'We’ve added something that was originally envisioned' -- new organ at IMU was part of 1920s plan for the union
May 30, 2013
Visitors walking through the Indiana Memorial Union may be surprised to hear the muffled echoes of a powerful wind instrument coming from Alumni Hall.
That instrument would be Opus 91, a massive pipe organ that boasts 44 stops, 56 ranks and 2,838 pipes and was recently added as one of the final touches of the IMU Alumni Hall renovations.
The instrument rests on the balcony in the back of the room and towers all the way to the hall’s curved ceiling.
Some of the largest pipes make up the facades of the organ, and life-size sculptures of a man and woman carved in solid black walnut adorn opposite sides of the organ’s flanks.
Arguably the most striking feature of the new and improved Alumni Hall, the organ wasn’t planned to be housed in the room until the design process was almost completed.
“The idea of it started during the design process but wasn’t resolved until we were virtually completed with the project, so we had to sort of redesign the project to accommodate the organ,” said Bob Richardson, senior associate university architect.
The addition of the organ came on the tail end of the $2.5 million renovation of Alumni Hall, a space used for events such as concerts and career fairs.
The renovation began in the summer of 2012; improvements included replacing woodwork that surrounded the room all the way up to the stage, as well as renovating the Solarium’s architecture to better complement historic Alumni Hall.
Because Alumni Hall wasn't conceived as a concert hall, transferring Opus 91 to the space meant the incorporation of many acoustical changes. Richardson, who managed the project, said an acoustical consultant was hired to help modify the space. The changes included adding absorbent materials to the walls and ceiling sound panels that help support the sound quality of the organ as well as ensuring that the sound doesn’t travel into the Solarium.
David Kazimir, IU’s organ and carillon curator, has worked with the Indiana Memorial Union and Jacobs School of Music throughout the construction of Opus 91 in Alumni Hall.
He said having an organ in Alumni Hall was a part of the original plans for the room when it was first built in the early 20th century.
“We’ve added something that was originally envisioned, so we’re happy about that.”
Opus 91 was custom-built in 1987 for the home of the late Jacques M. Littlefield, an avid support of the organ and the arts who, in addition to the instrument, collected and restored military vehicles.
The internationally renowned organ building company C.B. Fisk Inc. of Gloucester, Mass., built this organ and two others acquired by the Jacobs School of Music that are also housed at IU Bloomington.
“He was an enthusiast in the best sense of the word,” C.B. Fisk organ builder Dana Sigall said of Littlefield.
In designing the instrument in the mid-1980s, members of Fisk led Littlefield on a tour of historic organs in Europe.
The tour shaped many of the decisions made in constructing the instrument. French organs from the 18th and 19th centuries have played a unique role in shaping the instrument that stands in Alumni Hall.
Kazimir said Opus 91 has a wide musical range and speaks with an “older voice.”
Different organs play different music styles, and he says this organ is well-suited for French classical music from the 18th century. According to Sigall, it took 30,000 hours to build, install and tonally finish the organ in the original location in the concert hall adjacent to the Littlefield home in Portola Valley, Calif.
“This was probably the most ornate and decorated case our shop has produced,” Sigall said.
The Jacobs School of Music became interested in acquiring the organ when it learned that the instrument was available for sale in late 2010. Kazimir said the chance for the School of Music to procure the instrument and use it in the renovated space is an amazing opportunity.
Now that the Alumni Hall and Solarium building projects are completed and the organ installed, the the process of voicing -- fine adjusting the sound of the organ to the acoustics of its new home -- has begun. The task requires individually testing each of the 2,838 pipes -- a musical exercise that can last for months.
“It’s really very exciting that we have this exquisite organ at the crossroads of the campus,” Kazimir said, adding that the space will create opportunities for Jacobs School organ students to perform before new audiences.
Alumni Hall’s renovation project will be dedicated at an invitation-only event June 7.
The organ’s public debut will take place in September with a conference sponsored by the Jacobs School of Music Organ Department and its alumni wing, the Indiana Organists United.
The conference, "An Organ at the Crossroads," will feature Jacobs School of Music organ faculty Colin Andrews, Janette Fishell, David Kazimir and Christopher Young, with Emerita Professor Marilyn Keiser and Jacobs Dean Emeritus Charles Webb and other distinguished guest artists.