It is very unusual for me to write about an instrument, having never heard it. But, for the last couple of years this organ has fascinated me. It was built for the Saint Dustan’s Episcopal Church of Carmel Valley, California by Dobson Pipe Organ Builders, Ltd., of Lake City, Iowa. It is a visually stunning (“little”) instrument. The asymmetry of the case, as well as the asymmetry of space it is in, is attractive. The gentle curve of the oak casework and mouths of the façade pipes is a wonderful contrast to the angled lines around it. The organ fits in beautifully with its surroundings. Indeed, the design has been honored in the 2016 International Awards program for the Religious Art & Architecture.
Besides the striking visual style of the instrument, it is the instrument’s size that also interests me. It is not a very big instrument, with only 17 installed stops and approximately 1,000 pipes. It is slightly smaller than our small Schantz at my church. Some people think that bigger is better, but it really depends on the tonal resources and the usability of these resources. It’s amazing how big grand works can be rendered effective on a small instrument.
That leads to my other interest in this instrument. Small as it is, with only two manual divisions in the Grand Orgue and Récit, there is the presence of a third manual, it’s sole purpose is for coupling those two divisions together. Normally in an instrument with two manuals, when you couple them together, you couple the upper manual to the bottom and play the bottom. The presence of this third Coupling Manual (manual I – bottom), if I’m not mistaken, allows the organist to play each manual separately–on manuals II and III–as well as combined on Manual I. It’s a really cool way to offer the organist a bit more freedom in the use of the limited tonal resources.
That said, this organ is not lacking much in its tonal resources. Judging by the stop list, this instrument has its roots in the French Romantic tradition (another reason for my big interest in this instrument), and has all the basic sounds you’d find in the larger instruments of this style. But truth-be-told, I have some recordings of Cavaillé-Coll instruments that are even smaller than this, that are terrific in their conception and able to play a wide range of the repertoire. I’m sure this instrument is voiced in such a way where it’s tones lend themselves well to not only playing the repertoire, but for its primary function of accompanying a congregation in its worship.
I sincerely hope that a record label and an organist would team up to make a recording of this (what appears to be) delightful instrument. No such recording exists as of yet, so I can’t talk about the SOUND this instrument makes or the acoustics of it’s setting. Hopefully someday I’ll be able to speak to that end, maybe even after having heard this organ in person. But I believe even small instruments, such as this, deserve a chance to be recorded as any large instrument!
Specifications of the Dobson Opus 94
Saint Dustan’s Episcopal Church
Carmel Valley, California
built in 2015 (Bombarde/Trompette of Pedal to be installed at a later date)
17 stops (currently), 1,008 pipes (currently)
Coupling Manual – Manual I
Grand Orgue – Manual II
Flûte Harmonique 8′ (Bass from Bourdon)
Récit expressif – Manual III
Viole de Gambe 8′
Voix Céleste 8′ (FF)
Cor de Nuit 8′
Flûte Octaviante 4′
Plein Jeu III (2′)
Bombarde 16′ (prep.)
Trompette 8′ (prep.)
Récit/Grand Orgue (Manual I)
Mechanical key action, electric stop action
100 level combination action