Old Cabell Hall at the University of Virginia

Charlottesville, Virginia

Skinner Organ Company, Opus 127, 1906


Opus 127, built in 1906, is the largest and oldest Skinner organ extant. Having thirty-five stops comprised of twenty-seven ranks for a total of 1585 pipes, this organ was retrofitted into an auditorium not originally intended to include a pipe organ. Located at the front edge of the balcony on either side of the Hall, the instrument is concealed behind two extensive pipe facades that cover the Great and Pedal organs on the left side and the Swell and Choir organs on the right.

The organ proved to be a veritable treasure-trove of early Skinner building practice. Unlike later Skinner pitman chests that feature pouch-rails that can be removed from below the windchest, Opus 127 has an earlier form of side-lever chest that is a carryover from Mr. Skinner’s days with the Geo. S. Hutchings Organ Company. All of the bass windchests in the organ have double primaries, which were later abandoned for single primaries in Skinner’s work. The portable bat-wing console, which can be folded up for convenient moving, has a “blind” combination action rather than the normal capture-action setter button that has since become standard in almost all organs.

Perhaps one of the most unusual features of the organ’s mechanism is the key-action. Skinner organs normally have multiple key-contacts under each key, one for the unison pitch and others for each of the couplers that answer to that key. These contacts control single-wound magnet coils at the windchests. In Opus 127, however, an earlier form is used, wherein under each key there is only a single pair of contacts, these controlling (through coupler switches) complex multiply-wound magnet coils. The magnet coils of the Swell division have, for example, no fewer than nine windings each! Some of these individual windings had opened up, causing failures in the coupling. Fortunately we had a stock of period magnet coils from the Hutchings organ formerly in New York’s Church of the Divine Paternity, and these were used to replace the occasional faulty coils in Old Cabell Hall.