Review from The Diapason, December 2005

James B. Hartman

The University of Manitoba

Winnipeg, MB, Canada



Pipe Organs of Chicago, by Stephen J. Schnurr, Jr. and Dennis E. Northway. Oak Park, IL: Chauncey Park Press, 2005. xii + 274 pages. 465 color illus. ISBN:0966780833

Chicago is known as the “Windy City” for two reasons: first, its notorious climate that merits this description; second, the number and variety of its organs (its “windy” instruments). The rich history of pipe organs in Chicago began in 1837 when Henry Erben of New York installed in St. James Episcopal Church an instrument built in Germany. This book presents an opportunity for readers to acquire a pictorial acquaintance with more than a hundred of the city’s instruments. The choice of instruments reflects a variety of criteria: some are examples of the earliest or most recent example of a particular builder’s work; some are included simply in virtue of their large size; some represent the rich tradition of organbuilding in Chicago; others are simply unique.

The story unfolds in eight major sections, each presenting basic information on particular organ installations: Made in Chicago (10 organs); A Phoenix: Chicago Rebuilds Anew (13 organs); Country Charm Within the Shadow of Chicago (9 organs); The Decades of Opulence (24 organs); Learning from the Past: The American Classic and the Neo-Baroque Movements (27 organs); Organ Transplants (4 organs); Simply Unique (3 organs); Promise to the Future: A Sampler of the Region’s Most Recent Installations (11 organs); these total 102 instruments.

The predominant aspect is the profusion of color photographs of the organs:over 730 altogether, including 8 full page photographs, within the book’s 9 x 11" layout. These photographs are of church interiors showing pipe façades, windchests, internal mechanical devices, consoles, keydesks, stop jambs, nameplates, and other structural details. In addition to the photographs, a typical entry provides notes on the history of the church, an identification of the organ and its builder, and a specification list of the stops on each manual. The organs range from an organ built in Germany in 1698 and imported into the United States in the nineteenth century, to those built in Chicago and elsewhere in the United States, along with others from Canada, England, and Holland.

In addition to an Alphabetical Index of 110 buildings, there is a Builder Index that lists the names and organ installations of 46 companies that worked in Chicago. A Geographical Index cross-references organ installations by date and maker in 29 cities in Illinois (56 installations in Chicago) and Indiana. An Index of Organs with Organ Historical Society Historic Organ Citations (21) concludes the book. There is a Bibliography of 45 titles, some dealing with local history, others broader in scope. This faultless and aesthetically elegant book is clearly the product of enormous effort, particularly the photographs (mostly the work of Stephen Schnurr), the compilation of stoplists, and related technical information. It will be a valuable historical and contemporary resource for organists and lovers of the pipe organ in Chicago, as well as for those who visit there.



Review from The American Musical Instrument Newsletter, Spring 2007

James B. Kopp


Pipe Organs of Chicago, by Stephen J. Schnurr, Jr. and Dennis E. Northway. Oak Park, IL: Chauncey Park Press, 2005. xii + 274 pages. 465 color illus. ISBN:0966780833

“Today, almost every important German city has a published organ atlas,” Stephen L. Pinel writes in his foreword to this lavish photo album. “Why not here?” The literal question goes unanswered, but this volume answers the rhetorical question with handsome color photographs, stop lists, and brief historical sketches documenting approximately 100 organs present in buildings in and around Chicago at the time of writing. (A volume continuing the coverage will “perhaps” appear in the future.)

The first documented organ in Chicago, installed in Saint James Episcopal Church in 1837, is gone, as is the original building. A second building on this site burned in the Great Fire of 1871, bringing about the demise of a second organ. A similar fate met many other buildings and organs in the city, and in fact almost no pre-fire organs are listed here. The one exception is a transplant, an instrument built in 1698 by Johann Christoph Hartman (or Harttmann) of Württemberg, Germany. (This is said to be the maker’s only surviving organ.) The three-rank organ was brought to the United State in 1817 (its case appears to date from around this time) and donated to the Church of the Brethren headquarters in 1957.

The book’s initial chapter focuses on Chicago makers, including Lyon & Healy, W.W. Kimball, Berghaus, and Bradford. Subsequent chapters proceed in chronological order of each organ’s installation, embracing seven nineteenth-century instruments and dozens more from the earlier twentieth century, including numerous examples by Austin, Casavant Frères, and Skinner. Other examples, mostly from churches and synagogues, were installed as recently as 2005. In one unique example, the Schlicker-Berghaus organ at the Church of the Ascension, a remote conductor’s podium includes a short keyboard of twenty-five notes and four stops, using which a conductor can give pitches to singers.

Several secular organs are documented, including an eighty-rank Wurlitzer, opus 1571, built for the Riviera Theater of Omaha. Described as currently the largest theater organ in the world, this extravagant instrument is now installed in a private residence in Barrington Hills, IL. The book includes a bibliography and indexes of makers, buildings, and cities.

Review from The American Organist, November 2005

James L. Wallmann

Pipe Organs of Chicago, by Stephen J. Schnurr, Jr. and Dennis E. Northway. Oak Park, IL: Chauncey Park Press, 2005. xii + 274 pages. 465 color illus. ISBN:0966780833

Pipe Organs of Chicago is a wonderful book and delivers exactly what the title promises.  It is not written as a history of organs in Chicago, although a great deal of historical information is found in its pages.  The book is a snapshot taken in 2005 (more or less) of significant instruments in and around Chicago.  The modifier “more or less” is necessary because one instrument, that of Medinah Temple (1915 Austin Organ Co.), is presently in storage.  Other organs included are in poor condition but have historical significance, while the Skinner Opus 634 in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel at the University of Chicago, for example, has been altered over the years, but the authors record the original 1928 specification.  In other words, a literal snapshot of the contemporary organ scene in greater Chicago has been gently nudged in the direction of something a little more meaningful to the reader. 

Not all instruments in Chicago could be included in a book such as this.  Thus, the authors designate this as “Volume 1” and hold out the hope that more organs could find their way into a second volume.  Instruments were selected for this book because they are “worthy,” a term not defined by understood by this reviewer as being organs of any style with integrity, which is not to say that an organ has to be unaltered to be included.  “Regrettably, some organs originally considered for this volume were removed from the list. . . because the instrument was unsympathetically altered in a manner which seriously hindered the organ’s worthiness” (p. x.).

The 102 organs featured are in 95 locations—mostly churches, but there are some chapels, temples, seminaries, and even one high school and a private residence.  The instruments are grouped in eight chapters titled “Made in Chicago,” “A Phoenix:  Chicago Rebuilds Anew,” “Country Charm within the Shadow of Chicago,” “The Decades of Opulence,” “Learning from the Past:  The American Classic and the Neo-Baroque Movements,” “Organ Transplants,” “Simply Unique,” and “Promise to the Future:  A Sampler of the Region’s Most Recent Installations.”  One of the unique organs is also the oldest:  the three-stop instrument from 1698 by Johann Christoph Harttman in the Church of the Brethren General Board Offices in Elgin.  Otherwise, the earliest organs are from the last three decades of the 19th century.  Except for a gap in the years around World War II, the instruments featured in the book are fairly evenly distributed across the decades from the late 19th century to the present day.

The major trends in American organbuilding are reflected in the organs of Chicago.  Naturally, local builders such as Lyon & Healy, W. W. Kimball, and the Berghaus Organ Company are prominently featured.  There are instruments from just about all of the important North American builders, including Hook & Hastings, Hutchings, Möller, Austin, Casavant, and Schlicker.  Many fine Skinner and Aeolian-Skinner organs are found in and around Chicago.  The chapter, “Chicago Rebuilds Anew,” features historically significant instruments from 1870 to 1909 in Chicago.  Similar treasures are found outside the city in the “Country Charm” chapter.  Mechanical-action organs by Noack, Phelps, Wilhelm, Wolff, Dobson, Pasi, Bigelow, and Fisk, among others represent some of the notable instruments built in the last 30 years, but there are also recent organs with non-mechanical actions by Buzard, Schantz, and Reuter featured here.

Pipe Organs of Chicago is a large (over eleven inches tall), beautifully produced book.  The color photographs throughout are particularly attractive.  Each organ receives at least two pages describing it and the building in which it is found.  Naturally, complete specifications are given.  Indexes allow the reader to locate instruments by church name, builder, or by geographic location.  Organists in the Chicago area will naturally be attracted to the book, but Pipe Organs of Chicago is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in the American organ.



Praise for Pipe Organs of Chicago Volume I


“10+ Wow, what an undertaking!”

- Allen Kinzey


“Your Pipe Organs of Chicago has been received and marveled at.  It is an excellent document presented in an informative and classy way!  I can’t even imagine the enormous amount of time, energy and effort it required, but I’m sure it will bring much pleasure as well as enlightenment to all who procure it.  I wish you all possible success with this handsome book.  Sincerely, “

- Fred Swann


“Congratulations on an elegant production!”

- Michael Barone


“I got my copy of Pipe Organs of Chicago this weekend.  WOW! WOW! WOW! It’s very exciting and I can’t wait to get some time to devour it.”

- Eric Budzynski, MMus, CAGO, Church of St. Paul and the Redeemer, Episcopal


“Congratulations on a beautiful book.”

Jerome Butera, Editor, THE DIAPASON


“this is a superbly color illustrated volume which picks about 95 of the significant EXISTING instrument of the greater Chicago area and gives each a quick review. . . The historical research appears top notch. . . This volume should be on the shelves of anyone interested in organ history, especially in the Americas as the Chicago organ scene was so heavilly influenced by what happened there.”

- George Nelson [posting on Piporg-L and Pipe digest]


“It’s gorgeous. Congratulations.”

- Allison Alcorn-Oppedahl, Ph. D.


“First let me congratulate you on your magnificent new book!!  Let me assure you that the many, many hours you must have spent on it are very much appreciated!  Congrats!”

- Nicholas Thompson-Allen


“ I won’t embarrass you with all the superlatives your book deserves. It’s fabulous.”

- George Horwath


“This truly is a very wonderful book with almost too much information.  I think that the artwork and presentation method is superb!  This is going to be a wonderful addition to the history of organs in the metropolitan area.

Thanks to you and Dennis for a marvelous book.

I think that this is the first time that such a great book on organs has been written about the organs in one area.  This certainly will set an example for other metropolitan areas!”

- Robert E. Woodworth, Jr.


“As we say in academia, WOOOO-HOOOO!!!  I made my first read through your fabulous book, congratulations to both of you.  What a lot of work and what a beautiful and informative outcome.   I plan to spend lots of time dipping into it in the future. . . . On behalf of the entire music community, thank you for the service that you have rendered all of us with this book.’

- Kurt R. Hansen


“It looks very well, and is one hell of a compilation.”

- Jonathan Ambrosino


“I have read the book - it is WONDERFUL!  I guess I wished there were more instruments in it but you guys have covered the main ones.  And for me, a native Chicagoan who has been away for many years, it brought back memories of various instruments I had an acquaintance with.”

- David Scribner


“What an achievement!”

- Joyce Robinson, Associate Editor, THE DIAPASON


“Congratulation on the publishing of your great organ book.  It is excellent.”

- Karl Bruhn, Dean, Fox Valley Chapter, AGO


“It looks quite appealing.”

- William T. VanPelt


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