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  • Aeolan Skinner

    So, what does everyone think of the old Skinners? I know many who loathe them, and many who love them. Some say they are muted and muddy, some say they are lush and warm. What does everyone here think of em? I heard a 110 rank Austin the other day, that sounded for all the world like a Skinner, but, it wasnt, surprise, surprise.

  • #2
    Re: Aeolan Skinner

    Greetings,

    I love them, for a variety of reasons...

    1 - They are very musical instruments, and Mr. Skinner was a very musical man. He may have made instruments that the "baroquists" don't like, but they are a far cry from any of the other American builders at the time, particularly after his second visit to England. While a Skinner 1/5 mouth Diapason might not have the sizzle of a low pressure Principal, it has a sophisticated sound all it's own, and Mr. Skinner was very good at making these into choruses.

    2 - They are beautifully made, and designed to hold up to the sort of climate changes that we see here in New England, Mr. Skinner designed a very refined product for a reason - to make the best instrument possible. It was a source of pride for him to make for instance the fastest and quietest consoles of the day, which are highly refined machines that are designed to give a long life of service, and be rebuilt for more.

    3 - They are made to be restored. All components of a Skinner organ can be completely dismantled and restored without fear of double-gluing or inaccessible equipment. A Skinner chest can be stripped down to the bare shell in a very short time, for example.

    Obviously when Arthur Hudson Marks came into the picture a lot of this went out of the window - the pneumatic bass chests went away, as did the Maple-cap magnets, cone-valve regulators, and other things that Mr. Skinner valued. However, it is clearly evident in many A/S instruments well into the 60's that the know-how was still there as far as craftsmanship goes; it's just that the company cut corners here and there, most inexplicably with the hideous aluminum-traces in the combination actions, which do not fare well under heavy use.

    I would say that in overall quality and sophistication, Skinner was only matched by Casavant. In some ways the Casavant instrument was a bit more refined even than the Skinner, in that disconnecting parts for servicing was even easier with union blocks that come apart without solder, and the pedal touch-box which slides right out of the front of the console for regulation. I believe that Kimball made and voiced pipework of equal quality as Skinner as well, but as such their instruments did not blend with themselves quite as well, and definitely made use of "boathorn" Diapasons that were pretty intense. Kimball's action is also, though very well made, a bit heavy and clunky, and also a bit harder to get to restore. I believe that Mollers were as cohesive sounding as the Skinners when Richard Whitelegg was there for what was all-too-brief a time.

    Nevertheless, the Skinner is and was the Rolls Royce of Electro-pneumatic instruments, and led to many of the things we take for granted these days, such as the Pitman Chest, Whiffletree Engine, Erzahler, etc...

    Best,

    Nathan

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    • #3
      Re: Aeolan Skinner

      I would take an E.M. Skinner organ over any of the builders of today. One only has to hear the Skinner in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco to understand why. While there have been several additions to this organ since installed by Skinner in the 1930's, (a separate Bombarde organ by Casavant) the main Skinner chancel organ has remained unchanged. It is truly magnificent!
      Mike

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      • #4
        Re: Aeolan Skinner

        I'm in the UK, but the name Skinner is synonimous with the best in American organ-building, even if the era in which the Skinner sound was most popular has now passed.

        Like Arthur Harrison and Fr.Willis in the UK, they were the best of their day, but now perhaps a little unfashionable.

        To hell with fashion!!

        Just marvel at the beautiful sounds Mr.Skinner produced and respect them....they are a testament to an age.

        MM

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        • #5
          Re: Aeolan Skinner

          my first E.M. Skinner encounter was this last Sunday.... I made it out to Astoria/Long Island City (NYC) to listen and play a EM Skinner of 1926 vintage ...at Holy Trinity Lutheran.... 3 manual, maybe 26 ranks total....

          Amazing organ despite only being maybe 70% playable.....

          The "romantic" diapasons were just wonderful, this particular organ was rebuilt by Moller in the 1960's but apparently was not revoiced much, if at all according to the organist.

          One mixture on the entire organ, and it was not very strong/over powering/screachinig like they can be on some organs.

          I liked the reeds, some were quite powerful & deep but none too harsh.

          I was really shocked at how beautiful and lush it sounded. I'm going back again to record those amazing diapasons at some point.. really incredible.

          I'm more familiar with some much larger Aeolian Skinners of later vintage, but this visit to a E.M. Skinner has definately opened my eyes/ears!

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          • #6
            Re: Aeolan Skinner

            >So, what does everyone think of the old Skinners? I know many who loathe them, and many who love them. Some say they are muted and muddy, some say they are lush and warm. What does everyone here think of em? I heard a 110 rank Austin the other day, that sounded for all the world like a Skinner, but, it wasnt, surprise, surprise.


            I am a big fan of symphonic organs like Cavaille-Coll, Willis, and Skinner. Listen to the Woolsey organ at Yale, and you can see how those baroquists are full of crap when they level their lame criticisms of Skinner organs. It is those so-called "purists" that destroyed the popularity of the organ in the U.S. with their screeching, strident "neo-baroque" organs. Which, by the way, weren't even good representations of a good Baroque organ.

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            • #7
              Re: Aeolan Skinner

              I love good baroque organs. I've lived with one and played some of the finest in Europe. However, that doesn't mean that the work of E M Skinner should be treated with musical contempt, becuase they ARE beautiful instruments and now unique period-pieces.

              It's horses for courses, and the repertoire of the one cannot really transfer to an organ designed for the repertoire of the other.

              That stated, the classical revival brought real benefits, and one of the most clued-up organ-builders was G.Donald Harrison.

              There's much to commend the American Classic, which in many ways, was way ahead of its' time.

              MM

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              • #8
                Re: Aeolan Skinner

                I have to agree with you. The best skinner organ I have ever heard was at the St.Paul Cathedral and it just blew me away. I got hear with my dad who is a organist at a college here in Minnesota. I got a chance to play it also. Which I might add was pretty amazing for an 8th grader at the time. The Cathedral has two organs one behind the altar and one in the balcony. The one in the balcony controls the on up front and the one in back. It was pretty fun to mess around with it. The one front only controls the one.

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                • #9
                  Re: Aeolan Skinner

                  You should revisit Grace after the recent changes - I would be interested to hear opinions of the sound of this organ now!

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                  • #10
                    Re: Aeolan Skinner

                    I had the good fortune to hear a concert by Fred Swan on the Grace Cathedral organ this past Sunday. He played very well as he always does. His program was quite varied with only one old (wonderful Bach) warhorse-the rest was music not frequently heard including "The Tumult in the Praetorium" and a new piece by Robert Hebble who was in the audience.

                    I've been hearing this organ since 1964 when I first came to San Francisco and Richard Purvis was organist and "Master or Choristers". I'm always thrilled by it. Of course, the organ is the sum of the instrument and the room. I remember many years ago, hearing a Hammond there (for a special occasion that called for it) that sounded pretty good. The bombarde division has been disconnected for several years which is probably best as it never seemed to blend with or add positively to the organ.

                    The best thing that can happen to this masterpiece is to leave it alone other than routine maintenance. My opinion is that it is too small for the current space, especially when the cathedral is packed for special occasions. Remember that when the organ was installed the cathedral was about half the current size. For routine use the organ is just perfect and to add to it would invite all sorts of "improvements" that could well be very unfortunate.

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