KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee’s handcrafted, one-of-a-kind concert organ is an awe-inspiring instrument. At more than 20 feet tall, with nearly 2,500 pipes and three keyboards, the organ will be a beautiful addition to the recently renovated Alumni Memorial Building.
One-of-a-Kind Concert OrganBuilt by Richards Fowkes & Co. in Ooltewah, Tenn., craftsmen began installation of the organ Friday, June 16, to the left of the stage in Alumni Memorial Building’s Cox Auditorium.
Pre-installation work began in late May as the wind system was installed and pieces of the instrument were brought to Knoxville.
Each piece of the organ is hand-made and was already assembled once in its entirety in Ooltewah to ensure everything works as it should, explained John Brock, a sacred music professor in the School of Music. The craftsmen then disassembled the organ to move each piece and reconstruct it in the auditorium, he said.
Plans to renovate the Cox Auditorium began in the mid-1990s, said Brock, and the plan has always included an organ. The auditorium’s renovations were completed in 2003, transforming the school’s historical basketball gymnasium into a state-of-the-art auditorium.
The original renovations to the auditorium included a theatrical lighting system, a Wenger sound shell and a digital multi-track sound console with audio/video recording and editing capabilities. Five separate panels or acoustical drapes were installed on the side walls that can be raised or lowered independently to enhance the acoustical properties of the type of music being played. A nine-foot Steinway grand piano also was added.
More recently, an acoustical engineer was employed by the university to test the auditorium and offer suggestions to enhance the tonal spectrum and frequency range of the organ, said Roger Stephens, director of the School of Music. Additional sound panels will be installed in the auditorium, and much of sound batting material in the ceiling has been removed to allow for greater warmth of tone and longer reverberation time in the auditorium, he added.
A significant gift by longtime UT friend James R. Cox, for whom the Alumni Memorial Building auditorium is also named, left a bequest in his estate for the organ. The handcrafted organ cost more than $1 million, with $750,000 of that paid by Cox’s gift. The additional funds were paid by UT.
“Organs of the quality that Richards Fowkes builds are only rarely found in universities, especially in state universities,” said Brock. The professor is an experienced organist who has been actively involved in the planning process.
“Having a first-class concert organ like this will at least put us on equal footing, in terms of organ facilities, with almost any school in the U.S.,” Brock said.
The organ’s facade will look complete in late June, but voicing of the pipes will continue for several months, making the organ operational sometime late fall.
Once construction is finished, a special dedication concert will be held in early January featuring Brock as organist.
Additional dedication festivities will take place throughout 2006-07, including a series of concerts by leading national organists and a conference sponsored jointly by UT and the American Guild of Organists in February.
“The addition of this organ is a magnificent gift to the university,” said Chancellor Loren Crabtree. “Our faculty and music students will benefit greatly from it in their instruction, but it is also a gift to the entire Knoxville community. Future concerts and visits by well-known organists will provide wonderful cultural opportunities for our neighbors.”
In addition to providing funds for the organ, Cox’s gift also established a fund in the College of Architecture and Design to recognize outstanding faculty and students and a professorship for various departments throughout UT.
Cox’s sister, Charlotte Musgraves, has been involved with the organ project, including visiting Ooltewah with Brock and others from UT to see the organ’s construction first-hand.
Visit www.richardsfowkes.com to view additional pictures of UT’s organ.
John Brock, school of music (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Beth Gladden, media relations (email@example.com