Restored pipe organ beckons renowned player to Stambaugh

Pipe Organ at Stambaugh

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Colin Lynch sits at the console of the pipe organ at Stambaugh Auditorium. Lynch, of Boston, came to Youngstown this week to record an album on the organ.


While preparing to record his next album, Boston organist Colin Lynch hit a roadblock when the pipe organ he planned to use became unavailable.

As he searched for an alternative, a friend told him about an amazing instrument in Youngstown that recently had been restored.

That friend was referring to the massive pipe organ at Stambaugh Auditorium.

And Lynch, who began recording this week at the concert hall on Fifth Avenue, said things worked out even better than planned.

“I’m glad I followed my friend’s advice, because this one is much better than the organ I was going to use,” he said.

Lynch is a perfor- mance organist and associate director of music at the grand and historic Trinity Church in Boston. He has performed in prominent venues across the globe, including Methuen Music Hall and St. Thomas Church in New York City; Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria, British Columbia; and the American Cathedral and St. Eustache in Paris.

Stambaugh’s pipe organ was made in the 1920s by the renowned E.M. Skinner Co. It was restored in 2010 at a cost of $1.4 million after years of neglect and water damage.

Skinner custom-built the organ to match and complement the superb acoustics in Stambaugh Auditorium.

As recording proceeds this week, the scene at the hall is one of exceptional silence. Women employees are forbidden to wear high heels this week for fear of marring the recording process, William Conti, president of the Stambaugh board of trustees, said with a laugh.

Highly sensitive microphones have been set up throughout the seating area at a height of about 20 feet. A sound engineer with Raven Recordings is camped out in a backstage dressing room behind a wall of electronic equipment.

Lynch, with producer John Ortloff, are at the pipe organ in the orchestra pit at center stage. They are laying down takes of Vierne’s Sixth Symphony for the album. Recording will be completed by the end of the week, and the album is slated for a spring release.

Word of the superlative Stambaugh organ is slowly getting out in the pipe-organ community, said Lynch.

Chris Lewis, marketing director for the hall, said several inquiries for recording have been received recently, but Lynch is the first to use the hall for that purpose.

The rehabilitation of the pipe organ involved dismantling it and completely restoring each of the roughly 4,000 pipes. As a result, the instrument sounds just as it did the day it was installed.

“It sounds ‘brand old’,” said Ortloff. “It behaves like it did 80 years ago.”

Dirt and fatigue can make an organ sound “tired,” explained Ortloff, but the restoration returned it to its original power.

Another reason Lynch wanted to use the Stambaugh organ is that the Skinner Co. pedigree was preferred by Vierne, a French composer who died in 1937.

Vierne was a brilliant virtuoso at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and a prolific and innovative composer for the pipe organ. On a trip to the United States, Vierne got to play a Skinner organ for the first time and was so enamored of it that he wanted to make the Notre Dame organ more like it.

The Stambaugh organ excels in the French horn sound that Vierne uses in his works, said Lynch. “It seems like [Vierne] was here,” he said.

Ortloff noted that the Stambaugh auditorium space — with its pin-drop acoustics — also enhances the recording. “This organ needs a big space to bring out the reverb acoustics” that are called for in the Vierne piece, he said.

Lynch noted that a renaissance of pipe organ restoration and replacement has begun in fine concert halls across the country, and Stambaugh is on the cutting edge of the movement.

“Stambaugh is lucky to have this one,” he said. “They were smart not to throw it away. There is a lot of color in its sound.”

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