraordinary workout in which the first nine of the 10 variations on Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 were played solely on the pedals.

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Möller Opus 2022 Still Cared For in Newhall, California

100-year-old Organ under Loving Care of 85-year-old

Möller Opus 2022 began in 1915 in the Strand Theater in Meridian, Mississippi. Those of you who are not afficiandi of organ trivia might question this, but the first organs installed and played in theatres were not the unit organs we think of today as theatre organs. Lots of companies installed instruments in theatres, and then came Wurlitzer. Heavy use of unification accomplished many things that allowed the organ to become the must-have instrument in a fine theatre.

So, this organ is now in the care of an 85 year old amateur organ technician. He’s devoted, has an engineering background, has flexible thinking, and is good with his hands. Who will succeed him? Will the church suddenly begin a contract with an organ builder? Now, the point is that this is a “feel-good” story, and I would never take anything away from that. It’s my nature to think of the situation in a longer time frame, though. I’ve seen what happens when no professional maintenance is given over time. I’ve seen what happens when a volunteer for something is no longer available and suddenly there is an additional budget item. Probably, you have too.

Jerre Crosier, 85, steps around a shrub and opens a nondescript side door at the First Presbyterian Church of Newhall on Thursday. Inside is a 100-year-old motor pumping fresh air through a room full of tin tubing — 975 pipes, to be exact.

Crosier, who retired as an electronics engineer in 1962, squeezes past a wooden rack of pipes. This is his office, as it were — the place where he works making sure the church has its characteristic crisp organ sound every Sunday from its 100-year-old instrument.

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