History of our Pipe Organs

History of the National City Christian Church Pipe Organs

The National City Christian Church congregation has been in the forefront of musical activity in the city of Washington D.C. since its founding in 1930. The present Möller pipe organs are two of the many magnificent features of this glorious sanctuary and are the foundation upon which the church’s music ministry is built. Concert organists from across the United States and around the world have performed recitals upon this grand instrument which is housed in one of the finest acoustical spaces in our nation’s capital.

The organ is used weekly to support congregational singing in worship and sensitively accompany choral ensembles and vocalists. It is used to collaborate with orchestral instruments and ensembles, teach students of all ages and perform organ solo literature in weekly recitals and demonstrations. Its comprehensive and flexible “American Classic” design make it an a magnificent example of universality; an instrument that is “French” when needed, “German” when desired, and more than capable of accurately, and musically, playing repertoire from Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Contemporary eras.

The Pearl Neugent Nordan Gallery Organ

National City Christian Church’s first pipe organ was built by the Ernest M. Skinner Organ Company of Boston, Massachusetts and installed in 1930 upon the completion of the church. The organ, Op. 824, had four manuals, 54 ranks, and 3,514 pipes. It was quintessential E.M. Skinner, with its large scale diapason stops, lush strings and an array of colorful orchestral reed stops.

The renowned concert organist Virgil Fox practiced and played recitals upon the organ while serving in the Air Force during the Second World War while he was stationed at the chapel of Walter Reed Medical Hospital. This organ was used to accompany the great operatic soprano Leontyne Price at the state funeral of President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1973, one of its last major musical offerings before being reworked in later years.

After 45 years of faithful service, the firm of M.P. Möller of Hagerstown, Maryland, extensively rebuilt the Skinner organ in 1976. Under the direction of Donald M. Gillette and Ronald F. Ellis and the guidance of Minister of Music Lawrence Schreiber, Möller created a new 105-rank instrument of five divisions (Great, Swell, Choir, Positiv and Pedal) and 5,391 pipes controlled by a new four-manual console. At that time, some 30 ranks of the Skinner organ were revoiced and used in various divisions within this new instrument. Of those 30 ranks, only eight (English Horn, Flute Triangulaire, Flute Harmonique, pedal Principal and Contra Bass, among others) were retained in their original and untouched condition.

Hundreds of donors, both local and nationwide, contributed funds to Möller’s landmark instrument, one that featured the best of the “American Classic” organ building ideals. It was celebrated widely for its variety of colorful flute and reed stops and its formidable 30-rank pedal division, including Möller’s signature “harmonics” stops meant to produce the effect of 32’ and 64’ ranks. Recitals the first season featured Virgil Fox, Marilyn Mason, Albert Russell, Clyde Holloway, Robert Baker and Lawrence Schreiber.

The Chancel Organ

In 1980-81, a major renovation of the sanctuary surpassed not only the original splendor conceived by architect John Russell Pope, but achieved a superb acoustical environment ideal for both music and the spoken word. Into this jewel-like setting was added the Pearl Neugent Nordan Gallery Organ in the rear balcony. This independent instrument of 16 ranks, with its towers of shining silver pipes and separate two-manual console, stunningly crowned the visual impact of the building.

Because of its skillful design and placement, the Gallery Organ’s full and direct sound suggests an organ of many more pipes than it actually possesses. This instrument includes a brilliant, horizontally mounted Trompette-en-chamade on 10 inches of wind pressure. This trumpet stop, at its first hearing, was described by The Washington Post as “the most commanding Washington has ever heard.”

The instruments’ most famous and popular feature, though, is its 61-note set of Whitechapel English handbells, custom designed and built for this organ and the first of its kind in the world. Ten small doors open when the Handbell stop is drawn to display the bells, which are elegantly lit for all to see.

In March 1985, an additional 20 ranks of pipes and a new five-manual, 271-drawknob console were added to the chancel organ, further enriching its tonal palette and artistic flexibility. These additions brought the total resources to 141 ranks, nine divisions, and 7,592 pipes, making it the third largest pipe organ in Washington D.C. and its only one with a five-manual console.

The new “state of the art” console is able to play the full resources of both chancel and gallery instruments. Visible from the nave, directly underneath the cross, are the silver pipes of the five-rank Mounted Cornet stop, whose piquant and powerful sound is rich in overtones. Also added were new solo stops (Clarinet, Doppelflote, and a Tuba stop named after Rev. Dr. William Howland, then senior minister of the church), complete sets of French-style chorus reeds and additional flue pipes. The great British organist, Simon Preston, who gave the organ’s dedication recital in 1985, commented: “Once you have played this organ, it spoils you for all others.”

In 2003, a renovation project was undertaken to upgrade the electrical systems of both organs and install a new multi-memory, solid state computerized operating system to control the organs’ vast resources. The new system was designed and built by Solid State Organ Systems of Alexandria, Virginia, and to accommodate the new system, both chancel and gallery consoles were refurbished, with the gallery organ console given the ability to play, through “blind pistons”, the full resources of the chancel organ. Significant alterations were made to the layout of the draw knobs and controls of the five manual chancel console.

In 2007 and early 2008, the Pearl Neugent Nordan Gallery Organ underwent significant mechanical renovation work, including rebuilding and cleaning the Handbell stop’s playing mechanism and the replacement of swell expression shades and motors. The chancel organ received four digitally produced 32’ stops and one 64’ stop, designed by the Walker Technical Company of Zionsville, PA, to replace the unsuccessful harmonic mixture stops installed by Möller.

The immediate future will see the addition of a new independent Solo division, increase and stabilization of wind pressures, the addition of several more ranks of pipes throughout the organ, the cleaning and revoicing of the chorus reed stops, and significant tonal refinement of the entire instrument.

The organ was prominently featured during the 2010 National Convention of the American Guild of Organists.

The organ is tuned monthly, and all tuning, maintenance, and restoration work is overseen by the firm of Lawless & Associates Pipe Organ Company in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, which include Irving Lawless, Cindy Bachtell, Trevor Timmons, and Daniel Chase.

This history of the organ includes information from program notes written by Dr. Lawrence Schreiber for the present organ’s dedication on April 14, 1985 and an article written by Dr. Schreiber for the November 1985 issue of The American Organist magazine.

National City Christian Church Chancel Organ Specification

* Digital voice by Walker Technical Company, Zionsville, Pennsylvania
† Pipework from 1930 E.M. Skinner organ

Great Organ (Manual II)

16′.   Diapason     Digital
8’     Principal     61 pipes
8’     Violone     61 pipes
8’     Flute Harmonique †     61 pipes
8’     Bourdon     61 pipes
4’     Octave     61 pipes
4’     Spitzflöte     61 pipes
2-2/3’     Quint     61 pipes
2’     Octavlein     61 pipes
2’     Waldflöte     61 pipes
1-3/5’     Terz     61 pipes
Mounted Cornet V (c2-c5)     185 pipes
Mixture IV-V     257 pipes
Scharf III-IV c.   urrently unavailable
16’     Kontra Trompete     12 pipes
16’     Bombarde     12 pipes
8’     Trompete     61 pipes
8’     Trompette     61 pipes
4’     Klarine     12 pipes
4’     Clairon.    12 pipes
8’     Festival Trumpet     SOLO
8’     Trompette en Chamade     GALLERY
Chimes     Digital
Great Unison Off
Gallery Swell on Great 8’
Pedal on Great 8’

Swell Organ (Manual III)

16’     Bourdon †     12 pipes
8’     Gambe     61 pipes
8’     Gambe Céleste     61 pipes
8’     Flûte á Cheminée †     61 pipes
8’     Flauto Dolce     61 pipes
8’     Flauto Dolce Céleste †     61 pipes
4’     Prestant     61 pipes
4’     Flûte Triangulaire †     61 pipes
2’     Doublette     61 pipes
2’     Flûte Conique     61 pipes
Sesquialtera II     122 pipes
Plein Jeu III-V     215 pipes
Cymbale III     183 pipes
16’     Waldhorn †     12 pipes
8’     Trompette     61 pipes
8’     Waldhorn †     61 pipes
8’     Oboe †     61 pipes
8’     Voix Humaine     61 pipes
4’     Clarion     61 pipes
8’     Festival Trumpet     SOLO
8’     Trompette en Chamade     GALLERY
Swell 16’
Swell Unison Off
Swell 4’
All Swells to Swell
Gallery Great on Swell 8’

Choir Organ (Manual I)

16’     Quintaton     12 pipes
8’     Montre     61 pipes
8’     Concert Flute †     61 pipes
8’     Doppelflöte     61 pipes
8’     Viole Sourdine     61 pipes
8’     Viole Sourdine Céleste (t.c.)     49 pipes
8’     Quintadena     61 pipes
4’     Octave     61 pipes
4’     Flûte Traversière †     61 pipes
2-2/3’     Nazard     61 pipes
2’     Flûte Magique     61 pipes
1-1/3     Larigot     12 pipes
Fourniture III-IV     220 pipes
Jeu de Clochette III     183 pipes
16’     Contre Trompette     12 pipes
8’     Trompette     61 pipes
8’     Howland Tuba     61 pipes
8’     English Horn †     61 pipes
8’     Clarinet     61 pipes
4’     Clairon     12 pipes
8’     Festival Trumpet     SOLO
8’     Trompette en Chamade     GALLERY
Choir 16’
Choir Unison Off
Choir 4’

Solo Organ (Manual V)

16’     String Céleste     SWELL / CHOIR
8’     Doppelflöte     CHOIR
8’     String Céleste     SWELL / CHOIR
4’     String Céleste     SWELL / CHOIR
8’     Trompette     CHOIR
8’     English Horn     CHOIR
8’     Clarinet     CHOIR
8’     Waldhorn     SWELL
8’     Rohrschalmei     POSITIV
8’     Howland Tuba     CHOIR
16’     Festival Trumpet     12 notes (from Pedal Posaune)
8’     Festival Trumpet     61 pipes
4’     Festival Trumpet     12 pipes
8’     Trompette en Chamade     GALLERY
English Handbells (Whitechapel)
Handbell Doors Open/Close

Gallery Pedal Organ

16’     Principal     32 pipes
16’     Bourdon     GALLERY GREAT
10-2/3’     Quint     32 notes, borrowed from Bourdon
8’     Octave     12 pipes
8’     Rohrflöte     GALLERY SWELL
4’     Choralbass     12 pipes
4’     Gedeckt     GALLERY GREAT
32’     Trompette Cornet (derived)     32 notes
16’     Contre Trompette     GALLERY SWELL
4’     Clairon     GALLERY SWELL
4’     Schalmei     GALLERY SWELL
Gallery Pedal Unison Off
Gallery Great to Pedal
Gallery Swell to Pedal

Combination Action

2003 SSOS Multi Level Capture System – 256 levels

General pistons 1-24 (thumb and toe: 1-18 thumbs=left; 19-24 thumbs=right)
Gallery Organ general pistons 1-6 (thumb)
Great divisional pistons 1-12 (thumb)
Swell divisional pistons 1-12 (thumb)
Choir divisional pistons 1-12 (thumb)
Positiv divisional pistons 1-12 (thumb)
Solo divisional pistons 1-12 (thumb)
Pedal divisional pistons 1-10 (1-6 toe=right; 7-10 thumb=left)
Coupler pistons 1-3 (thumb)

Tutti I / Tutti II / Tutti III reversibles (thumb and toe; great right key cheek and right outrigger)

Great to Pedal reversible (thumb and toe; cancels 4’)
Swell to Pedal reversible (thumb and toe; cancels 4’)
Choir to Pedal reversible (thumb and toe; cancels 4’)
Positiv to Pedal reversible (thumb and toe; cancels 4’)
Solo to Pedal reversible (thumb and toe; cancels 4’)

Swell to Great reversible (thumb and toe; cancels 16’ & 4’)
Choir to Great reversible (thumb and toe; cancels 16’ & 4’)
Positiv to Great reversible (thumb and toe; cancels 16’ & 4’)
Swell to Choir reversible (thumb and toe; cancels 16’ & 4’)

Gallery Great to Pedal reversible (toe)
Gallery Swell to Pedal reversible (toe)
Pedal Divide reversible (toe)
Manual Transfer reversible (toe)

32’ Open Wood reversible (toe; right outrigger)
32’ Kontra Posaune reversible (toe; right outrigger)
Chancel Zimbelstern reversible (toe; right outrigger)
Gallery Zimbelstern reversible (toe; right outrigger)

Gallery Great Organ (Manual II)

16’     Bourdon     12 pipes
8’     Principal     61 pipes
8’     Gedeckt     61 pipes
8’     Gemshorn     GALLERY SWELL
8’     Gemshorn Céleste     GALLERY SWELL
4’     Octave     12 pipes
4’     Gedeckt     12 pipes
2’     Super Octave     12 pipes
2’     Flute     12 pipes
Cornet V (derived, t.c.)     49 notes
Sesquialtera II (t.c.)     98 pipes
Mixture III-IV     227 pipes
English Handbells (Whitechapel)
Handbell Doors Open/Close
Gallery Great Unison Off

Gallery Swell Organ (Manual III)

8’     Rohrflöte     61 pipes
8’     Gemshorn     61 pipes
8’     Gemshorn Céleste (t.c.)     49 pipes
4’     Spitzprinzipal     61 pipes
4’     Rohrflöte     12 pipes
2’     Spitzoktav     12 pipes
1-1/3’     Larigot     61 pipes
1’     Kleinoktave     12 pipes
16’     Contre Trompette     12 pipes
8’     Trompette     61 pipes
8’     Schalmei     61 pipes
4’     Clairon     12 pipes
8’     Trompette en Chamade     61 pipes
Gallery Swell Unison Off

Positiv Organ (Manual IV)

16’     Violone     GREAT
8’     Principal     61 pipes
8’     Spitzgedeckt     61 pipes
4’     Principal     61 pipes
4’     Koppelflöte     61 pipes
2-2/3     Nasat     61 pipes
2’     Octave     61 pipes
2’     Flachflöte     61 pipes
1-3/5’     Terzflöte     61 pipes
1-1/3’     Quint     61 pipes
1’     Sifflöte     61 pipes
Zimbel III-IV c.   urrently unavailable
16’     Petite Trompette     61 pipes
16’     Dulzian     12 pipes
8’     Petite Trompette     61 pipes
8’     Krummhorn     61 pipes
8’     Rohrschalmei     61 pipes
4’     Petite Clarion     12 pipes
16’     Festival Trumpet     SOLO
8’     Festival Trumpet     SOLO
4’     Festival Trumpet     SOLO
8’     Trompette en Chamade     GALLERY
Zimbelstern     10 bells
Positiv 16’
Positiv Unison Off
Gallery Great on Positiv 8’
Gallery Swell on Positiv 8’

Pedal Organ

32’     Open Wood*     DIGITAL
32’     Contra Violone*     DIGITAL
32’     Untersatz     12 pipes
32’     Lieblich Gedeckt*     DIGITAL
16’     Kontra Bass †     32 pipes
16’     Principal †     32 pipes
16’     Subbass †     32 pipes
16’     Violone     GREAT
16’     Bourdon     SWELL
16’     Quintaton     CHOIR
10-2/3’     Quint †     32 pipes
8’     Octave     32 pipes
8’     Gedeckt Pommer †     32 pipes
8’     Violone     GREAT
8’     Flûte á Cheminée     SWELL
5-1/3’     Quinte     32 pipes
4’     Choralbass     32 pipes
4’     Nachthorn     32 pipes
4’     Flûte á Cheminée     SWELL
2’     Hohlflöte     32 pipes
Mixture IV     128 pipes
64’     Double Ophicleide*     DIGITAL
32’     Kontra Posaune     12 pipes
32’     Contre Basson*     DIGITAL
16’     Posaune     32 pipes
16’     Bombarde     GREAT
16’     Waldhorn     SWELL
16’     Contre Trompette     CHOIR
16’     Petite Trompette     POSITIV
8’     Posaune     12 pipes
8’     Trompette     GREAT
8’     Trompette     CHOIR
4’     Klarine     12 pipes
4’     Rohrschalmei     POSITIV
4’     Trompette     CHOIR
8’     Festival Trumpet     SOLO
8’     Trompette en Chamade     GALLERY
Chimes*     20 notes
Unison Off
Pedal Divide


8’     Great to Pedal
4’     Great to Pedal
8’     Swell to Pedal
4’     Swell to Pedal
8’     Choir to Pedal
4’     Choir to Pedal
8’     Positiv to Pedal
4’     Positiv to Pedal
8’     Solo to Pedal
4’     Solo to Pedal
16’     Swell to Great
8’     Swell to Great
4’     Swell to Great
16’     Choir to Great
8’     Choir to Great
4’     Choir to Great
16’     Positiv to Great
8’     Positiv to Great
8’     Solo to Great
8′     Choir to Swell
8’     Positiv to Swell
8’     Solo to Swell
16’     Swell to Positiv
8’     Swell to Positiv
4’     Swell to Positiv
8’     Choir to Positiv
8’     Solo to Positiv
8’     Great to Choir
16’     Swell to Choir
8’     Swell to Choir
4’     Swell to Choir
8’     Positiv to Choir
8’     Solo to Choir

Miscellaneous Controls

Swell, Choir, and Gallery Swell expression shoes
Crescendo shoe (1 fixed/3 adjustable crescendo settings)
Next Piston (thumb; right key slip)
Previous Piston (thumb; great right key slip)
Next Piston (toe; right of expression shoes)
Previous Piston (toe; left of expression shoes)
Piston Sequencer
(Piston, Auto Step, List in Use, Step Up, Step Down, Insert Step, Delete Step, Piston Up, and
Piston Down thumb pistons)
Transposer (7 half-steps up and 7 half-steps down)
Manual Transfer
(Man. II and pistons move to Manual I; Man. I and pistons move to Man. IV; Man. IV and
pistons move to Man. I)
Cancel piston
Set piston
Chancel organ playable at 2-manual gallery console via blind pistons
MIDI record/playback compatible