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Organ Revival

Newly renovated pipe organ in Lang Concert Hall

After almost half a century without any significant changes, the Lang Music Building has just undergone a massive, nine-million-dollar renovation. Along with the renovations to the building, the Concert Hall’s Holtkamp Organ has undergone a major renovation for the first time. With the iconic instrument now back in place above the stage of the Concert Hall, the Music Program expects it will play a prominent role in a range of music-based activities and programming in the coming years.

The organ was originally installed in 1975, shortly after completion of the Lang Music Building. Originally, plans were made to recess the pipework and consoles into the rear wall of the Concert Hall, but these plans were scrapped, and its prominent position now adds to the organ’s grand impact. The organ’s positioning, despite adding to its striking nature, made it difficult to service and it often suffered reliability issues.  

After a tour of the Lang Music Building in early 2019, Jane Lang ‘67 announced that she and her niece Lucy ‘03 would allocate $7 million of her father Eugene Lang’s “Fund for the Future” to upgrade and renovate the building. This gift was quickly followed up by donations from Samuel Hayes ‘57, John Chen ’76, P’19, David Singleton ’68, P’99, David Bradley ’75, H’11, and David McElhinny ’75, P’17 which totaled half a million dollars. As part of the renovations made possible by these gifts, in January 2020 the locally based organ maker Patrick Murphy and his team entirely dismantled the organ and brought it to their workshop, where they partially reassembled it and began the renovation process. Their renovations included work on all aspects of the organ, from the pipework to the slider wind chests to the console—cleaning, painting, repairing, and replacing to restore the organ to its full potential.

Especially with the new repairs, the organ has a powerful sound, which is amplified by the Concert Hall’s brilliant acoustics. Swarthmore’s Holtkamp organ is in the neo-Baroque style, and so it was originally designed and built to have a tone color best suited for Baroque pieces, such as those of J.S. Bach. However, thanks in part to the tonal adjustments made during the organ’s refurbishment, its sound is flexible enough to play pieces from a broad range of historical eras and compositional styles. Says Senior Lecturer in Music Professor Andrew Hauze, “The organ has a magnificently bright, even pungent sound that can be really hair raising when you're in the room with it, yet it is also capable of great delicacy and nuance.”

With the organ now back in its position in the Concert Hall, fully functioning and sounding better than ever, the Music Program is thrilled to program it for a variety of purposes. The Department plans to take advantage of the magnificent instrument to enhance a range of music programming, such as Swarthmore’s Orchestra and Chorus, as well as more unusual programming such as silent film accompaniment. Professor Hauze, speaking for the department and all those who have worked on the organ’s refurbishment, says, “I'm so excited for a time when we can have live audiences in the concert hall: there is nothing to match the power of hearing a pipe organ like ours live.”