Pipe Dreams Come True at St. Mark’s

[pullquote-left]Custom organ reinvigorates St. Mark’s Chapel[/pullquote-left]A brand-new, custom-built pipe organ is music to everyone’s ears at St. Mark’s School of Texas. After all, it’s been a project in the works for about five years.

That’s when Tinsley Silcox came on to lead the boys’ choir. He noticed that the organ didn’t seem to be a perfect fit in the campus’ chapel. Others had known it, too.

“After I got here, I was going through files from the previous choirmaster and discovered a folder of information on getting a new organ for the chapel,” he said. “I looked at information and realized there was interest.”

Silcox got in touch with an old colleague in the music division of Trinity University, David Heller.

Silcox then hired Glenn Stroh as the school’s organist and assistant choirmaster.

“The organ was on its last legs,” Silcox said. “The pedal division gave out, and the woodwork was separating.”

Silcox explained that the organ had not been built for that chapel — it had been built for the campus’ old chapel, and then moved to the new one in 1988. It just didn’t fill the space in the same way. For example, one traditional piece usually played at baccalaureate needed brass accompaniment because the organ couldn’t complement the choir appropriately.

Heller was hired as a consultant and a committee was formed to find a company to construct a custom organ for the space. The committee was made up of both faculty members and school trustees. Eventually, Letourneau of Quebec, Canada, was chosen to construct the instrument.

“The wood was standing in the forest and the metal hadn’t been melted into pipes yet,” Silcox said.

Due to the custom nature of the commission and the distance between Canada and Texas, Letourneau built the organ in Quebec, took it apart, shipped it to St. Mark’s, and reconstructed it on-site.

“What people may not know is how it is a custom design for the space,” Stroh said. “It makes a big difference in our needs as a school, supporting choral music, and what boys are doing in different capacities at chapel services. It’s an outlet for students that play other instruments to play along with the organ. The builders really put forth vision with respect to our needs.”

Much went into the organ’s installation. Not only did the crew assemble each piece carefully on site, but the school had to completely refigure the HVAC system, the lighting, and the electrical system in the chapel to accommodate the new instrument. In total, the organ is made up of 3,432 individual pipes.

The organ is used during weekly chapel services, evensong performances, lessons and carols, and baccalaureate. And the faculty, students, and St. Mark’s community members have all felt the difference it’s made.

“My favorite memory was two-thirds through the build. A board member was coming down the sidewalk, and I asked her if she wanted to peek in. It was just the façade — there were no pipes yet,” Silcox said. “She burst into tears before you could even hear it. That’s the power of the instrument.”

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