$1.5 million donated to renovate historic organ at Rockefeller Chapel

By Joel Lanceta

Knowing President Don Randel’s fondness for Rockefeller Memorial Chapel and his commitment to the arts, a group of University trustees, deans, and donors presented him with a gift of $1.5 million December 9-—his 65th birthday-—for the restoration of the chapel’s notable instruments.

Formerly a professor of musicology, Randel had made the preservation and repair of the E.M. Skinner Organ and the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Carillon one of his top priorities.

Built in 1928, the Skinner Organ is considered one of the finest examples of 20th century romantic organs built in America, and it contains 110 ranks of pipes. According to Lorraine C. Brochu, assistant to the dean for external affairs at Rockefeller Chapel, it is one of four university pipe organs built by master organ craftsman Ernest M. Skinner. The other three are at Yale University, Princeton University, and the University of Michigan.

The Skinner Organ, due to extensive repair, has been out of commission since 2001, and replaced by an electronic organ. The British-made Rockefeller carillon, the second largest in the world and the largest ever installed at one time, was installed in 1932 in honor of John D. Rockefeller’s mother. Though the carillon is still in service, exposure to the harsh Chicago winters has left its large bells rusty and could dull its resonant tones.

The chapel has been conducting a donation drive towards a goal of $2.75 million for the reconditioning and repair of the instruments. Smaller donations have been submitted for years for minor repairs to the organ’s wind chest, repurchase of the Skinner Organ’s original pipes, and repairs conducted by carillonneurs, Brochu said.

“It is hoped that this last funding will not only fully restore both instruments, but allow for future maintenance so that we will not need to pass the hat at every concert,” Brochu said. “The instruments require constant upkeep, but after restoration, with proper financial and maintenance planning we can keep them in fine performance condition.”