A man turns his extra room in his house into a pipe room for his organ.
Most people would turn an extra room in their house into a spare bedroom or a computer office. Devon Hollingsworth changed theirs into a room of pipes.
Hollingsworth is the organist at Oakbrook’s Christ Church and the principal designer of its Austin pipe organ (80-rank, four-manuals), which now includes an additional four-manual Allen console and 40 digital ranks.
During the day, he could not get to that organ for practice because he ran a music program of 15 music groups with 12 assistants, including a concert series and music school.
“It has been invaluable to have an authentic instrument at home, because most of my practicing has been late at night,” Hollingsworth commented.
That authentic instrument is an Allen digital custom, two-manual and pedal organ. The console flat keys are black, while the raised keys are white (opposite of a piano), the original way organs were constructed before the piano.
When Hollingsworth was a junior in high school, he heard his first pipe organ concert. He knew then when he grew up, he wanted to play a pipe organ and teach others the skill.
He attended Wheaton College and Northwestern University for his education. While there, he visited several homes with pipe organs and dreamed of the day he would also have a pipe organ in his home.
A three-rank Wicks practice organ was for sale in the ‘60s at Wheaton College. Hollingsworth offered a price, which was accepted, and then installed the organ himself in his small, Evanston three-room apartment in the parish house of Trinity Lutheran Church. The three ranks were a four-foot Salicional (string sound), sixteen-foot Gedackt (flute sound), and a four-foot Dulciana (a distinct organ sound made by no other instrument).
From there Hollingsworth purchased more ranks—rows of pipes—from an Ohio church, Northwestern University, Chicago’s Opera House, the defunct Saville Organ Company, and a Wicks Organ Company installer and was given a five-rank mixture stop by a friend.
Eventually his apartment organ grew to ten ranks. Three had to be placed in the bedroom, and the tremulant mechanism was placed in the church library closet, which was next door, and a second blower in the apartment’s bathroom.
A blower is used for the pressure to make the organ’s sound. The pipes are comparative to whistles. Up close, a person can easily see the whistle opening. Pipes come in varying lengths and sizes to make the voluminous number of sounds that Hollingsworth easily mixes into beautiful music.
Hollingsworth acquired a 7’5” Yamaha, ebony grand piano, and along with that, he crammed a two-manual harpsichord into his apartment.
Each time Hollingsworth moved, his instruments went with him. And that meant a new installation in every new residence. He has finished the fifth installation of his pipe organ, his biggest project.
To install the organ in his DeKalb home, he designed a pipe layout for a bedroom adjacent to a living-room wall, against which the organ stands. The pipes stand in that former bedroom.
Behind the organ, a wall opening was cut and trimmed. Then the pipes were installed in the former bedroom.
Through the opening a cathedral of organ pipes can be seen. Fourteen ranks of 950 pipes: miniature, round, metal pipes, tall, square, wood pipes, and other varying heights, diameters, and shapes. (Nine pipes, too tall for the room, lie on their sides in the back.)
The organ and its pipes are a breath-taking sight of beauty. Hollingsworth and his wife, Carol, own a miniature house of worship. When he sits at the console and plays music, the scene is complete.
Inside, the pipe room contains less beauty and more workability. Only three wires run from the organ to the large Allen-built relay box in the closet. Hollingsworth wired each pipe individually to the relay box.
On the floor, rambling like mysterious caterpillars, black hoses are hooked from the main reservoir to each windchest. This bellows-type reservoir meters out a steady supply of air pressure to each windchest.
A friend of Devon’s, who builds and maintains the player pianos at Great America and other famous theme parks, offered to digitalize Hollingsworth’s grand piano.
“It was the prototype—the lab rat—for a solenoid-driven, digital player system for all pianos,” Hollingsworth said.
With the digitalization, Hollingsworth’s organ is provided with Allen’s digital record and playback system and records and plays back 127 volume levels for each digital organ stop. The grand piano records and plays 127 volume levels for each note played.
“I’m also a mechanical music nut,” Hollingsworth confessed.
He downloads old player-piano music from the Internet and then edits them for his piano playback system. Via MIDI (musical instrument digital interface), he can eliminate any mistakes to preserve such songs as “Boo Hoo Hoo,” a rag-time tune, as well as thousands of MIDI files scanned from older piano rolls. These play without personage at his piano, the keys going up and down at the right moments.
Hollingsworth has recorded files of the music of Larry Dalton, a well-known Steinway artist and international performer. He corrected any musical irregularities and replayed the recordings to Dalton, who was amazed the recordings could be edited in a matter of seconds.
With the digital work, the home instruments can play by the push of a button. As soon as he realized the possibilities of MIDI recordings, Hollingsworth was the first in the world to present a two-organ concert, played simultaneously with himself. He also was the first to offer the world an extensive library of classical music performance disks for all organs.
Do the neighbors complain about the noise?
“Because of the lower wind pressure,” Hollingsworth explained, “the sound doesn't travel through the ground as it would if this was a transplanted theatre organ, on 10 to 25 inches of wind pressure. This organ is on about 3 1/2 inches of wind. In every installation, the neighbors complained only that they couldn't hear it and wished they could.”
What if the windows are open?
“With the windows open, the sound is as as loud as a piano or other instrument
playing. Air is a great insulator,” Hollingsworth added. “The sound requires reflection off solid surfaces to be heard.”
Along with his worldwide organ playing in churches and concerts, Hollingsworth has directed choral groups for more than 35 years and has been a part of DeKalb’s First Lutheran Church Lenten organ recital series for the past two years.
At the end of March, he will give a lecture/concert in Chicago’s Orchestra Hall on its Casavant pipe organ. The concert is sold out with a waiting list.
He will soon open a home teaching studio and will offer lessons for all ages in beginning piano and beginning-to-advanced classical organ lessons.