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Pastor Fr. Alfred J. Harris

Parish Secretary
Mrs. Soraya Strobach

Music Director
Bill Parsons

Music Director Emeritus
Don Clark

Gregory James Vines

Rectory Hours

Monday - Friday
9:00am to 3:00pm

727 Fifth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001

(202) 289-7771


organ-recitalIn 1890, the Saint Mary Mother of God Church was dedicated, with stained glass windows from Germany and Stations of the Cross from Austria. There was a large open space under the tower for the organ that was ordered from George S. Hutchings of Boston, but until it was installed, music was provided by an orchestra or a reed organ.

One bright spring morning in 1891 the pastor, George Glaab, DD, left the rectory in his buggy to return an hour later from the Baltimore & Ohio railway station at the foot of the Capitol leading the two horse drawn wagons carrying the new organ. Although she was only six years old at the time, one of the parishioners told me that she witnessed this. The magnificent building had cost $60,000 and the $2,500 organ was to be Glaab’s crowning achievement.

The organ was certainly adequate for the building, but Hutchings added the 16' Diapason on the Great without charge becausee he felt the room needed the extra foundation. Originally the facade was composed of two rows of pipes, the front in M configuration and the rear in A. The four pipes on the outside of the second row were from the 16' Diapason of the Great, and the rest were “dumb,” being short cylinders that sat on wooden circles screwed to the rack that held the front row. Of course a second set of full-length pipes would have blocked the sound, but no one could tell that the only part that existed was what rose behind the front set. There was a window behind the organ and the light that came through the facade showed that the second row did not really exist. He, therefore, cleverly moved the end four pipes back into the organ and left just one row of facade.

Narrated Demonstration of the George S. Hutchings Organ built in 1891 Donald Clark, Music Director

facade-pipesAt some unknown time the diaper patterns on the facade were stripped and the pipes painted “radiator gold.” Letters to all the churches still having Hutchings organs asking if their facade was original got only one response and that was negative. Central Pipe Organ Service Inc. took the pipes down and examined them carefully, discovering a bit of the pattern on one and a bit more that had been missed in the stripping on another. We designed a composite pipe out of paper and were able to see the original design, and thus cut stencils. The colors in the decorated ceiling (according to the records) had been copied from the organ pipes in 1925, so we reversed the process.

The novelty of pumping the organ by hand probably wore out quickly (the penciled and carved notations and initials stop in 1896, so that may have been when the water motor (still in the cellar) was installed. After all, churches got the water free! At some point, an electric blower was installed and the double-fold reservoir with its feeders was removed by Lewis & Hitchcock in 1964. Three cone-valve reservoirs were installed.

swell-divisionThe tiny original beater tremolo is located in the swell box and was probably judged inadequate. In 1924, Evan Getz built a larger valve tremolo that was mounted on one of the swell chest legs. The original is operating again today.

One of the unusual features of the organ is the system of relief or compensating pneumatics on the lower 24 pallets of the manual windchests. As any player of a tracker action knows, the lower down the keyboard, the larger the pallets and the stiffer the action becomes as the larger pallets have a larger surface to overcome the wind pressure in the pallet box. George Hutchings’s ingenious and efficient solution was to mount a pneumatic on the bottom of each pallet the exact size of the pallet, and to exhaust it through a small hole in the base of each pallet. The bottom of the pallet is the top of the pneumatic and the board that is the bottom of the pneumatic has a small cross board that pushes up on two pins located just beside the pallet. These try to pull the pallet open and leave only the pressure of the pallet springs for the key action to overcome.

Another unusual feature is the double set of swell shades, one set behind the other, opening a full ninety degrees. It is amazingly effective.

trackers-rollerboardThe organ received routine maintenance, with the only repairs being the replacement of the winding system, recovering the stoppers of some wooden pipe ranks, the rebushing of the action squares, and the replacement of the pedal key tops. Because of “smiling mouths” caused by overzealous cone tuning, tuning sleeves were installed about 35 years ago and the pitch set at A440.

George S. Hutchings, Opus 239 (1891)