In 1956, a group of forward-thinking pipe organ professionals gathered at St. Bartholomew's Church on Park Avenue in New York City to discuss the care and appreciation of our country's pipe organ heritage. From that conversation the Organ Historical Society was born. In the ensuing fifty-six years, the OHS has done much to raise awareness of the brilliance of nineteenth and twentieth-century American organbuilding.
At the time of the founding of the OHS, American cities were being turned over. The interstate highway system was under construction, resulting in the demolition of hundreds of church buildings along with homes, schools, and businesses, making way for the new roads. And urban renewal was ubiquitous. Buildings that were judged "old fashioned" were razed to make space for new gleaming towers of glass and steel, buildings that could support huge numbers of floors resulting in acres of extra floor space. The OHS moved to raise awareness of the wonderful organs that were being lost, publishing lists in their mimeographed newsletter. (Does that evoke nostalgia about the particular smell in elementary school offices?)
Several years later, Alan Laufman conceived the idea of forming a company that would manage the information about organs that were threatened, and petitioned the leadership of the OHS to allow him to spin off that activity, and the Organ Clearing House was born.
Fifty years later, the market has changed. Churches in some areas are closing because of dwindling congregations. Other churches are giving up on pipe organs and the "traditional" church music they support in favor of new contemporary styles of worship, and many churches are purchasing electronic instruments to replace pipe organs because they are installed so easily, and seem to cost so much less. (Trouble is, it often takes the lifetime of three or four electronic instruments to equal the lifetime of one good pipe organ.)
The Organ Clearing House has just entered its fifty-first year. We are building on the tradition started by our friend Alan Laufman, and expanding our activities to meet the needs of the twenty-first century pipe organ. We are devoted to helping build a strong future for the King of Instruments by helping churches, private individuals, and other institutions acquire high-quality vintage instruments at costs lower than the construction of new organs. And we offer many services to help other organbuilders manage the logistics of large pipe organs, providing hoisting and rigging equipment and expertise, and skilled workers to enhance their staffs during busy periods.
OCH president Amory Atkins and vice-president Joshua Wood manage our efficient crews in locations all across the country, and as far afield as the island nation of Madagascar. In recent years we have worked with European organbuilders, providing vintage American instruments to satisfy the developing interests of European organists. Executive director John Bishop helps clients assess their situations, choose the ideal organ for their needs, and plans the projects so dreams can be realized.
John Bishop writes the column In the wind... published each month in The Diapason, and is available as consultant and advisor for all issues relating the acquisition and care of pipe organs.
In late March of 2012, the OCH is launching a new website that features easier browsing and more complete information about available organs. Why not visit, give us a call, and build and realize the dream of installing a wonderful pipe organ in your building? We're looking to hearing from you.