Pipe organ music once again fills Jessen Auditorium.
A 50-year-old Aeolian-Skinner organ, rescued from a Houston church scheduled for demolition, is breathing new life into Homer Rainey Hall. After a complete deconstruction, cleaning and refurbishment by Coulter Organbuilders last fall, the new instrument was dedicated at a recital Dec. 14.
“The additional recital-quality instrument was needed to accommodate requirements of the Butler School students, sustaining a 75-year history of organ performance and church music instruction at The University of Texas,” said Douglas Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts. Butler’s organ program, which has grown 600 percent in recent years, continues to expand while programs at other universities have downsized or closed.
Robert Coulter, the organ builder, and his crew of nine technicians removed every pipe — all 1,604 of them — for cleaning and inspection. (Watch the video to learn more about the restoration process.) They removed six layers of faded white paint from the roll-top console and installed solid-state electrical switching to provide greater versatility for numerous musicians. Even the 50-year-old ivory keys were reconditioned at their shop in Atlanta.
The total restoration took more than 2,500 hours.
This organ — built in 1963 by the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company, the premier pipe organ builder in the United States until it closed in 1971 — replaces the original Aeolian-Skinner instrument on which William Doty, the founding dean of the College of Fine Arts, performed and taught.
One of Doty’s most successful students was the late Gerre Hancock, professor of organ and sacred music at the Butler School, who was instrumental in acquiring the organ, along with Philip Klockner, music lecturer at Rice University.
Hancock, who died in January 2012, was recognized as one of America’s most highly acclaimed concert organists. After a distinguished career that included 33 years at St. Thomas Church in New York where he and wife Judith built one of the finest Anglican Church music programs in the country, he returned to his alma mater to teach in 2004. Judith Hancock gave a recital Dec. 14 to celebrate the installation of the instrument.
The organ was acquired thanks to the generosity of Butler School of Music friend and supporter Robert Sherrill, M.A. ’56, who has given two Mary Elizabeth Sherrill Endowed Presidential Scholarships in organ and piano to the Butler School.