Recently, due to the generosity of some musically-minded donors, the chapel of Warwick House (where I often celebrate Mass) acquired a vintage Hammond A-100 organ. It was previously owned by an organist who moved from her home, and could not take the instrument with her. It fits perfectly (as much as human perfection allows) next to the chapel altar, and under the motherly gaze of the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I don’t play the organ myself, but I really enjoy hearing it played by others. (My mother was a church organist for many years, and some of my earliest memories are sitting on the organ bench with her, marveling at all the tones that came out of the instrument).
Being a musical instrument history buff of sorts, I decided to briefly research our ‘new’ organ, and so far I’ve dated it between 1960-62. I won’t bore you with details (serial numbers, speaker dating, websites, and maintenance records, etc.) but the Hammond organs of this era (about 1950-1970) are true gems of American musical instrument history. Engineering genius Laurens Hammond (1895-1973) invented the ‘Tonewheel Generator’ electric organ to imitate the many beautiful sounds of pipe organs at a fraction of their cost, and designed them to be used in tight sacred spaces. Jazz organists, however, soon heard (or heard about) the electric organ, and also wanted to play them. Another genius Don Leslie (1911-2004) invented a rotating speaker system, popularly known as the ‘Leslie Cabinet’ (a product Hammond really didn’t like), and the rest is church, baseball stadium, and jazz club history! It’s hard to believe that one instrument could be so versatile in its expression. (Yes, computers have tried to imitate the original electric organ sounds, but they don’t quite do the trick).
Although I hope the Warwick House chapel organ will last many more years as a reverent and proper liturgical aid, it is still tempting to imagine that (with a vintage Leslie speaker cabinet) it could sound like the Hammond organ below… It’s probably a good thing that Our Lady keeps a close watch on our organ to keep that from happening in the chapel!