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

Source: Allen Kinzey

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

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