Callanwolde’s Great Hall features an Aeolian organ console. The organ, which was specially designed for the house and installed during its construction, was purchased from the Aeolian Pipe Organ Company of New York for approximately $48,200. It’s seven divisions of pipes are contained in four separately constructed chambers strategically located throughout the house. Controlled from the console, the chambers can be utilized simultaneously or separately, permitting selective projection of sound to all major rooms in the mansion. Decorative ornamentation in the ceiling and walls of the mansion conceals these chambers. The most spectacular of these ornamentations, a system of rib vaults elaborated with an intricately designed pierced tracery constructed of pre-cast masonry grillwork, is located in the ceiling above the grand staircase.
Although the instrument is basically an electrically-powered wind pipe organ, it can simulate several different instruments. The organ’s three-manual console is also equipped with a built-in roll player, which uses Aeolian Pipe Organ Rolls, and a Duo-Art cabinet player, which allows several rolls to be played automatically in succession. Like a player piano, these rolls allow the organ to be operated by a person with little or no knowledge of music. A wide variety of music was available in Organ Roll format at the time, from classical works by renowned composers to popular show tunes. However, the organ is a magnificent instrument that was meant to be played by an accomplished organist. In the years during which the Candler’s lived at Callanwolde, recitals were given by some of the world’s finest organists, including Marcel Dupre (the organist for Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris) and Charles Cobourne.
The complete restoration of Callanwolde’s Aeolian organ was the result of the dedication and perserverance of the members of the Callanwolde Guild. The project extended over two decades and involved the efforts of many individuals. An extensive history of this project was compiled by Guild Member, Norma J. Bishop.
The Aeolian Organ Pipes
The only part of Callanwolde’s Aeolian organ that is visible to visitors is the console located in the Great Hall. However, the console doesn’t actually produce the sounds of the organ. That is done by the 3,742 pipes that were built into the walls of the mansion when it was first constructed.
As shown in the photos below, these pipes are accessed through chambers in the walls and attic of the mansion. Notice the floor below the chimes in the photo on the far right — it is the pierced tracery ornament in the ceiling above the grand staircase.
The History of the Restoration of Callanwolde’s Aeolian Organ
The following history details the efforts of key individuals involved in the restoration of Callanwolde’s Aeolian Organ by the Callanwolde Guild beginning prior to the property’s purchase from The First Christian Church in 1972. The information was researched and compiled by Norma J. Bishop, Newsletter Editor of the Callanwolde Guild from 1989-1990.
Pre-1972 – The Influence of Charles Walker
Charles Walker has been constructing, maintaining and repairing pipe organs since he was a grammar school student in Griffin, Georgia. He even has a 9 rank pipe organ in his Atlanta office. He is a founding member of the Atlanta Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society (ATOS), the oldest organized preservation society in the country. When two Druid Hills ATOS members asked the Chapter to investigate the abandoned Aeolian Pipe Organ at Callanwolde, Charles made the necessary arrangements.
Callanwolde’s organ had been sitting, unattended, 12 years or more when Charles and his associates began their rescue. Its fine walnut console was covered with hardened candle wax left by vagrant hippies. The organ’s original console bench was gone and Charles surmised that the console would probably have been carried away as well had it not been bolted to the floor.
The organ’s Swell Division had extensive damage. There were innumerable pipes broken and missing in the organ’s third floor loft. Nevertheless, after they replaced a few fuses and made some minor electrical repairs, the organ produced musical sounds. Charles stated that, “although the organ was terribly out of tune, it had a mystical quality, and its mellow, romantic tone was captivating.”
The organ’s built-in roll player did not operate at first. However, once it was releathered, Charles said it sounded, “absolutely wonderful.”
A collection of 185 Aeolian Pipe Organ Rolls were found locked in a breakfast room closet. They included a wide variety of opera, show tunes, and classical music. At a later date, Charles made a cassette tape of some of these original Pipe Organ rolls for the Guild. They were sold in the Art Shop to help in restoration of the organ.
Charles helped promote public interest for the purchase of Callanwolde. Every Sunday afternoon, from 1-5pm, for a year and a half, he entertained Callanwolde’s open house guests with an enchanting array of Aeolian roll-player music. On those occasions, when the melodic sounds of the organ seemed to envelope the house, Charles said he could almost envision the Candlers sitting in the library, before a fire, listening to the beautiful music. In his mind, the “organ represented the heart and soul of the house and direct relationship to the past.”
A delightful incident occurred one weekday afternoon while Charles was at the organ. A group of visitors began singing the opera he was playing. It was Metropolitan Opera star Blanche Thebom and some of her opera star friends, who had dropped by to see Callanwolde.
In time, the ATOS members moved on to other projects, but Charles remained with Callanwolde. There is no way we can document all the volunteer hours Charles contributed to the preservation of Callanwolde’s Aeolian Organ. He has been an organ tuner, technician, counselor and advisor. In addition, the console bench that now replaces the original was an outright gift from Charles Walker.
1970s – Elizabeth Elder, Callanwolde’s First In-House Organist
Elizabeth Elder was introduced to Callanwolde through her long time friend Charles Walker. She remembers the morning he phoned and asked if she would like to play the Callanwolde organ. Elizabeth knew such an organ existed, as she had previously served across the street as temporary organist for the First Christian Church of Atlanta. At that time, Callanwolde was owned by the First Christian Church of Atlanta. Elizabeth accepted the offer, and, under a grant made available to her by DeKalb County, Elizabeth Elder becae Callanwolde’s first in-house organist. In those early days Elizabeth played for such Callanwolde events as gallery openings, receptions, and weddings.
Callanwolde had been without care or upkeep for many years when the Callanwolde Foundation purchased the property in 1972. “Its Aeolian Organ,” according to Ms. Elder, “had been abused, neglected and finally abandoned.” It was sad for her to see the once magnificent instrument in such a terrible state of disrepair.
Needless to say, playing the Callanwolde Organ around that time was quite a challenge for any musician. The electrical connections from the console to the pipes were unreliable and apt to fail at any time. Some of the pipes were out of tune and some would not close properly, causing a cipher or whistle.
Most professional organists would refuse to play such an instrument, but this was not Elizabeth’s nature. The condition of the organ did not provoke her. If a stop did not work, she would use another. If a key would not play, she would improvise. There was only one occasion when Elizabeth couldn’t continue a performance. In the middle of a Sunday afternoon concert, the organ simply stopped. There was nothing she could do but explain to the audience the condition of the organ and its need for repair.
Because there were no funds available for the organ’s upkeep, Elizabeth often called upon her friend Charles Walker and his young student friend, John Tanner from Emory University for maintenance assistance. Their volunteer services, their “band-aid repair” and “touch-up tuning” not only kept the instrument alive, but helped prevent further deterioration.
When Elizabeth’s grant ran out, she volunteered her services to Callanwolde as a Guild volunteer organist.
Early 1980s – Bonnie Youngerman, the Guild’s first Organ Restoration Chair
Bonnie Youngerman was the Callanwolde Guild’s first Organ Restoration Chairman. She served the Guild in this capacity from 1980 to 1984. By the end of her four-year tenture, the Callanwolde Aeolian Organ was well on its way to being fully restored.
When Bonnie was asked how she happened to join the Guild, she answered, “I came from Chicago where they tear down everything that is old. My friend Pat Ott asked me to join a group interested in preserving Callanwolde, the old Candler estate, and I said ‘yes’ without hesitation. In May 1975, when the Guild incorporated, I became a charter member.
Bonnie said she could not recall when the Guild consciously decided to restore the Aeolian Organ. However, it was apparent to everyone concerned that the organ was an integral part of the house and the house was designed for its accommodation. You could not preserve the house unless you restored the Aeolian House Organ. From the beginning, the Guild valued this one-of-a-kind instrument and welcomed the opportunity to be part of its restoration.
Although minor repairs had been made to keep the organ somewhat operational, nothing significant had been considered until 1980 when Guild President Shirley Healy asked Bonnie Youngerman to serve on her Board of Directors as Organ Restoration Chairman.
At this point, Elizabeth Elder introduced Bonnie to Charles Walker, the Callanwolde Guild’s knowledgeable Aeolian Organ Volunteer friend. Charles, in turn, suggested that Arthur Schleuter, of Pipe Organ Sales and Services in Lithonia, be consulted.
As soon as it became apparent that the restoration project was going to be quite costly, everyone began looking for ways to raise the necessary funds. Bonnie sent out over sixty letters to foundations and philanthropic organizations known to support this kind of culturally oriented preservation project. Unfortunately, these requests were never acknowledged.
Therefore, the Gift/Art Shop, staffed by Guild volunteers, became the major source of funds for the restoration. In addition, more funds were raised through the sale of the Guild’s Chem Lawn stock. Also, Guild-sponsored tours, luncheons, and special fundraisers contributed to the project.
Under Bonnie’s four-year supervision, the organ restoration project moved along at a steady pace. The starter mechanisms for both blowers were replaced. A new rectifier was placed on the organ. The static regulator above the main blower was releathered. The harp and chimes were restored and the Great Swell motor rebuilt. By the end of her four years, plans were underway to rebuild the Swell Division.
Bonnie was quick to give credit to Guild Presidents Shirley Healy, Martha Elizabeth Cornell, Carol Hale, and Jeanne Pearson for their enthusiastic support; to the women of the Guild for their untiring labors; and to the Art Shop for its many financial contributions.
Mid-Late 1980s – Mary Lynn Weatherly, the Guild’s second Organ Restoration Chair
Mary Lynn Weatherly served the Callanwolde Guild as Organ Restoration Chairman following Bonnie Youngerman’s resignation in 1984. She holds two music degrees and is a full-time music teacher, as well as a professional organist.
The mother of one of her former students introduced her to Callanwolde’s Aeolian Organ. When she saw the instrument and heard it played, she offered to become a Callanwolde Guild volunteer member and help with its restoration.
I asked Mary Lynn to explain how orchestral pipe organs, such as Callanwolde’s, developed. She answered, “In the early 1900s, symphony orchestras were virtually nonexistent in most cities and those that did exist were not the caliber of today’s orchestras. The orchestral organ was crafted by organ builders of the period to give audiences the opportunity to hear and enjoy the fullness of symphonic orchestral sounds. Wealthy families of the era, who enjoyed music in their homes, often installed such residential pipe organs. Most of these orchestral residential pipe organs were manufactured by the Aeolian Pipe Organ Company of New York.”
Callanwolde’s Aeolian Organ is a remarkable example of the design, engineering and craftsmanship that developed during the era of the Romantic Orchestral Organ. The instrument is controlled by a three-manual console with built-in roll player. It has seven divisions: Great Organ, Swell Organ, Choir Organ, Solo Organ, Echo Great Organ, Echo Swell Organ, and Pedal Organ. It is contained in four specially-built chambers in the house. Four parts are in two chambers over the front entrance, which play through the grill in the stone archway. The third chamber is on the third floor over the south end of the main hall and can play over the stairway or over the entry archway. The fourth chamber is on the third floor over the entrance to the billiard room and can play into the main staircase or the winter living room.
The organ contains 55 ranks (sets of pipes) for a total of 3,742 pipes. Pressurized wind for all the organ, with the exception of the Solo Organ, is provided by a five horsepower electric blower in the basement of the house. Wind for the Solo Organ is provided by a two horsepower electric blower located in the attic. The console, located in the Great Hall, is controlled by 147 tilting-tablet stop keys and couplers and various push button controls. The entire mechanism weighs over 20,000 pounds. Yet, the instrument fits so perfectly into its environment and blends so well into the style of the house, that you hardly know it is there until you hear its melodious sounds.
Organs have always been expensive instruments. It takes a fairly settled and prosperous individual or community to purchase and maintain one. As the Callanwolde Guild has duly noted, organ restoration is an expensive matter too.
Mary Lynn related that on June 10, 1985, the Callanwolde Guild authorized a $23,000 contract for restoration of the Organ’s Swell Division. On December 15, 1986, the Guild signed a $42,000 contract for rebuilding, rewiring, and restoring the organ’s console. A state-of-the-art digital recorder was also added at that time. Afterwards, on October 23, 1988, the Callanwolde Guild authorized a $26,000 contract for repairs, pipe replacement, etc. on the organ’s Solo Division. In the Fall of 1989, the Guild signed a $20,000 contract for restoration of the Organ’s Echo Division.