Saturday, April 9, 2011

About our Pipe Organ

Our parish is the only Catholic parish in Buffalo with a Schlicker organ. These organs were built right here in Buffalo by Herman Schlicker, and are well known around the world. Herman Schlicker was the most notable Buffalo organ builder of the 20th century.

Our organ is exemplary of the renewed interest in classical organ design which arose following the war. At that time, Schlicker had built the organ at Kenmore Presbyterian Church and in subsequent years his work would be installed at Trinity Episcopal Church, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Kenmore Methodist Church, First Trinity Lutheran Church on Niagara Falls Blvd., and many other area churches.

Donald Ingram, who worked for Schlicker in the 50s and 60s, relates that every time the famous blind French organist André Marchal [see wikipedia article ] visited Buffalo, they would bring him to St. Benedict’s to play before visiting the Falls! Mr. Ingram often demonstrated our organ to prospective Schlicker clients before he became organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Although it was designed on a budget, our organ has now gone 60 years without a major overhaul, which attests to the quality of his work. It also exemplifies the durability of the pipe organ; many churches which installed electronic instruments have discovered that they age rapidly, both in terms of technology and the durability of components. If you have any stories regarding our organ, please talk to Glenn Hufnagel, our organist or email

The following essay contains material from Donald Ingram, “Memoir: Herman Schlicker and the Schlicker Organ Company, in particular from 1956–1963,” in The Tracker, 48:4 (2004), 14–18, and from personal correspondence.

Herman Schlicker arrived from Bavaria for the first time in 1924 and worked for a while at Wurlitzer in North Tonawanda. He decided that theater organs were not his style and returned to Germany, but he settled in Erie the following year and went to work for Tellers-Kent, whose work is well-represented in Buffalo Catholic parishes. In 1932 he established his own business in the Bailey-Broadway section, and during this time, he rebuilt the organ at the former St. Francis Xavier Church in Black Rock, now the Buffalo Religious Arts Center. In 1947 the firm moved to Military Road in Kenmore.

Under the influence of Paul Bunjes and Robert Noehren, who would build the organ at First Presbyterian Church in 1969, Schlicker became interested in the neo-baroque organ move-ment. In January 1947, a roofer’s torch sparked a fire which devastated Saint Mary of Sorrows Church The assistant pastor reported that the organ and choir loft had sustained “only” water damage. Schlicker built a new organ with what could be salvaged from the historic E. & G. G. Hook & Hastings instrument and incorporated elements of neo-baroque design. He had removed the huge Möller organ from the Larkin Administration Building before its ultimate demise, and some of that pipework was used to build the organ at Kenmore Presbyterian Church in 1948, with Noehren as consultant. The bicentennial of Johann Sebastian Bach’s death would be observed in 1950. Schlicker installed a new chancel organ in St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1951 with Ernest White, a noted organ designer, as consultant. In 1954 he also installed the organ at Trinity Episcopal Church, which was featured in a Sunday broadcast by E. Power Biggs that November. The Diocese built St. John Vianney Seminary (now Christ the King) in the early 60s, and Schlicker provided the organ , which was only recently completed.

Saint Benedict’s parish dedicated their new church in 1952 and the pastor, Msgr. William Tobin, opted for a cutting-edge instrument. This presented Schlicker with the opportunity to build in a fine acoustical setting, and the result was the pride and joy of Howard Vogel, parish choirmaster. It was dedicated by Louis Huybrechts, organist of St. Louis Church. Donald Ingram worked for Schlicker from 1956 until he became organist at St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1963, and he relates that “this instrument was one of the favorites of the famous blind French organist André Marchal. We took him to play at St. Benedict’s every time he came to Buffalo”—and then to Niagara Falls! Marchal gave a recital at St. Benedict’s some time prior to 1956. Following the American Guild of Organists’ convention that year, “people came from all over the country to hear Schlicker’s work in Buffalo,” and it fell to Mr. Ingram to demonstrate this organ to prospective clients when “the only hymn I truly felt comfortable playing was ‘Holy God, We Praise Thy Name.’ . . . In those days, if I had played [‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’], I would have probably been asked to leave.”

This organ has been supporting the worship of St. Benedict’s parish for nearly 60 years without a major overhaul, a testament to the workmanship of Herman Schlicker. Those who opted for electronic instruments have discovered how quickly the technology and hardware age. One oddity in the design of our organ was the lack of a Swell-to-Positiv coupler, considered standard equipment on most organs, which enables the top manual to be played from the bottom manual. Since the only way to play those divisions together was through the Great, or middle, manual, the ivories on that keyboard had worn out by the 90s and were falling off and the key springs had became sprung, while the Positiv manual had hardly any wear at all. The Great manual was refurbished several years ago, and the missing coupler was recently installed, allowing us to use the organ’s resources with greatest flexibility. Don Ingram attributes this quirk to a simple oversight on the part of whoever drew up the specification, since Schlicker had never formally foresworn such couplers. Nonetheless, some other Schlicker organs in this area share this characteristic. Our organ was designed to best effect within budgetary constraints, e.g. the missing swell reed. Likewise, some of the intra-manual couplers would not be typical of Schlicker’s design, but they enable us to do the most with the sounds at hand.

There is space on all the manual chests for another rank of pipes, but no blank stop-keys on the console. Typical of neo-baroque stoplists, 15 of our 39 ranks are mixtures, high-pitched, multiple-note stops which lend brilliance and definition to poly-phonic and symphonic music. However, the placement of the “cornet” (a combination of stops which sounds trumpety) and the trumpet on the same manual makes it impossible to authentically interpret music from the French classical era — which apparently did not bother André Marchal! Ingram figures that Schlicker anticipated a Great trumpet that could be used in dialog with the Swell cornet, but mid-century organ design did not consider a trumpet in the Great division necessary, and in fact such a trumpet was only added to the St. Paul’s Cathedral organ in 1966, donated by Herman and Alice Schlicker.

16' Pommer
8' Principal
8' Spitzflöte
4' Octave
2' Hohlflöte
IV Mixture
Chimes (electronic)
Gt/Gt 4'

8' Gedeckt
4' Rohrflöte
2' Principal
1 1/3' Larigot
1' Sifflöte
IV Scharf

8' Rohrflöte
8' Viola
8' Viola Celeste (TC)
4' Gemshorn
2 2/3' Nasat
2' Waldflöte
1 3/5' Tierce
IV Mixture
16' Dulzian (prep)
8' Trumpet
Sw/Sw 16', 4'

16' Bourdon
16' Pommer (Great)
8' Principal
8' Quintadena (from Pommer)
4' Prestant
4' Gedeckt (from Pommer)
2' Gemshorn
III Mixture
16' Posaune
8' Trumpet (ext)

Sw/Ped 8',
Gt/Ped 8',
Pos/Ped 8'
Sw/Gt 8',
Pos/Gt 16',
Pos/Gt 8'
Sw/Pos 8' (installed 2009)