The original Organ

No sooner had the Town Hall been officially opened than the campaign began to obtain a pipe organ to grace the main chamber.  The City’s amateur musicians launched what turned into a long and frustrating campaign for two concerts raising £120 for the Organ Fund, only to see the money used to settle the outstanding account for the Albert Bells.

When the Adelaide Philharmonic Society was formed in 1869, its members took up the challenge.  Over the next six years the choir staged 25 concerts and raised over £500 for the Organ Fund.  The estimated cost of the organ was £1,200 and the Society was working on a promise of £600 from the Council.

Their efforts were finally rewarded in 1875 when Council resolved to order an organ from London manufacturers, William Hill & Son.  As a compromise on the cost, the Council decided to have Hill & Son construct the organ so that it could be added to in later years.

The organ arrived by ship at Port Adelaide in April 1877.  The Auditorium of the Town Hall was painted and redecorated for installation and Edmund Wright was commissioned to add a platform and an “’orchestra’” to accommodate the organ.

The opening concert held on October 2, 1877, with Melbourne City Organist David Lee the Melbourne City Organist at the keyboards and a massed choir, was conducted by George Oughton.

When the costs were counted in November 1877, the total bill for the Town Hall organ came to £2,106.16s.9d. ($4,213.69).

In 1885, after Professor Joshua Ives had replaced Oughton as City Organist, the campaign began to “’complete’” the organ by adding solo stops to the instrument.  When Council finally approved the project, the contract was let to the local firm Fincham & Hobday.

The enlarged organ was officially opened at a concert played by Professor Ives in October 1886.  While it was kept in tune for over 50 years by J.E. Dodd, the organ was increasingly criticised for not being up-to-date, even when its hydraulic engine was replaced in 1923 by an electric motor.

Council eventually voted to replace the original century-old pipe organ in 1989.  The new Town Hall Organ was built in Brandon, Suffolk, England by J.W. Walker & Sons and was installed in 1990.  This firm was established in 1828, but can trace its origins back to a succession of famous English organ builders.

On Friday, March 30, 1990, before an audience of around 1,000 people, the mighty $1.3m organ thundered into life at a special Gala Concert hosted by the then Lord Mayor Steve Condous.

The following day The Advertiser newspaper reported how the organ filled the Auditorium with sound “so well, in fact, the floor rumbled under our feet … the ceiling shivered … and everything in between shook from the blasts..”

The J.W. Walker organ was the largest mechanical-action instrument to have been built in the United Kingdom for 100 years.  It has 61 stops distributed over four keyboards and 4,500 handmade pipes.  The old organ is in Tanunda at the Soldiers’ Memorial Hall and was restored by volunteers.It took them 14 years to complete the restoration work.

The organ is designed to cover a wide range of musical styles but its forte is the English and French repertoire of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, although the clarity of its “’voicing’” is well suited to the contrapuntal styles commonly associated with Bach and his contemporaries.

The new organ is ornately designed and features contrasting shades of light (maple) and dark (American red oak) timber.  The red silk-back “pipe shades” are all hand carved and use Australian native flora as motifs:, the wattle, native hibiscus and Sturt’s Desert Pea.

The key action for the organ is mechanical.  However, it is assisted by an electrical system that couples the keyboards and uses micro-chip technology to program elaborate combinations of stops and effects.

Another innovation allows the player to pre-select pistons and store stopping combinations in an electronic memory which can be operated by a hand-held key pad.

The organ was eventually replaced in 1990, to find out more about the new Town Hall organ visit The new Organ.