Rock Hill, South Carolina
Winthrop College – James P. Byrnes Auditorium
Builder: Aeolian-Skinner Organ Co., Inc. Contract Year: 1952 Install Year: 1955 Opus: 1257 No. manuals: 4 No. stops: 65 No. ranks: 67 No. pipes: 3,813 GREAT ORGAN SWELL ORGAN 16' Contra Geigen 61 16' Flauto Dolce 12 8' Diapason 61 8' Geigen Principal 68 8' Spritzprincipal 61 8' Stopped Diapason 68 8' Holzflöte 61 8' Viole de Gambe 68 4' Principal 61 8' Viole Celeste 68 4' Rohrflöte 61 8' Flauto Dolce 68 2 2/3' Quint 61 8' Flute Celeste (TC) 56 2' Super Octave 61 4' Prestant 68 III-V Cornet 239 4' Flauto Traverso 68 IV Fourniture 244 2' Fifteenth 61 Chimes III Plein Jeu 183 8' Trompette en Chamade PO 16' Fagot 68 4' Clairon en Chamade PO 8' Trompette 68 8' Hautbois 68 CHOIR ORGAN 8' Vox Humana 61 8' Viola 68 4' Clairon 68 8' Viola Celeste 68 Tremulant 8' Concert Flute 68 8' Dulciana 68 PEDAL ORGAN 4' Prestant 68 32' Contre Basse 12 GT 4' Flute Harmonique 68 16' Contre Basse 32 II Sesquialtera 122 16' Bourdon 32 16' English Horn 68 16' Geigen GT 8' Cromorne 68 16' Flauto Dolce SW 4' Rohrschalmei 68 8' Principal 32 Tremulant 8' Gedecktpommer 32 Harp pf 4' Choralbass 32 8' Trompette en Chamade PO 4' Nachthorn 32 4' Clairon en Chamade PO 2' Blockflöte 32 IV Mixture 128 POSITIV ORGAN 32' Fagot 12 SW 8' Nason Flute 61 16' Bombarde 32 4' Koppelflöte 61 16' Fagot SW 2' Principal 61 8' Trompette 12 1 3/5' Tierce 61 4' Clairon 12 1 1/3' Larigot 61 8' Trompette en Chamade PO 8' Trompette en Chamade 61 Chimes GT 4' Clairon en Chamade 12
Photos: Jeff Scofield
Notes: Restored by Orgues Létourneau 2007-2008.
The announcement in the March 1957 issue of The Diapason announced the recent completion of the instrument, which was placed in two chambers flanking the stage; the chambers have large grilled openings.
When the College Auditorium and Conservatory of Music (see the engraving high up on the outside façade) were built in 1938-39 with funds from the WPA (Work Projects Administration), a small two-manual Pilcher organ was installed in the small Conservatory Auditorium (now designated Frances May Barnes Recital Hall). For fourteen years the concept of an organ for the College Auditorium (later designated the James F. Byrnes Auditorium) was a matter of letters and dreaming.
Under the ægis of Winthrop's President Henry R. Sims and music department head Dr. Walter B. Roberts, a joint committee of the administration and the Alumnæ Association set out to make a decision. The Alumnæ raised $15,000 and the State of South Carolina appropriated $35,000. The Class of 1914 (which in that fateful year was so penniless that it was unable to leave a class gift) achieved its goal in 1955 by donating $1,400 for chimes.
Marguerite Tolbert, class of 1914, chaired the organ fund drive for the alumnæ. Her committee members were Minnie Moore Johnstone, ’36, Helen Robinson, ’32, Esther Robinson Smith, ’19, Marie Burnham Taylor, ’33, Annie Mae Hildebrand, ’21, and Ruth Williams, ’19, then Director of Alumnæ Affairs. After The college added another $20,000 to the fund. The contract for a new organ was let in 1952 to the Æolian-Skinner Organ Company of Boston for a large four-manual instrument for around $70,000. The replacement cost of a comparable instrument in 2003 would be nearly a million dollars.
There is a regrettable lack of correspondence between the time Winthrop College signed the contract in 1952 and a tuning job some months after the 1955 installation. There is a July 11, 1951 letter from G. Donald Harrison, the distinguished President and Tonal Director of the Æolian-Skinner Organ Company, that thanks Dr. Roberts for the invitation to design an organ for Winthrop, but Harrison goes on to say “…as the college is a state school, bids will be necessary. I feel that in view of this it would be useless for us to put in a bid as we are bound to be the highest bidder with absolutely no chance of landing the contract.” One can only be amused to think of the routes Dr. Roberts must have gone to convince the “powers that be” in Rock Hill and Columbia to sign the contract. Dr. Roberts was well known as a determined leader.
The Æolian-Skinner Organ Company built some of the finest mid-twentieth century instruments in the USA. Only a few of them received a separate ivory plate with Harrison’s signature on it, meaning that he was directly responsible for the final voicing. The Winthrop organ is one of those. The Æolian-Skinner Organ Company went out of business in 1972.
The famed American virtuoso Virgil Fox played the inaugural recital on the organ in November 1955. Many anecdotes are told yet today about that recital 47 years ago. Horace Hutchinson was in charge of the auditorium in those days and told the story of having to build a set of stairs from the stage into the pit so that Virgil could enter with his famed red lined black cape. Virgil always talked at length during his concerts, and is reported to have told the audience (referring to the good acoustics), “I could kiss that ceiling.”
For the first ten years after the installation, the College Organists (a title no longer used) were Jeannette Roth, Wilbur Sheridan, Wilmer Hayden Welsh, and George Klump. Mary Elizabeth Dunlap assisted in organ instruction and played a recital annually. David M. Lowry became College Organist in 1965 and has remained at the console the last 37 years, assisted in organ instruction at various times by Miss Dunlap, Mary Lou Paschal, David Richardson, Shirley Fishburne and Richard Peek. During a 1970-71 leave of absence, Jeffrey Brandes was the interim organist and teacher. Dr. Lowry became Professor Emeritus in 1996, and continues to teach part time.
A fine 10-stop tracker organ by Gabriel Kney replaced the old Pilcher in the Barnes Recital Hall in 1975. A 4-stop tracker by Angerstein & Associates is in a practice room. Many undergraduate and graduate students have performed their degree recitals on the Byrnes organ. David Lowry has been heard in over 70 performances of solo recitals, lecture-recitals, ensemble concerts, the annual Festival of Carols and symphony orchestra programs.
The roster of guest artists on the organ is remarkable, due greatly to the support of Dr. Roberts for its first few years, then with the continued support of Dr. Jess T. Casey for over thirty years. That list includes Marie-Claire Alain, Robert Anderson, Robert Baker, David Craighead, Catharine Crozier, Virgil Fox, Fernando Germani, Jerald Hamilton, Yuko Hayashi, Anton Heiller, Paul Jenkins, Wilma Jensen, Jean Langlais, Simon Preston, Alexander Schreiner, Larry Smith, Murray Somerville, John Chappell Stowe, and many others.
Today this organ stands as one of the country’s prized historic instruments, in that the number of nearly pure G. Donald Harrison signature organs becomes more and more rare. Only two changes have taken place in this instrument in 47 years. While the instrument continues to sound marvelous, its wiring and pneumatic components suffer greatly from age, rendering the instrument more and more difficult to keep in acceptable working order. The auditorium, now 65 years old, is also hurting badly from the natural deterioration of important components such as wiring, plumbing, and door fixtures. In the currently poor economic climate, it is futile to predict or discuss the future of the hall and the organ. One can only hope that a reasonable solution can be found.
David Lowry, January 2003
Organ Historical Society Database: https://pipeorgandatabase.org/OrganDetails.php?OrganID=25696