Pipe Organ

‘A labor of love’

Episcopal priest’s musical dream on display at Southlake church

By John Newton
Assistant Managing Editor

(Published April 7, 2002)
For 24 years Episcopal priest A. Blanchard Boyer fiddled with a lifelong project he kept in his garage.

Whenever the pocketbook was right, he would buy a metal pipe or two from a company in Germany and add it to his growing collection of metal pipes. Eventually, after more than two decades of collecting and fiddling, Mr. Boyer’s lifelong project was complete.

“He had closed off his garage in a number of residences and built this pipe organ,” said the Very Rev. William A. Crary, rector at St. Laurence Episcopal Church in northern Southlake and a friend of Mr. Boyer’s.

What the now-retired Fort Worth priest had done was fulfill a boyhood dream of building a pipe organ, the instrument he had grown up admiring.

He did everything by hand, “acquiring pipes from this source and that source and so forth,” Mr. Crary said.

The organ is now proudly played and displayed at St. Laurence thanks to a gift from the now 85-year-old retired priest, who had no garage to use for storage when he moved to Fort Worth’s Trinity Terrace retirement community in 1993.

“When he [moved there] he had to do something with the organ,” Mr. Crary said. “That’s when he bequeathed it [to St. Laurence].”

The organ is played every Sunday by church music director Candace Bawcombe, who has been at St. Laurence about a year and a half.

“When I came out and auditioned [for the job] I was amazed that such an organ existed in Southlake,” she said. “I don’t know what else is out there … but I was very surprised. I think it’s amazing, really, that a community of this size has an instrument like that in a church.”

From Fort Worth to Southlake

Mr. Crary has known Mr. Boyer since he moved to Richardson to work for Texas Instruments in 1966. Mr. Boyer was the rector at St. Margaret Episcopal Church in Richardson, and the two have remained friends over the years. Mr. Crary eventually went into the ministry and became rector at St. Laurence in 1987.

But the reason St. Laurence ended up with the organ had as much to do with its sanctuary as it did Mr. Crary’s friendship with the organ’s maker. Mr. Boyer asked that the organ be placed in a church with outstanding acoustics and St. Laurence fit the description, Mr. Crary said. In addition to the sanctuary’s rectangular design, it has a ceramic tile floor instead of carpet, which aids in the good reverberation of sound and encourages people to sing, he said.

The Pipe Organ Affair

Mr. Boyer’s fondness for organs started as a youth, when he was constantly asked to help people fix their small harmonium organs. He seemed to have a knack for it, he said.

“They were not all that complicated. Couldn’t be for a 10-year-old kid to be able to fix them,” he said.

His first encounter with a pipe organ, however, sparked a lifelong love affair with the musical instrument.

As a tiny child, Mr. Boyer recalls his family traveling to Austin and attending church one Sunday. They were walking on the sidewalk after the service when a unique sound peaked Mr. Boyer’s curiosity and he had to investigate.

“And I tore loose from guarding hands and went to find this whatever-it-was,” he said. “And I went through the knees of people who opened the door, and there it was. It had pipes all across the front of it and I was absolutely mesmerized. About that time [my parents] came along, jerked me by my hand and dragged me off.”

But that moment compounded with others, and Mr. Boyer knew he wanted more than just a glimpse.

“I said, ‘One day I’m going to have one of these.’” he said.  So he built one. And it only took 24 years.

Putting It Together

In 1962, Mr. Boyer “came into some money” and decided to purchase pipe organ parts from a company in Germany. He bought 12 ranks of pipes and started to piece together his pipe organ.

Over the next two decades, he bought pipes, constructed cabinets, built a swell chest, installed valves, and then the wiring needed to make it all work. It was Mr. Boyer’s pet project – his lifelong dream.

“It was, very much so, a labor of love,” Mr. Crary said. “Very much like a railroad hobbyist goes to great pains and detail to build the layout for his HO [scale] gage train.”

But Mr. Boyer’s project was not done in secret. In fact, he was assisted by a variety of people, many of whom had to share his love for building his organ.

“It took lots of help from neighbors and friends and enemies and everybody,” he said.

He said his supportive wife, Lois, put up with his pipe organ dream and all the work associated with it, including exercising patience through several moves.

Not all of the organ’s parts were obtained through Mr. Boyer’s effort. Charles McManus, a “master” organ builder who mentored Mr. Boyer in Kansas City, dropped by Mr. Boyer’s house one day and asked if he wanted a pipe organ keyboard console.

“You bet I’ll take it,” was the reply.

The Inner Workings

Much like a harmonica, a pipe organ produces music through a combination of blown air and tunnels set at differing lengths and pitches. Towering above the St. Laurence’s balcony are 13 silver pipes, called “principle” pipes, which form the first rank, or tonal row, of pipes. In the box behind are the other 16 ranks, each arranged for a different tone.

Mr. Boyer’s organ has three divisions of pipes – a “pedal” division, a “great” division and a “swell” division, which usually went into a wooden box with shutters. The organ is played with two keyboard consoles and one set of foot pedals.

Though it does not exude the grand majesty of pipe organs found in symphony halls and cathedrals elsewhere, Mr. Boyer’s humble work stands at the pinnacle of all hand-assembled musical instruments.

“It’s nothing like gold-plated or attractive and all that, but just look at the intricacies the gentleman was able to do,” said Patrick Henry, a church member since 1995.

“Some people look at something like that and think, “ Oh, well, it needs to be shiny and match the church,’” said Ms. Bawcombe, who also plays with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. “And that would be wonderful, but that doesn’t always make for the best instrument. Because it is an instrument, and not just another piece of furniture everybody’s looking at.”

Mr. Boyer and his son attended the Dallas Symphony on March 30. And the highlight of the trip? Seeing the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center’s large pipe organ, of course.

“It’s a beautiful thing – gorgeous,” Mr. Boyer said. “I wish they played it more.”

Members of St. Laurence Episcopal Church feel the same way about another beautiful pipe organ – this one located above the balcony of their sanctuary.

“It has a beautiful sound,” Mr. Henry said. “It is voiced very nicely.”

Assistant Managing Editor John Newton can be reached at 817-488-8561 or jnewton@grapevinesun.com

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