First Congregational Church
Battle Creek, Michigan
Year Commissioned 1997
On October of 1996 , Martin Ott was invited by the First Congregational Church of Battle Creek, Michigan, to assist on their request for a new organ. Dr. Albert Bolitho was the Minister of Music at First Congregational Church. At that time we were also engaged with Dr. Bolitho, who facilitated First United Methodist Church in Jackson, Michigan, as Organ consultant on a design for a new pipe organ (Opus 97).
At the first visit to First Congregational Church I met with Dr. Bolitho, Senior Minister, Dr. David Young, and Building Chairman, Dr. Charles Seifert. The church was at the early stages of a grand renovation of the century-old sanctuary, the classroom and office area. A large, new gathering hall was also to be added to the church complex. Jefferson B. Riley, FAIA, from Centerbrook Architects and Planners, was the designing architect and Larry Kirkegaard, FASA, Hon. AIA, from Kirkegaard & Associates, was the acoustician.
The 1961 Casavant organ no longer served the needs of the congregation. Under the tonal direction of Lawrence Phelps the organ had been voiced and scaled with a thin bright sound, low pipe cut-ups and wind pressure. The congregation needed a solid, colorful sound for their musical repertoire and the new setting of their sanctuary. In addition, components from the electro-pneumatic action needed replacement.
The Organ Committee traveled to St. Bridget R.C. Church in San Diego, CA (Opus 64), and Trinity Lutheran Church in Houston, TX (Opus 68), to see and listen to our instruments. In August of 1997 we received the commission to build the new instrument. The Organ Committee and Jeff Riley accepted our visual organ design and the physical layout of the instrument.
The Church Council initially thought to renovate the sanctuary, with the exception of the area the Casavant organ occupied. Martin Ott suggested removing the instrument prior to the renovation to prevent damage from construction dirt and climatic conditions. The Casavant organ was disassembled and trucked to his organ building shop in St. Louis.
After initial decisions about the new tonal design were made, it became apparent that the desired sound could only be achieved with slider chests. This type of chest is the best choice for a cohesive sound. In the renovated building, the organ is now located on the right side of the altar. Facing the organ: the swell division is to the left, choir division to the right. The elevated great division is centered between swell and choir, with the pedal division behind the great. The positiv division, with it’s own attached mechanical action keyboard, is centered below the great.
A large dome, in the center of the church ceiling, posed a major acoustical problem. Mr. Kirkegaard and the organ committee traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, to understand the electronic enhancement system at St. Michael & George Episcopal Church. After considering several solutions, the church committee decided to install a similar sound enhancement system to increase the reverberation time of the room. The dome was coated with a sound-absorbing material. Many of the existing Casavant pipe ranks received new wider-scaled pipes to blend in the new organ design. This newly-scaled old and new pipework on slider chests was able to provide the sound Martin Ott's instruments represents.
The musical activities at First Congregational include congregational singing in services, an active choir program, and a spirited community concert program of organ and orchestral music. The flexibility of the stop list, combined with the cohesive and gentle sound of the organ, will competently serve the musical needs of this active program.
A small portion of the organ was shipped and installed in the spring of 1999 for the church dedication ceremony. The remaining, larger portion of the organ was shipped and installed in March, 2000. The instrument was completed in June, 2000. Dr. Bolitho played the dedicatory recital.
The following craftsmen participated in the building of this organ:
Albert J. Brass, Alexander I. Bronitsky, James F. Cullen, Donna Hodges, Paul Jensen, Alex D. Leshchenko, Richard J. Murphy, Earl C. Naylor, Martin Ott, Sascha Ott, Thorsten Ott, Karen A. Perrone, Matthias Seredsus.
65 stops | 71 ranks | 2 ext. | 2 Electro. voices
Electric Slider Chests | Electric stop action
Some electro-pneumatic action (*)