by Jonathan Ambrosino

“The Dover Church” (review of new Fisk Organ, Opus 107, 5-6/94)
The C.B. Fisk company has been receiving a lot of publicity lately, thanks to their large recent installations at the Meyerson Symphony Center and Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and the State University of New York at BuValo. Of note to Bostonians, the Fisk staV is currently finishing a comprehensive three-manual organ for All Saints Church in Ashmont (Dorchester, the edifice famous as Ralph Adams Cram’s first essay in an “Academic” Gothic architecture).

Not to be overlooked, however, is Fisk’s charming two-manual instrument of just fifteen registers installed last year in the Dover Church, Dover, Massachusetts. This short Church has a long history. People in Dover began petitioning the General Court in the 1720s and again in the 1740s for a local parish to be formed. Independent status was achieved in 1748 as the Fourth Parish of Dedham, the ministers being divinity students from Harvard; the first building was built and dedicated in 1754 across the street from the present site; in 1762 Benjamin Caryl was called as the first minister. In 1784 the General Court set oV the parish as the First Parish of Dover. In 1810 the building burned; half of the parish wanted a new building and someone eventually decided that the new building be a requirement. In June of that year, a large and elaborate Meeting House was built on the present site, modeled after the Eliot Church in Roxbury. In 1838 the church split and a Second Parish of Dover was formed, also known as the Evangelical Congregational Church. This parish built a new building in 1839 on the site of the original meeting house. (In the 1980s, the Second Parish became St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church; the building presently houses a Noack organ.)

Meanwhile, the First Parish became Unitarian. In 1839, its building burned to the ground. It was rebuilt that June in a simple, meeting-house style which has endured to the present day. The two parishes reunited in 1935, and the Dover Church is presently aYliated with both the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association.

The first record of an organ comes in 1845. Records indicate that instrument and choir were located in a rear gallery, which people faced when hymns were sung. More recently, the Church owned a Wicks organ, given by Amelia Peabody in 1956, who summered in Dover and attended this church. Miss Peabody funded several other noteworthy Boston organ projects: the Schlicker rebuild at Old North Church (late 1950s); Fisk Opus 44 in King’s Chapel (1963), and Fisk Opus 55 at Old West Church (1971).

Initially, the Dover Church envisioned their new organ at the front of the Church, just where the old one had been. The builders looked at a gallery placement, but since it would have limited the choir’s access to the gallery, the location seemed unworkable. The Fisk designers examined several other solutions, ultimately rejecting them, as they seemed too intrusive in this intimate meeting house.

The solution came by placing the organ in the center of the rear gallery but detaching the console to the main floor. With this arrangement, the choir could congregate between the organ console and case; moreover, a minimal number of seats would be lost to the choir (while being accessible to anyone), and the front of the Church would remain simple. Designed by Charles L. Nazarian, who has developed the visual designs of so many Fisk organs, the casework becomes an integral element of the gallery itself; its simple decorative elements harmonize with the building’s atmosphere.

Tonally, the organ reflects the design of other recent small Fisks, an essay in historically-informed eclecticism. The principal chorus follows Schnitger ideals; flutes find their inspiration from Silbermann and Cavaillé-Coll; the manual reeds are patterned after 19th-century French examples, while the smooth Pedal Trombone reflects earlier German styles.

However, this organ was to be placed not in a large stone church but in a simple New England structure seating barely 200. Therefore, Fisk took special pains to ensure that the organ would not be overbearing. The gentle, articulate voicing is accomplished on very light pressure: just 2G¢¢, with the two pedal stops on 2L¢¢. Such pressures are more normally associated with neo-Classic organbuilding of the 1960s and ’70s; here, it is more a matter of keeping the volume under control. A further consideration is in the modest scaling. The Great Principal is the same stop Fisk would normally specify for the Positive of a larger instrument; the Great Trumpet is patterned after the standard Cavaillé-Coll–style Récit (Swell) trumpet. This combination of modest scaling, careful voicing and light pressure produces a gentle, charming eVect, far less aggressive than Fisk’s recent tendencies and more articulate, somewhat reminiscent of the organs in King’s Chapel or Harvard’s Memorial Church. The chorus is clean and mellow, its mixture chunky rather than brilliant, all well-balanced so that tenor and soprano voices are well-delineated as the texture of the music grows complex.

The flutes are especially pleasing. The Chimney Flute approaches the sweet delicacy of a true English lieblich gedeckt. The Spire Flute has an element of principal tone merged with a curious, languid speech. And the Harmonic Piccolo is a bright, liquid stop which does not become overly piquant in its higher register (once again, keeping the room in mind). Given the diYculties of voicing reeds on such light pressure, the successful Trumpet and Hautboy are all the more noteworthy. The very smooth Trombone is soft enough that in certain combination it almost sounds like a Violone.

The mechanism of the organ is kept as simple as possible. All divisions share a single chest, with some of the Pedal pipes oVset. Since the chest could be placed deep enough in the gallery floor, suYcient height was created so that only the lowest ten Trombone pipes required mitreing. The action run is straightforward, going down from the console, underneath the floor, and directly vertical to its rollerboard. Removing a coat rack in the narthex provides easy access to the rollerboard and stop actions. The simplicity of the run combines with the light pressure to produce a delightfully crisp “right-on-the-top” action; with every stop drawn and the two manuals coupled, the keys still do not require much eVort to depress.

The stop action is as straightforward as the key action. The Great unison stops alternate to the Pedal in an either/or arrangement; drawing the stop in the Pedal whisks the corresponding Great knob in, like a little tug-of-war. Most of the time, however, it is convenient to draw the Great-to-Pedal coupler, and thus allow the same stop to play in both places.

Michael Kraft, the organist of the Church, played a role in the organ’s installation, since he also works at C.B. Fisk. Schooled at Oberlin Conservatory and the New England Conservatory, he specializes in pipe-making and reed voicing in his work as an organbuilder. Mr. Kraft welcomes visitors to the Dover Church to hear this fine new organ.

Mark Edward Nelson of C.B. Fisk graciously contributed all of the historical and technical information for this article.