St. James Cathedral is excited to announce an innovative new organ project. In the summer of 2023, St. James will acquire and restore the 1958 J.W. Walker & Sons organ from the London City Temple. This project will bring a world-class organ to St. James while preserving a musical treasure. Restoration and installation at St. James Cathedral is expected in 2025.
***Update Sep. 18, 2023***
The Walker Organ has arrived at the Buzard Pipe Organ Company warehouse.
About the historic Walker organ at the London City Temple
The London City Temple was built in 1874 as the "Cathedral of Free Churches" in England. Although its grand Victorian edifice still stands, much of the building was destroyed during the Blitz. Thanks to the generosity of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the City Temple was rebuilt in the 1950s. No expense was spared, including the installation of a state-of-the-art pipe organ by J.W. Walker & Sons. William McKie, the Organist of Westminster Abbey for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, designed the new instrument and Eric Thiman, a prominent composer and church musician, was recruited to be the City Temple's organist.
This organ encapsulates the grandeur of the Edwardian age while looking forward to the neoclassical reforms of the midcentury. It has a lush complement of 8' Open Diapasons, two large expressive divisions, orchestral solo reeds, and a noble Tuba. The instrument is capable of a seamless crescendo from pianissimo to fortissimo with endless color and richness of tone. Yet it also contains well-balanced principal choruses ideally suited to Baroque music, and the organ speaks with a clarity that is often lacking in Romantic instruments. This instrument achieves the rare feat of unified eclecticism, playing a wide variety of repertoire with authenticity and personality.
“This organ is as good as anything produced by anyone in that period, and regardless of period remains by any standards a very good example of a fine and musical sound today.” – Ian Bell, UK-based organ consultant
Why St. James Cathedral needs a new organ
The St. James Cathedral organ has been failing for some time. The organ is comprised of components from 12 different organs by 8 different organ builders. These pipes and mechanical systems were never designed to work together, and very little was done to adjust these components to our space or to work as a unified system. In fact, the level of craftsmanship was so low that duct tape may be found throughout the organ in lieu of proper assembly.
In 2015, the structure of the organ was found to be so desperately compromised that half of the organ had to be removed immediately. An organ committee was formed in 2018, and under the guidance of consultant Scott R. Riedel & Associates determined that St. James Cathedral needs a new organ. The organ search process was disrupted by the pandemic and the proposed sale of 65 E Huron. After learning about the London City Temple Organ, the committee sent Canon Director of Music Stephen Buzard to visit and record the organ in February of 2023. What they heard and saw was so impressive and exciting that they made a unanimous recommendation to the Cathedral Chapter to acquire the heritage Walker Organ.
For more information on the history of the organs at St. James, please visit this page.
Why the Walker Organ will work well at St. James
Organs are custom-built for their spaces, so relocating them is not always possible. In this case, however, St. James Cathedral and the Walker Organ are a match made in heaven. This project will succeed for numerous reasons:
St. James Cathedral and the London City Temple are similar buildings. Built just one year apart, our churches are similar in cubic volume, acoustical profile, and layout. As a result, the organ pipes should require minimal adjustment to sound well in our space.
The organ could be located within our historic Johnson case. The London City Temple organ is behind a screen and has no organ case. All the divisions are modular and could be rearranged easily. There is plenty of space within our organ case to house this instrument, allowing us to retain one of the oldest organ façades in Chicago.
- The organ is built to exceptional standards. It is clear from historical documentation that J.W. Walker & Sons took great pride in this instrument. Every component was built with greatest care, and the tonal scheme is ingenious. Despite little recent maintenance, the organ is still in excellent working order, and the wind chests were constructed in a way to make them especially tolerant to variation in temperature and humidity. These wind chests are therefore ideal candidates for importing to an American climate.
This is one organ built by one builder. The previous organ project sought to combine elements of many heritage instruments that were never intended to work together. We intend to install the Walker organ with minimal alteration, using only the pipes and stops of the original instrument. Any new mechanical systems will respect the original builders' intent as much as possible.
- We will work with world-class organ builders and expertise. The previous organ failed because of poor workmanship and little artistic oversight. For this project, we have worked with Scott R. Riedel & Associates at every step and will continue to do so. We will engage the Buzard Organ Company to oversee the organ's removal, transportation, rebuilding, and installation. The Buzard company is one of the largest and most highly regarded organ building firms in the nation, and their staff has significant expertise in English organ building techniques.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How much will the project cost? Because the City Temple wishes for their organ to continue to glorify God, the instrument is being given to St. James Cathedral at no cost. Removal, transportation, rebuilding, and installation of the organ is estimated at $1.7 million. Additionally, the Cathedral plans to establish a maintenance fund to care for the organ in perpetuity for a total fundraising goal of $2.25 million. This marks a significant savings compared to our $4 million budget for a new organ, and pledges delivered so far have us well on our way!
How long will it take? We plan to install the organ in summer of 2025.
- But doesn't the Cathedral need a new organ? All components of the Walker organ will be completely refurbished or replaced, resetting the instrument's maintenance odometer to zero. It will effectively be a new organ. Installing a heritage organ is a responsible and good stewardship of our planet's finite resources. Furthermore, there are stops on this organ which could not be reasonably reconstructed due to the lavish use of materials. Although a new organ would be designed specifically for our space, there is always a risk that you have never heard what you will get. With the Walker organ, we already know that this instrument is exceptionally fine, historic, beautiful, and exciting.
- What happens to the old organ? Some of the higher-quality vintage pipework will be sold to other organ restoration projects after the organ is removed in 2025.
Is Buzard a conflict of interest? The Buzard Organ Company was founded by the father of our Canon Director of Music. John-Paul Buzard has recently retired from its presidency, and neither he nor Stephen has a financial stake in this project. The Cathedral has engaged the professional services of the Buzard Organ Company in an advisory capacity since 2006 and as the Cathedral's organ curators since 2020. Furthermore, the Buzard Organ Company has also had a longstanding relationship with the London City Temple in working to find this instrument a new home. A robust and thorough process was undertaken by the Cathedral organ committee, staff, and chapter, who determined this was the best course of action.