The Hill Memorial Organ

This article, written by William Peterson, appeared in The American Organist in May 2002.

Bridges Hall of Music, one of the oldest buildings on the Pomona College campus, now houses a splendid Fisk organ. Pomona College, the founding member of The Claremont Colleges located at the eastern edge of Los Angeles County at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, first offered instruction in 1887. The Dedication of the three-manual Fisk organ, on 12 October 2002, marking the 115th anniversary of the founding of the College, is the culmination of a planning effort which has for many years focused on the question of how best to design a new instrument for an old Hall of Music. Indeed, Bridges Hall, a gift of the Bridges family, is not simply a building dating from 1915 but one of the most distinguished buildings designed by the notable architect Myron Hunt.

The plan for Bridges Hall provided for an organ above the stage. The instrument -- with four manuals and 41 stops -- was built by Moeller and installed in 1915. In anticipation of the completion of Bridges Hall, the College hired a new faculty member: Walter E. Hartley, having earned degrees from Yale and having studied with Charles-Marie Widor in Paris, arrived in Claremont in 1915 to take up his responsibilities as College Organist. His dedication concert, played in January 1916, was the first concert in the inaugural year of a series entitled Artists Course, a series which continued for many years. The Artists Course brought distinguished musicians to the campus: among the concerts arranged for 1917 was one by Joseph Bonnet of Paris. The organ and its repertoire held a valued place within the college music program, then, from the time Bridges Hall was complete in 1915-16.]

The preparation for the installation of Fisk Op. 117 in Bridges Hall began in the 1980s when a Department of Music committee, initiating a long-range planning effort, put together an historical account of the organ for reference in assessing budgetary needs associated with the maintenance of the instrument. The most extensive change took place in 1939 when Moeller incorporated about a dozen ranks from the old organ into a new design for a four-manual instrument with over 50 stops, made possible by a gift offered for this purpose by the Bridges family. This organ was planned by a team from the Department of Music including Joseph Clokey, then College Organist, and William Blanchard, working with the vice-president of the Moeller firm. When Clokey left the college in 1939 to accept a position in Ohio, Blanchard was appointed College Organist and he played a dedicatory recital in 1939. Additional work was carried out in the 1960s and in the 1970s when Moeller built a new console (in consultation with Blanchard) and Manuel Rosales initiated a tonal renovation of the instrument (in consultation with David McVey). Faced with the prospect of allocating a considerable amount of money for the purpose of maintaining the organ in playable condition, the committee in the 1980s reviewed a range of strategic planning options relating to the instrument in Bridges Hall. Acknowledging that the organ had provided many decades of service to the community, the Department of Music recommended that the College replace the existing organ with a new instrument.

Several years later the Department of Music learned that members of the Hill family of Upland, California, had generously offered to provide Pomona College with a new organ for Bridges Hall. John Hill and Eugene Hill, alumni of Pomona College, gave the new organ in honor of their mother, Carrie Schnitker Hill. After reviewing proposals from three outstanding organ builders, Pomona signed a contract with C.B. Fisk in 1996. The College formed a committee to plan the renovation of Bridges Hall, recognizing that all appropriate work on the Hall should be completed prior to installation of the new organ. The committee included members of the Department of Music along with representatives from Campus Planning, an architectural firm, and a contracting firm. Throughout the planning stage, this committee maintained regular communication with the Fisk shop in Massachusetts and with Dana Kirkegaard, acoustical consultant, in Illinois. The same committee monitored the renovation carried out while the Hall was closed from 2000 through 2001. Installation and voicing of the Fisk instrument took place between May of 2001 and April of 2002. We are all grateful for the expertise, experience, dedication, and good will brought to the last phase of this project by the Fisk team working in Bridges Hall.

The new Fisk organ will be heard in Convocations, in organ recitals, and in concerts presented by ensembles within the Department. Organ students will have access not only to the Fisk organ but also to instruments by Flentrop and Von Beckerath housed in Thatcher Music Building which has, since 1970, been the home of the Department. The Fisk organ is the most recent addition to the Department's notable collection of instruments, which also includes pianos, harpsichords, a fortepiano, a clavichord, and a gamelan made in Bali. The music program itself, building on the many strengths developed over the past ten decades, today includes nine full-time faculty members and almost thirty part-time faculty members. A sizeable proportion of the College's 1360 students works within the music program each year: between 500 and 600 students are registered for courses, for lessons, or in the eight standing ensembles offered by the Department in a typical semester.

The inauguration of the Fisk organ within the renovated hall represents a milestone in the history of a College, which has for 115 years worked conscientiously to build an educational environment worthy of the high aspirations of its earliest advocates. The success of the current project was made possible by the Trustees of Pomona College, and by the unfailing support of President Peter W. Stanley. One of the oldest and most distinguished buildings on the campus, Bridges Hall, is again ready to provide great music -- and great organ music -- to all those who come through its ornate doors. In a book written almost sixty years ago, Frank Brackett tried to describe the importance and aura of Bridges Hall:

"Something came into the life of the College with this building, something not there before, something that grows in beauty and multiplies with each generation . . . Those who have entered into its atmosphere and absorbed its inspiration can never forget the stirring impressions received."

In celebrating the completion of the splendid Fisk organ in 2002 we are offering a tribute to the power and beauty of music. The extraordinary Hall that the College built for the community in 1915, with its magnificent new organ by C.B. Fisk will, we trust, continue to inspire and challenge new generations throughout the twenty-first century.

William Peterson
Harry S. and Madge Rice Thatcher Professor of Music
College Organist and Chair of the Department of Music

Read more about this splendid C.B. Fisk Organ.