Skinner Organ Company, Boston, Massachusetts,
Opus 306, 1920
Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company, Boston, Massachusetts, Opus 306-A, 1949
Historical information and specifications of the organ may be viewed and/or downloaded here
Church of the Holy Cross Shreveport LA Organ
Historical Background of The Organ of Church of the Holy Cross
taken from Organ Rededication and Recital Program
Sunday, June 2, 1991
written by Ronald E. Dean
Professor of Music, Retired
Hurley School of Music
Centenary College of Louisiana
Organist/Choirmaster Emeritus, 2015
Church of the Holy Cross, Shreveport
The Church of the Holy Cross was organized when a group of dedicated and visionary people decided that an inner city parish needed to be maintained when St. Mark’s Church, the original occupants of this building, moved to a more suburban location in 1954. At one time, plans called for the organ to be moved out of this structure and to be incorporated into the new instrument being designed for the new facility, but as various options for doing so were fully discussed and weighed, the decision was made instead to sell the instrument to the Church of the Holy Cross for $10,000.00. By a strange historical coincidence, that is the same price that had been paid for a previous instrument installed in this church as we shall see later in this narrative.
Boston organ builders furnished all of the organs that have been used in this building beginning with a 2-manual hand-pumped tracker organ built by the firm of Hook and Hastings, their Opus 1613 of 1894. This instrument was moved into the present structure when it was built in 1905. The organ had been used in the previous St. Mark’s building located at the corner of Market and Fannin streets and served the needs of the church until a new 3-manual electro-pneumatic organ was purchased from the Hutchings Organ Company of Boston in 1911 for the sum of $10,000.00. Original installation had been projected for December, 1911, but investigation into the vestry minutes of St. Mark’s reveals that the installation was delayed here by December, 1912. The Hook and Hastings organ was eventually sold to Dunlap Presbyterian Church, Shreveport, for approximately $3,200.00 and was used by that congregation for many years until it was sold to William Garrett of Haslam, Texas, for use in his residence.
Unfortunately, the Hutchings instrument had a relatively short life as it was destroyed by a fire that did considerable damage to the chancel and sanctuary area of the church in 1919. Since the Hutchings Organ Company had ceased operations late in 1917, it was necessary for the church to seek the services of another organ builder to replace the instrument. In the spring of 1920, a contract was signed with the Skinner Organ Company of Boston for a new 3-manual instrument to replace the Hutchings. The Skinner organ was completed in the early part of 1921 and bears Skinner’s Opus number of 306. It was used for the first time in services on April 21, 1921. Leo Bonnell Pomeroy, the organist of the church, presented the first in a series of recitals on May 10, 1921, to celebrate the completion of the new Skinner organ. A notice in The Diapason for June 1, 1921, noted that “. . . Mr. Pomeroy will make a feature of the sonatas of Guilmant in their order.” The program for the inaugural recital was as follows:
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor – Bach
Spring Song – Macfarlane
Sonata no. 1 in D Minor – Guilmant
Evening Rest – Hollins
Grand Fantasia – Bartlett
Arpa Notturna – Yon
Chant de Bonheur – Lemare
Marche Cortege – Gounod-Archer
Mr. Pomeroy had come to Shreveport in the spring of 1920 from St. David’s Episcopal Church, Austin, Texas, and had previously served First Baptist Church, Waco, Texas, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Wichita, Kansas, and St. Mary’s (Paulist) Church, Chicago. He remained in Shreveport until 1927.
At the time of the first recital, this instrument was the largest organ in the city, surpassed just shortly later by the dual console 4-manual Pilcher concert organ (Opus 940/1061) completed in the spring of 1921 for the Scottish Rite Temple situated just a block away from the church and later by another 4-manual Pilcher (Opus 1111) installed in 1922 in the First Baptist Church, then located at the corner of Travis and McNeil streets in downtown Shreveport.
By 1920 when the contract for this organ was signed, Ernest M. Skinner (1866-1960) was rapidly achieving an enviable reputation as a builder of high quality, beautifully crafted and voiced organs that featured “churchly” diapasons, mellifluous flutes, orchestra-imitating sonorities, smooth and robust chorus reed stops and abundant opulent soft effects. He began on his own as an organ builder in 1901 after having worked with George H. Ryder (1838-1922) and later with George S. Hutchings (1835-1913). While with Hutchings, he was largely responsible for perfecting that firm’s electro-pneumatic action for the type that had been used in the Hutchings organ installed in 1912. Many features of the later Hutchings instruments, both in interior designs and console appointments, bear a resemblance familiar to those who are acquainted with Skinner’s work.
Some of the important organs produced in the early years of the Skinner firm and prior to the installation of this instrument included those in the Great Hall, College of the City of New (Opus 150, 1910), Chapin Hall, Williams College (Opus 195, 1911-1912), St. Thomas Church, New York (Opus 205, 1913), First Universalist Church, Detroit (Opus 232, 1915) and the Municipal Auditorium, Portland, Oregon (Opus 265, 1916).
Never an astute businessman, Ernest Skinner saw his company go through several periods of fiscal reorganization. One of the most profitable and long-lasting of these occurred when wealthy businessman, Arthur Hudson Marks, took over the running of the Skinner operations in 1919 and left the design, construction and sales elements to Mr. Skinner. In the late 1920s, Ernest Skinner obtained the services of G. Donald Harrison (1889-1956), then of the Willis firm in England, to help in the updating and tonal improvements of the type that Mr. Skinner had found attractive as the result of a couple of trips he had made to England to survey the organ building scene there. When the Skinner Organ Company acquired the organ building portion of the Aeolian Company (particularly well known for building expensive residence organs for the socially elite) in 1932, the name of the firm became Aeolian-Skinner, with Harrison acquiring more and more prominence in design and tonal matters and Ernest Skinner less and less. The strong-willed Skinner and Mr. Marks squabbled constantly, with the result that, after waiting out the terms of a “do-nothing” contract with Aeolian-Skinner, he formed a new firm, Ernest M. Skinner and Son, in Methuen, Massachusetts. They built several notable instruments in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the largest of which was the one for the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and the one that Ernest Skinner considered to be his masterpiece. It was dedicated on November 10, 1938.
It was Ernest Skinner’s fate to outlive the tonal ideas that had brought him fame at the height of his career, and to see the changes of musical taste in organ building that inspired his rage which was displayed in many voluminous letters to organ journals and to individuals he thought might be persuaded to preserve his tonal and design ideals. A sad irony is the fact that he lived to see many of his most important instruments altered and rebuilt by his one-time associate, G. Donald Harrison, whose own tonal ideas and creativity led to the production of what has come to be known as the “American Classic” sound in organ building. This later type of organ is represented in Shreveport by the Aeolian-Skinner instrument in the present St. Mark’s Cathedral. This instrument (Aeolian-Skinner’s Opus 1308, 1957) is a combination of the English cathedral sound and the “American Classic” approach. It was built the year following the death of Mr. Harrison, stored for a time, and installed in 1959.
In 1949, Aeolian-Skinner reworked and replaced some of the tonal resources of the 1920 Skinner instrument with a view toward the eventual inclusion of these items into the new organ being planned for the new structure, but as these plans were not carried out, as was noted above, these changes remain in the instrument and were incorporated into the repair, restoration, and reconstruction process recently completed by the Range Organ Company of Mesquite, Texas. Thus, as a result of the decision to leave the organ in this building, we are celebrating its rededication today.
The American Organ Archive, Princeton, New Jersey
Archives, St. Mark’s Cathedral, Shreveport, Louisiana
Books and Pamphlets:
Callahan, Charles. The American Classic Organ. A History in Letters
Richmond. The Organ Historical Society, 1990
Holden, Dorothy. The Life and Work of Ernest M. Skinner
Richmond. The Organ Historical Society, 1985
Morgan, Mrs. Howell. St. Mark’s Protestant Episcopal Church, Shreveport, Louisiana, 1957
Ochse, Orpha. The History of the Organ in the United States
Bloomington and London. Indiana University Press, 1975
Phillips, Charles C. The First One Hundred Fifty Years. A History of St. Mark’s Cathedral
and the Episcopal Church in Northwest Louisiana Shreveport, 1990
Raymond, Helen Marbury. Holy Cross Church (Episcopal) Shreveport, Louisiana 1972
The American Organist, May 1990
The Diapason, August 1, 1911
The Diapason, May 1, 1915
The Diapason, November 1, 1917
The Diapason, June 1, 1918
The Diapason, May 1, 1920
The Diapason, June 1, 1920
The Diapason, May 1, 1921
The Diapason, June 1, 1921
The Shreveport Times, April 17, 1921