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Æolian-Skinner organ in Arlington Street Church

Æolian-Skinner Organ Company, Inc. — Æolian-Skinner of Boston, Massachusetts was an important American builder of a large number of notable pipe organs from its inception as the Skinner Organ Company in 1901 until its closure in 1972. Key figures were Ernest M. Skinner (1866-1960), Joseph Whiteford, and G. Donald Harrison (1889-1956). The company was formed from the merger of the Skinner Organ Company and the pipe organ division of the Æolian Company in 1932.


Harrison period

With the appointment of G. Donald Harrison as President and Tonal Director of Æolian-Skinner in 1933, the company’s tonal philosophy began to turn from the romantic-style orchestral instruments built under the direction of Skinner to a classically eclectic style. Organists began to look to the past to find direction for the future, and in doing so they found that they were in sympathy with the ideas being developed by Harrison. These ideas included the provision of smaller scaled diapasons, along with more higher-pitched and mutation stops in place of large-scaled unison diapasons, color reeds and flutes.

An influential and colorful figure in the story of Æolian-Skinner was Senator Emerson Richards (1884-1963), who designed the world’s largest pipe organ in the Boardwalk Hall at Atlantic City, New Jersey. In the 1920’s Richards made a series of trips to Europe in which he studied many extant historical pipe organs. As a result of these visits, he became increasingly dissatisfied with the way in which American organs at that time performed the works of the classical masters. He began to advocate the redevelopment of the organ’s ensemble, the increased use of mixture and mutation stops and the use of Positiv divisions like those which he heard in Europe. Richards became a close friend and advocate of Harrison as the two men had similar ideas about the direction that the pipe organ in America should take. Richards was also a prolific writer, submitting articles for several organ journals in which he chronicled his European study tours and expounded his ideals of organ design.

Roy Perry, a sales representative of Æolian-Skinner related the following anecdote concerning Emerson Richards. In the early 1950’s Perry took the Senator to see one of the company’s newest organs in Kilgore, Texas. Richards arrived in his plush, chauffeured limousine and began to try out each of the organ’s stops playing the same g-minor triad for every stop, saying over and over, “Don’s on the right track.” Perry soon excused himself and walked to a nearby Western Union office to telegram G. Donald Harrison. He wrote: “Dear Boss, the Senator is here. He says he taught you all you know about organ building. In return, did you teach him all you know about organ playing? Signed, Roy.”

Although during Harrison’s tenure as president from 1933 until his death in 1956 the tonal design of Æolian-Skinner organs changed a great deal, many of the mechanical innovations of Ernest Skinner were retained and perfected. The Pitman windchest for example, as developed by Skinner was utilized throughout the company’s existence. Also the high quality and distinctive design details of the Æolian-Skinner console were preserved.

Notable instruments built or rebuilt during the Harrison period include the following:

  • Boston: Church of the Advent (1935, III/77 )
  • Groton (MA): Groton School (1935, III/95)
  • San Francisco: Grace Cathedral Opus 910 (1933, IV/125)
  • New York: Church of St. Mary the Virgin (1942, IV/76)
  • Salt Lake City: Mormon Tabernacle (1948, V/204)
  • Boston: Symphony Hall (1950, IV/80)
  • Jacksonville (IL): MacMurray College Annie Merner Chapel (1952 Opus 1150, IV/59) - G. Donald Harrison “signature” organ
  • New York: Cathedral of St. John the Divine (1954, IV/141)
  • Sage Chapel, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY (1940, III/69)

Whiteford period

After Harrison’s death in June 1956, former Vice President Joseph S. Whiteford was appointed President. Whiteford joined the company in 1948 and had distinguished himself through research in the field of musical acoustics as it relates to church music. Under his direction, Æolian-Skinner built pipe organs for five of the foremost symphony orchestras in America. He had a love for vocal music which led him to emphasize the role of the organ in accompanying singing. He had a very charismatic personality which was well suited to the prestige of the Æolian-Skinner name; in fact his personal involvement secured many major contracts which were directly commissioned without any other competing bids.

Notable instruments from the Whiteford period include:

  • Detroit: Ford Auditorium (1957, III/71)
  • Westminster Maryland: Baker Memorial Chapel (1958)[1]
  • Independence: RLDS Auditorium (1959, IV/113)
  • Honolulu: St. Andrew’s Cathedral (1960, IV/72)
  • Atlanta: Cathedral of St. Philip (1962, IV/98)
  • New York: Philharmonic Hall, Lincoln Center (1963, IV/98)

After the retirement of Whiteford in 1965, John J. Tyrell, Donald M. Gillett, Robert L. Sipe and Phil Steinhaus served as President until the company ceased operations in 1972.

Aeolian-Skinner Records

In 1954, Aeolian-Skinner produced a series of LP records entitled, "The King of Instruments". This set of LP's is devoted to the tone and history of the modern organ.

  • Volume 1: "The American Classic Organ"
  • Volume 2: "Organ Literature-Bach to Langlais"
  • Volume 3: "Organ Recital" - Robert Owen, Christ Church, Bronxville, NY.
  • Volume 4: Edgar Hilliar at St. Mark's, Mount Kisco, NY
  • Volume 5: "Music of Richard Purvis" - Grace Cathedral, SFO, California
  • Volume 6: "The Cathedral of St. John the Divine" Alec Wyton-Organist
  • Volume 7 "Marilyn Mason in Recital" St. John's Chapel, Groton, MASS
  • Volume 8: "Norman Coke-Jephcott at St. John the Divine
  • Volume 9: "The Mother Church, Boston"
  • Volume 10: "Music of the Church"
  • AS 306: Ruth Phelps at the Mother Church, Boston
  • AS 322: Maurice and Marie-Madeleine Duruflé at Christ Church Cathedral, St. Loius, MO
  • AS 326: Alexander Boggs Ryan at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Kalamzoo, MI
  • ASC 503: Catherine Crozier at the RLDS (Community of Christ) Auditorium, Independence MO (Ampex reel-to-reel tape)


  1. ^ "Bishop Oxnam To Speak At Chapel Dedication" Enoch Pratt Library vertical file Baltimore Evening Sun April 2, 1958
  • Callahan, Charles (1990). The American Classic Organ: a History in Letters. Richmond: The Organ Historical Society.
  • Callahan, Charles (1996). Æolian-Skinner Remembered: a History in Letters. Minneapolis: Randall M. Egan.
  • Holden, Dorothy (1985). The Life and Work of Ernest M. Skinner. Richmond: The Organ Historical Society.
  • Owen, Barbara (1990). The Mormon Tabernacle Organ: An American Classic. Salt Lake City: The American Classic Organ Symposium.
  • Ochsa, Orpha (1975). The History of the Organ in the United States. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

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