Daniel Pinkham

King’s Chapel 1964

When I was appointed Music Director of King’s Chapel in 1958, I inherited a large 1909 E. M. Skinner instrument. The Great, primarily an 8′ division, was loud, opaque, and quite unsuited for any kind of accompaniment function. The Swell and Choir divisions, in chambers above the ceiling, were audible to the singers only by two tiny (and tinny) loudspeakers.

I contacted Charles Fisk for help. During the next two years he placed a new Fifteenth and a III – rank Sharp in the Great and moved a revoiced Gedeckt from the Swell to the Great. Although we planned some additional tonal changes, the deteriorating mechanical condition of the organ suggested that a replacement was indicated.

The E.M. Skinner organ had been a gift from Frank E. Peabody in memory of his son Everett. After many meetings of the Music committee of King’s Chapel, we decided that Dr. Joseph Barth, Minister of King’s Chapel at that time, Charles Fisk and I should approach Miss Amelia Peabody, daughter of Frank Peabody, for an instrument which would memorialize both her brother Everett and her father as well.

Miss Peabody was known for her interest in organs and had given several in the Boston area. We were surprised by the depth of her knowledge about mechanical and tonal matters. She asked several pointed questions. “What makes you think, Mr. Fisk, that tracker action would work in King’s Chapel?” “Of course we can never be sure of anything, Miss Peabody, but I am reasonably convinced it is appropriate.” ” Do you have an Organ Committee?” I said that we would assemble one. “Be sure not to include Mr. Biggs. He gave me some very bad advice about the Schlicker installation at Old North Church.” I assured her that the name of Biggs would not appear on the membership of the committee. Needless to say, I directly telephoned to Biggs to report what had happened and asked him if he would be willing to give us the benefit of his wisdom privately. His unfailing grace and insight guided us on several matters. I took one of the many revised stoplists for his inspection. “Two notable omissions: you must have both ‘Pulpit Cancel’ and (then pointing to our wine-glass pulpit) ‘Rector Ejector’.”

During the years 1960 until 1964 I spent numerous hours with Charles as he explained his decisions about the construction and tonal matters. For example, the decision to make the Choir division mirror the Brattle Organ, which had come to King’s Chapel in 1713, was at once his gesture to the musical history of the church as well as a practical musical decision. He was always quick to admire the craftsmanship with which the Skinner pipes had been made. “Look at those beautiful seams.” More than once I heard him extol the elegance of the wood carvings from that instrument, most of which he found space for in the present instrument.

The 1964 instrument was the first of the great Fisk instruments. It was the first three manual mechanical action instrument in this country in the 20th century. It is still my favorite.

At the time of the completion of this instrument Charles Fisk wrote a lengthy description of the King’s Chapel organ. It was published in Barbara Owen’s 1966 The Organs and Music of King’s Chapel and reprinted in the 1993 second edition, available at King’s Chapel.

Published originally in the Old West Organ Society Journal January 1994