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1877 Wm. A. Johnson & Son, Opus 499 [Back to Library]

Producer: Evensong
Builder: William A. Johnson & Son
Country: United States
Style: Romantic Organs
Manuals: 3
Pedalboard: Yes
Audio Ouput: Surround
Date Built: 1877


In April 1975, one of the world’s finest pipe organs moved from St. Mary’s Church in Boston to Our Lady of Good Counsel in Mankato, Minnesota. The organ was built in October 1877. It is the largest surviving organ in a series of organs designed and built by William A. Johnson & Son of Westfield, Massachusetts. The company continued building organs into the early 1900s. In a 1975 article for The St. Paul Dispatch, Richard Lurth, Owner of Lurth Organ Company of Mankato, Minnesota, stated that the construction of the organ was completed in the form of a challenge after another Boston church had ordered an organ built by a European craftsman. At the time, American organ builders were upset by their work being judged as second best. Due to this, when Johnson got the order for St. Mary’s organ, he went all out to prove American organ builders should not take a back seat to anyone. For nearly a century, the pipe organ lent its voice to St. Mary’s Church.

It came to my attention in 2022 that the convent was closing, the sisters were all moving to a nearby retirement home together in Shakopee, and the property was slated to be put up for sale. Charlie and I both have a soft spot for preserving the sound of historic instruments in their natural surroundings, so I got in contact with Sister Lucille in the summer of 2022 to see if it might be possible to sample the organ and preserve the sound. After a number of emails and a trip down to see the organ and site, we came to an agreement. Once word spread around to the sisters, there was joy and excitement as they realized something of this special place would be preserved. I traveled down from the Twin Cities in early October on a Sunday afternoon, and began the 2-day process of sampling the instrument. I was struck by the unique beauty of the organ, especially the Johnson patent reeds (I've never heard anything like them!)

We sampled in 24-bit 96kHz, 4 perspectives - Direct (in the balcony, about 8-10 feet from the façade, 2 large-diaphragm cardioid condenser mics) Ambient (about the same distance from the pipes as the console, 2 flat-response omni condenser mics) Diffuse (at the foot of the altar steps - Sister Lucille's "favorite spot" to hear the organ - 2 Earthworks QTC-1 omni condenser mics) and Remote (almost as far away as you can get from the organ, behind the altar in the chancel - the built-in mics of a Zoom H6). Impulse responses were captured in the gallery, the L and R transept galleries, and the chancel - a total of 12 separate files. The remote perspective proved inferior for a number of reasons (not the least the fact that the reverb at that point is so long that we had many overlapping notes), so we settled on the other 3 perspectives, which came out in amazing detail and clarity.

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