Hope-Jones at Ocean Grove
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  Hope-Jones at Ocean Grove  

Colin Pykett

 

Posted: 12 April 2015

Revised: 20 April 2015
Copyright © C E Pykett 2015

 

Abstract.  This article concerns the famous organ built by Robert Hope-Jones at Ocean Grove, New Jersey, USA in 1908 and in particular a lecture and demonstration he gave there a couple of years later. That event was auspicious because it took place shortly after he had consigned his future to the Wurlitzer company, and it was also to be only four years before he took his life. Thus the lecture was a swan song marking his entry into the poignant twilight days of his career. The article also points out the contrast between the Ocean Grove lecture and one Hope-Jones had given nineteen years earlier to the College of Organists in London. At that time he had built only a single organ in St John's church at Birkenhead near Liverpool, England, and even that was just a rebuild of an older instrument. Yet so compelling was its demonstration of a new electrical control system for organs that it instantly became his stepping stone to fame. Thus the two lectures mark the rise and fall of his work as an organ builder who changed the face of the craft, globally and permanently, over little more than two decades.

 

It is fortunate that transcripts of both lectures still exist. By comparing them we can see how his ideas were fully developed on paper at an early stage, how they became realised in practice as the enabling technology around him unfolded and progressed, and how his personality changed for the worse in response to the pressures he encountered during his career. His first instrument at Birkenhead contained all of the action, switching and circuit techniques which were immediately taken up and applied in electric actions worldwide. They appeared in a fully developed form in the Ocean Grove organ, which could not have existed without them. They were not displaced until electronics began to appear in organ building in the 1970s, well over half a century later, and even today organs are still built or rebuilt with electromechanical actions and components which are functionally identical to those invented by Hope-Jones. 

 

The article explores these threads, demonstrating that his engineering achievements remain a positive and objective measure of his legacy which cannot be disputed even by his severest critic.

 

 

Contents

(click on the headings to jump to the desired section)

 

Introduction

 

The organ in the Great Auditorium at Ocean Grove

 

The advance of technology from Birkenhead to Ocean Grove

 

The Ocean Grove lecture

Personality

 

Engineering achievements

Concluding Remarks

 

Notes and References


Introduction

 

This article concerns the famous organ built by Robert Hope-Jones at Ocean Grove, New Jersey, USA in 1908 and in particular a lecture and demonstration he gave there a couple of years later [1]. That event in 1910 was auspicious for several reasons. Although Hope-Jones had spoken often of his work during his career, this address took place shortly after he had consigned his patents and his bankrupt final business venture to the Wurlitzer company. It was also to be only four years before he took his life. Thus the lecture was a swan song marking his entry into the poignant twilight days of his career.

It is fascinating to contrast the Ocean Grove lecture with one Hope-Jones had given nineteen years earlier to the College of Organists (later the Royal College) in London in 1891 [2]. At that time he had built only a single organ at St John's church at Birkenhead near Liverpool as an amateur organ enthusiast, and even that was just a rebuild of an older instrument. Yet so compelling was its demonstration of a new electrical control system for organs that it instantly became his stepping stone to fame. The London address is the subject of another article on this website - "Hope-Jones at the College of Organists" [3]. Because these two lectures mark the rise and fall of his work as an organ builder, giving similar titles to the two articles seemed appropriate.

It is fortunate that the transcripts of both lectures still exist, indeed neither article could have been written were it not so. By comparing them we can see how his ideas were fully developed on paper at an early stage, how they became realised in practice as the enabling technology around him unfolded and progressed, and how his personality changed for the worse in response to the pressures he encountered during those two decades. For example, there are unmistakeable signs of paranoia discernible in the later talk given at Ocean Grove. This contrasts markedly with the breezy over-confidence of the young man on the threshold of his new career who delivered the earlier one in London.

This, then, sets the scene for this article which will now examine in more detail the outline sketched above.

 

 

The organ in the Great Auditorium at Ocean Grove

 

Ocean Grove is a small area on New Jersey's Atlantic coast, founded in 1869 by the Methodist movement in the United States to host an annual seashore camp meeting each summer.

 

 

The Great Auditorium at Ocean Grove today

 

The Great Auditorium remains much as it was when first built in the 1890s with an initial seating capacity of nearly 10,000, though this has been reduced since. Thus there was an immediate need for a means to lead the musical worship of such a large congregation, and in those days the only possible solution was a loud pipe organ. 

Nevertheless, despite its size the acoustics of the Ocean Grove auditorium were apparently benign. A single speaker, and thus Hope-Jones himself during his lecture, could be heard throughout its volume even though he described the structure as "a mere shell made of thin matchboarding" which "organ tone immediately passes through and is lost" [1]. The humid and salt-laden environment so close to the ocean was not propitious for an organ though. In his lecture Hope-Jones described the auditorium as "located on the shore of the Atlantic and devoid of heating plant. Next month a tarpaulin will be thrown over the console and the place will be abandoned to the mists, storms and fogs till next summer". However he went on to say that "the organ has already stood two winters and the iron screws used in its construction are still bright". He ascribed this to the enclosure of the instrument in concrete swell chambers which were electrically heated. Prior to the Hope-Jones organ there had been another instrument which was less well indulged and whose wood pipes and action work had more or less disintegrated in the damp and cold winters.

 

 

The Hope-Jones organ at Ocean Grove, 1908

 

 

 

 

Probably not the original Ocean Grove console!

Although said to be otherwise by some, this is probably not the original console at Ocean Grove.  It is undoubtedly a Hope-Jones console from that era because of features such as its double touch tablets for each keyboard which enabled and disabled 'suitable bass' - these are to the left of each row of thumb pistons.  However there do not seem to be enough stop keys or pistons to accommodate the disposition quoted in reference [5]. 

 

 

Robert Hope-Jones in later life

He is probably seated at a 'Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra' of the type produced by Wurlitzer after he had joined the company in 1910.

 

The Ocean Grove organ mightily impressed Farny Wurlitzer, who visited it early in 1910 while mulling whether to acquire the bankrupt Hope-Jones Organ Company of Elmira, New York. By his own account he was bowled over by it and similar instruments, and by the persuasive charm and charisma of its builder [4]. Measured by the number of pipes it was a remarkably small organ, given the size of the building. At the opening concert in 1908 there were only 1130 pipes (see the disposition at reference [5]), about the same as that on a typical small two manual 'straight' church organ of less than twenty stops built along traditional lines. Such an instrument would have been useless at Ocean Grove. However, in this case the pipes were distributed across 14 ranks conceived on the unit principle, thus Hope-Jones was able to derive 83 speaking stops from them [6]. There were also 21 couplers including the unison offs. The main reason why the necessary amount of acoustic power was available from so few pipes was because of the high wind pressures used - between 10 and 50 inches of water (254 - 1270 mm).

Apart from the Diaphones, all pipes were enclosed in four concrete swell boxes placed partly underground at the front of the auditorium. These had metal shutters (shades) on the top surface, each one incorporating Hope-Jones's patented 'sound trap' joints. To further improve dynamic range (the depth of diminuendo) the shutters were also hollow and exhausted of air. The sound emanating from the chambers was directed into the building via stationary reflectors behind an impressive-looking façade of dummy pipes.

The organ was controlled electropneumatically from a four manual stop key console with a separate expression pedal to each swell box, together with a fifth pedal to which any or all of the others could be coupled by means of a switch plate. However there was no one-to-one correspondence between any of the keyboards and any of the swell boxes, thus the label "swell organ" in the disposition to denote just one of the manual divisions was meaningless - each manual and pedal division was in fact a different 'swell organ' because the whole instrument was enclosed apart from the Diaphones. This was an inescapable consequence of the use of unification in that the same ranks had to be used across all of the keyboards, though Hope-Jones turned it to advantage in his eyes, if not in everyone else's - the boxes controlled groups of ranks contributing to 'foundation' (diapasons), 'woodwind' (flutes), 'brass' (reeds) and 'string' ensembles in imitation of the orchestra. Some traditional organists loathed this arrangement though others were prepared to explore its possibilities.

Although it is not clear, it is probable that at least some of the unison (8 foot) inter-divisional couplers worked via the double touch facility which was fitted to three of the keyboards. In other words, the player had to press the keys harder to achieve unison coupling. This allowed effects such as sforzando and 'bringing out' a solo melody to be realised easily. This scheme had surfaced some years previously in Hope-Jones's monumental Worcester cathedral organ of 1896 in England [7]. At Ocean Grove the pedals also had double touch, which apparently worked the various percussions which were added later. The noted performer, Edwin H Lemare, disliked double touch, though Hope-Jones said in his lecture (slanderously one would have thought) that this was because he was used to striking the keys of monstrous tracker-action organs so violently that he could no longer cultivate the necessary sensitivity of touch.

There was a full complement of combination aids, including double touch pistons, a combination capture system, a sforzando pedal and 'suitable bass'. The latter was a clever adaptive device which altered the pedal stops automatically as the player changed those on the manuals, though it could be disabled if required by pressing a toe stud. The motorised stop keys were operated electropneumatically, as in subsequent Wurlitzer theatre organs, thus a wind line would have been required to the console. Three tremulants were available, affecting the flutes, strings and light reeds.

There would almost certainly have been a need for remote key relays, one per key, which would probably have been electropneumatic. This is because the requisite number of contacts for each key for this type of organ would have been so great that they could not have been installed directly at the keyboards. The couplers would probably have acted on the key relays, and the key relays themselves would have controlled the speaking stops. Thus Hope-Jones's electropneumatic ladder relays would have been used in great profusion. Some sort of relay room would probably have been required as it is difficult to see how such a complex relay assembly, together with its wiring harnesses containing thousands of interconnections, could have been housed completely inside the console.

A full description of the Ocean Grove organ is impractical here, and readers are advised to seek more detailed material elsewhere. Reference [5] is as good a starting point as any.

 

 

The advance of technology from Birkenhead to Ocean Grove

 

From the foregoing it is obvious that Hope-Jones had more or less installed a theatre organ at Ocean Grove in all but name, an impression which is reinforced when one looks at its stop names [5]. Only features such as traps, effects and percussions were absent, though gongs or chimes were included apparently from the outset. It is therefore no surprise that he went on to develop this secular, rather than sacred, style of instrument in the guise of the Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra during his brief and ill-fated career at Wurlitzer.

It is of interest to explore how he had reached this point by 1908, because when one does so it confirms that it was he alone who had developed all of the necessary electric enabling technology for the future theatre organ. Not only that, much of it was also adopted or adapted for all organs across the world with an electric action in the twentieth century. To do this we first need to backtrack to his previous lecture given to the College of Organists in 1891 ([2], [3]).

At that point he was restricted at first to building organs only with slider chests, albeit sometimes augmented by one or two extended ranks by the time he left for America in 1903. It is important to realise that this reflected necessity rather than choice for the reasons described presently, nor was it because he had not yet figured out how to build the fully unified organ. Far from it, because his London lecture, together with patents drafted around 1890, contained ample evidence that he had completed his paper design for the fully unified instrument. By 1894 he was incorporating entirely novel and sophisticated devices such as electropneumatic coupler (ladder) relays in organs such as the four manual instrument at St Paul's, Burton upon Trent. One only has to see them to realise immediately that such relays were the precursors to those used in Wurlitzer theatre organs, not only to implement coupling but to derive stops from unit chests as well. A couple of years later double touch unison coupling surfaced at Worcester cathedral in 1896, together with innovations such as 'suitable bass' in various other instruments. I have compiled a detailed survey of the evolution of Hope-Jones's organ actions in Britain between 1889 and 1903 which can be consulted for further information [8].

Another important development at the outset was his 'action magnet' or chest magnet. This was a small electromagnet with a hairpin-shaped yoke which attracted a tiny disc armature that also acted as a two-way air valve. When the magnet was energised an associated pneumatic relay motor was exhausted to the atmosphere and thus it would collapse. When the magnet was not energised the relay would re-inflate with pressure wind. Today's chest magnets have changed little since Hope-Jones introduced them into organ building in the late 1880s at the start of his career, and their ubiquity should not blind us to the subtlety and soundness of their design, as described in reference [8]. The magnet was the offspring of a gifted professional engineer.

So why did the fully unified organ have to wait until he was well into his stride in America? Quite simply, the answer is power. Except in large towns, mains electricity was rare in Britain until well into the twentieth century because the National Grid did not come into being until the 1930s. Prior to that there was a sparse patchwork of small electricity companies, mostly generating power at different voltages. Moreover, whether you got AC, DC or nothing at all depended merely on where you happened to live. Nothing was standardised, thus the whole affair was a postcode lottery. This meant that the actions of many Hope-Jones organs had to be powered by batteries (rechargeable lead-acid accumulators or, less frequently, a battery of large dry cells for limited periods). Unless an organ could be blown electrically (or from a rotary town gas engine), there was no possibility of generating larger amounts of power for its action from a low voltage DC dynamo driven by the blower motor. In turn this meant that the number of electromagnets in the action had to be minimised in his battery-powered instruments so that the total power consumption would be minimised also. Hence Hope-Jones's enforced reliance on slider chests, which need only one magnet per key. By contrast, a fully unified organ needs one magnet per pipe, a much larger figure. The Ocean Grove organ was electrically blown using three motors providing nearly 25 total installed horsepower [9], thus there was ample shaft power available for driving one or more dynamos as well as the blower fans.

But beyond this power problem which dogged him during his early career, there was nothing to stop Hope-Jones forging ahead with all of the innovations he had already designed around 1890 once he was released from this difficulty. Hence the rapid progress he made towards the fully unified organ in America post-1903. This is not to say that electricity supplies were universal and standardised there while they were not in Britain. On the contrary, there was probably no country where damaging episodes such as the 'AC-DC wars' (Tesla versus Edison) raged as strongly as they did in the United States. Even at Ocean Grove there were major teething problems when the supply company changed the voltage as the instrument was nearing completion [9]. The point is simply that over the two decades between the London and Ocean Grove lectures, the period which bracketed most of Hope-Jones's career, mains electricity became more widespread as the supply situation in both countries began to settle down. It did not matter much what the parameters of the local supply were (voltage, frequency, number of phases, AC or DC) provided only that there was a supply of some sort which could drive a blower motor and thus a dynamo also.

 

 

The Ocean Grove lecture

 

Personality

Hope-Jones's lecture to the National Association of Organists at Ocean Grove was delivered on 6 August 1910 [1], shortly after he had consigned his future to the Wurlitzer company. Its tone is quite different to that of the earlier one given to the College of Organists in London in 1891 [2]. I have analysed that one in another article on this site [3], and it showed him as he was at the outset of his organ building career. Then, he was polite and submissive to an august and professional audience representing the British church music establishment of the day. Even so, he projected a nauseating brand of sycophancy insufficient to disguise the fact that he was a fraudster when it suited him, in areas where he was confident those present were in no position to dispute what he said. Among other nonsenses, he repeated his favourite fiction that his largest organs would run for six months on a single dry cell. He also mentioned the speed of propagation of an electric current down a cable as though this had any relevance to an electric action, which of course it does not, though the implication to his technically naïve audience was that it mattered and that only he could cope with the 'problem'. Yet to counter this, he also set out virtually all of his ideas which he or others ultimately implemented, such as unification and even electrical tone production using additive synthesis [10]. All had been worked out in detail to a remarkable degree even at that early stage.

At Ocean Grove the lecture comes over very differently. The text of the London one had probably been recorded by some neutral stenographer at the College of Organists, if only because the post-lecture question and answer session was also summarised and included in the transcript. At times it was less than flattering to Hope-Jones, and if he had had the influence he would likely have suppressed it. However the Ocean Grove transcript is of a very different kind because he wrote it himself, and among other things it portrays him as an obviously sick man. He was by then running the 'Hope-Jones Organ Department' at Wurlitzer. It is peppered with crude self-publicity such as the appearance of "(applause)" - parentheses and all - at frequent intervals. The epithet "(patent)" likewise adorned many paragraph headings. His former obsequiousness had not quite deserted him however, because he began by saying "it is with diffidence that I presume to occupy your time. Should I speak to [sic] much of my own work, pray forgive me. It is difficult to avoid what lies so near to my heart". However, such false modesty was promptly relegated to the back burner when he then launched into a tirade on the "ultra-conservatism" of "professional organists", many of whom would have been present. The famous performer, Edwin H Lemare, was the target of half a paragraph of particular venom within a few seconds after the lecture began merely because he had ventured to criticise double touch. Hope-Jones rounded off the attack by saying that "similar reasons tend to set the experienced organist against well nigh every change introduced" - a manifestly false slander against his audience that could not have gone unnoticed.

It is difficult to understand the vitriol aimed at Lemare, a man who had tried to assist Hope-Jones less than a year after his arrival in America. At Hope-Jones's request Lemare had written to the Casavant company of Quebec, not only recommending him for a position but contesting the embarrassing account of why he had been forced to flee England [9]. Lemare had given many recitals at Ocean Grove in its opening year (1908), though by 1910 conflict seems to have arisen - shortly before Hope-Jones's lecture Lemare had criticised some of his techniques in a letter to the musical press. But beyond these private battles, surely Hope-Jones must have realised that a good number of those present would have known, liked or respected Lemare? Having barely reached the end of the first page of the transcript one is therefore rendered speechless at the misjudgements which must have set a good part of the gathering against Hope-Jones before he had barely begun. What audience would willingly sit and be lectured by an amateur of negligible musical attainment who insulted both them in the round as well as one of their most illustrious colleagues? It is unbelievable.

Unfortunately none of this was new by 1910. Hope-Jones seemed incapable of forming long-lasting relationships based on mutual respect and trust with almost anyone, other than his long-suffering wife. One need only think of the string of performers, organ builders and others whom he had alienated over the previous twenty years, culminating in the final cataclysmic rift with the Wurlitzer brothers a few years later. Of course, what we see here is fear, mistrust and obsession reflected into a defensive barrier of obvious paranoia which he felt obliged to erect. It swept through his lecture like a tide, and with hindsight we can see that he was not a well man. Thus it is only possible to get a balanced picture of him by reviewing his achievements rather than his personality, much as one has to do with people such as Richard Wagner to take a random example. Thoroughly unpleasant individuals can nevertheless leave behind a positive legacy, and so it is with Hope-Jones.

To my mind, that legacy relates mainly to the avalanche of inventiveness associated with the electrical control of the organ. Others might also wish to include his tonal innovations, but because these can only be assessed subjectively I shall not dwell on them here. Therefore what follows is a consideration of how his engineering achievements were self-presented by him in the lecture at Ocean Grove.


Engineering achievements

In dealing with his truly innovative organ actions, none can deny objectively the contribution made by Hope-Jones. Far from being the humble jobbing telephone technician whom some find it convenient to portray, he was in fact a professionally-accredited engineer who was elected to membership of the Institution of Electrical Engineers in his early thirties. His action magnet, still used virtually unchanged today, has already been mentioned. Throughout his career, he alone among organ builders really understood the nascent science of electricity well enough to make genuine strides in electromagnet and circuit design for organ applications. To justify this statement, consider how many people even today have heard of Ohm's Law. If they have, what proportion of them can actually use it to design simple circuits? OK, it might be taught in high school, but that means little outside the minority who have gone on to careers in physics or engineering. And what about Hopkinson's Law, the analogue of Ohm's Law for magnetic circuits? So if such matters scarcely occupy the minds of people in today's techno age, imagine what it was like well over a century ago in a conservative craft dominated largely by tradition and in which electricity was virtually unknown.

It is clear from his work that Hope-Jones was familiar with such basic material, otherwise he could not have designed an efficient electromagnet, nor the sometimes complex binary logic (switching) circuitry that he employed from the outset. He had brought this portfolio of engineering techniques to organ building when he resigned from his position as a senior telephone engineer. It is therefore sad that some luminaries in the musical world still revile him, apparently for the sin of being cleverer than his contemporaries in these matters [11]. It is regrettable that the majority of these critics are not well known for their understanding of science and engineering, which calls their judgment into question.

Against this background, it is therefore shocking that Hope-Jones himself chose to descend into emotive and subjective censure of his audience during his lecture, rather than capitalising on the respected vantage point he could have occupied had he exercised more restraint. For example, in describing his organ actions he said "nine-tenths of you do not know what I mean. You are blinded by long use and cannot realise that the action of the organ you play is defective". What an object lesson in how not to treat such an audience!

Going on to describe the unit organ, Hope-Jones unfortunately tied himself up in knots. This was a pity, because the circuit techniques and special components he had invented to realise it were engineering achievements of the highest order for their day. He first declared that "the old departments of Pedal, Great, Swell, Choir and Solo are abandoned in favor of Foundation, String, Woodwind, Brass and Percussion". This was at odds with the divisional labels of the Ocean Grove organ however, which apparently stuck to the old names [5]. He also used the names 'stop' and 'rank' interchangeably, as when saying "this organ has but 14 stops" when it actually had over 80. He knew what he meant and so do we, but many in that audience to whom the unified organ was a novelty would have been thoroughly confused. He then took yet another sideswipe at Lemare, who had just published a criticism of the unit organ, by claiming that "the writer shows fundamental misconceptions of the instrument". This despite the fact that Lemare was a foremost performer of the day who had played the Ocean Grove organ itself many times! According to Hope-Jones, Lemare was "so entirely and utterly impregnated with the style of instrument he has struggled with from his youth as to be incapable of shifting his point of view".

The 'suitable bass' system was next described. Note that this was not the same as the ordinary 'great and pedal pistons coupled' type of coupler, as it was far more flexible. Mentioned here already, the system physically set up the pedal stops automatically to suit any manual combination. It must have astonished players at first acquaintance to find the pedal stop keys dancing around by themselves as the manual stops were altered, and one can understand the range of opinions it engendered. The mechanism was of the utmost sophistication for its day, though (probably wisely) Hope-Jones did not attempt to explain the details of what went on inside the organ during his lecture. However it might be of interest to summarise it here. Basically, each manual speaking stop was assigned a 'weight' depending on its loudness. Each weight was represented by a current defined by passing the action supply voltage through a calculated resistance when the associated stop was switched on. For each manual division, the several currents were then summed and passed through a specially-designed relay whose armature moved by an amount related to the summed current through its coil. At each position of the armature, a separate circuit was made which then selected a preset combination of pedal stops to match the loudness of the currently-selected manual combination. Thus as the manual stops were manipulated, the relay armature would move and a different combination of pedal stops would appear as if by magic. The system could be enabled or disabled by a double touch tablet for each keyboard, and in addition it could be cancelled by a toe stud. 

As with virtually all of Hope-Jones's inventions, suitable bass was invented and patented early in his career in the 1890s. It was probably implemented even in his first organ at St John's, Birkenhead, though possibly only in a 'prepared for' (non-functional) form at first. Careful inspection of the famous photograph showing him playing this organ outside the church provides some evidence of the 'suitable bass' and 'independent pedals' pistons in the key slips as illustrated in his patents. Whether we deem the system to be useful today is not relevant. A century ago many organists were clamouring for more and more of the latest gadgets, not so much because of what they did but simply because they were the latest. It was electricity in the hands of Hope-Jones which first gave these must-haves to them and to the organ building world at large.

In describing other aspects of his combination system Hope-Jones pointed out that automatic capture was used "so that the organist can alter his combinations at a moment's notice - even whilst playing". Although commonplace today, it is worth reminding ourselves of the complexity involved at a time when the mechanism was perforce entirely electropneumatic. Hope-Jones described various capture systems in his US patents. He also mentioned during the lecture that all pistons had double touch so that a suitable combination of pedal stops could be obtained by pressing the piston further.

Various other aspects of the Ocean Grove organ and Hope-Jones's wider organ building practices were described in the lecture but they are of slight interest here. Only his final subject will be mentioned, entitled "The Sphere of the Organ", where Hope-Jones presented (for once) a reasonably well-argued case for taking the organ out of church and into the secular arena. He referred to the Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra under development at Wurlitzer by saying that there is no reason why such an instrument should not be "introduced freely into public halls, theatres, hotels, restaurants, parks and other pleasure resorts". However it is interesting that he emphasised the dearth of players at that time with the necessary skills to render light popular music on this new type of instrument. This problem also exercised the Wurlitzer company, who had no shortage of potential customers but few players who could demonstrate the new product to them.

 

 

Concluding Remarks

 

It is easy to be an armchair critic, and even easier with hindsight. Today anyone can see why Hope-Jones perpetrated the many follies which ultimately claimed his life. If two reasons stand out, the first is that he simply could not stop himself inventing to the detriment of everything else. The second is related to his personality, whose negative and unpleasant characteristics became more pronounced over time. Although he gained lots of contracts, he was incapable of running a business to fulfil them without incurring catastrophic losses. Occasional loss leaders are all very well, but virtually every job (including at Ocean Grove) turned out to be a loss leader with Hope-Jones at the helm. Even on the occasions when he brought in someone with a better head for business than he, his obsessive penchant for 'improving' organs in production with no thought of re-negotiating the price to the client was his downfall. In many ways the Wurlitzer brothers threw him a lifeline which would have saved many another in his dire position, but his obsessiveness coupled with his sly and unpleasant personality blinded him to its possibilities. True, his contract with Wurlitzer manacled him savagely because they wanted to bind him to them rather than have him at large as a competitor. But had he negotiated his side of the contract through his own attorney, even that problem could have been mitigated.

Hope-Jones's lecture at Ocean Grove demonstrated all these aspects plainly yet poignantly. Although he was rightly proud of his contributions to the electrical control of organs which by then had become the stock in trade of organ builders across the world, he was blithely unconscious of his excesses. His lecture is partly a catalogue of these - grossly unbalanced tonal effects (particularly in the shape of overpowering yet unreliable Diaphones), an unnecessarily large dynamic range in his swell boxes, pizzicato touch and percussion departments even in church organs, pipes with 'vowel cavities' - the list is almost endless.

Yet despite all this, he remains rightly more than a passing footnote in organ building today. Even ignoring the theatre organ (which one should not really do in this historical context), his 1889 instrument at Birkenhead contained all of the action, switching and circuit techniques which were immediately taken up and applied in electric actions worldwide. They appeared in a fully developed form in the Ocean Grove organ, which could not have existed without them. They were not displaced until electronics began to appear in organ building in the 1970s, well over half a century later, and even today organs are still built or rebuilt with electromechanical actions and components which are functionally identical to those invented by Hope-Jones. The various electronic organs using additive synthesis which appeared during the twentieth century capitalised on the vision he had outlined in his lecture to the College of Organists in 1891. All this remains an objective measure of his legacy and achievements which cannot be disputed even by his severest critic.

 

 

Notes and References

 

1. "Recent Developments of Organ Building, by Robt. Hope-Jones of North Tonowanda, N. Y., being a lecture delivered before The National Association of Organists at the Auditorium, Ocean Grove, N. J., U. S. A. August 6th, 1910 (abbreviated)".

The printed transcript was presented "with the compliments of the Hope-Jones Organ Department of The Rudolph Wurlitzer Co., North Tonawanda, N. Y."

2. "Electrical Aid to the Organist", R Hope-Jones, Proceedings of the College of Organists, 5 May 1891. 

3. "Hope-Jones at the College of Organists", an article on this website, C E Pykett, 2004.

4. An address given by Farny Wurlitzer to the Annual Convention of the American Theatre Organ Enthusiasts (later the American Theatre Organ Society) in 1964.

5. The Organ Historical Society Pipe Organ Database (USA). See:

 http://database.organsociety.org/SingleOrganDetails.php?OrganID=19557 (accessed 30 March 2015).

6. A few weeks after the inaugural concert an additional 32 foot Diaphone rank of 85 pipes was added. 

7. "Elgar's Organ Sonata and the Organs at Worcester Cathedral", an article on this website, C E Pykett, 1999.

8. "Hope-Jones: the evolution of his organ actions in Britain from 1889 to 1903", an article on this website, C E Pykett, 2010.

9. "Robert Hope-Jones", David H Fox, Organ Historical Society (USA), 1992.

 

10. "Robert Hope-Jones and the Pipeless Organ", an article on this website, C E Pykett, 2010


11.  A few examples of those in the British organ establishment who have criticised Hope-Jones in the recent past include:

Cecil Clutton (real estate agent and organ pundit):

 

Finally, as a sort of fin-de-siècle éminence grise, came Robert Hope-Jones; an electrical engineer by trade who unfortunately strayed into organ building, to which he applied an electric action of more ingenuity than reliability
(note the egregious use of 'trade', a descriptor long synonymous with 'lower class' in Britain)


Donald Hunt (Worcester cathedral organist):

[Hope-Jones's Worcester cathedral organ of 1896] was a non-starter and, mostly due to a collapse of the home-made action, it took very little time to become hopelessly unplayable
(in fact the organ was not rebuilt for nearly 30 years)


Christopher Kent (Reading university):

[Hope-Jones was] by trade a telephone engineer, who strayed into the craft of organ building
(as with Clutton, note again the use of 'trade' and its gratuitous contrast with 'craft')


Michael Sayer (Keele university):

[Hope-Jones] spoke as an engineer in engineering terms of technical problem solving through mechanisms evaluated on criteria of cheapness and short-term efficiency
(not true)

The engineer with so restricted a view of science was also liable to have a more restricted concept of artistic values
(this non sequitur implies that non-scientists will have zero artistic credibility)