Organ music definitely played a part in Christian Science services and meetings during Mary Baker Eddy’s time. Electronic organs and synthesizers did not exist when these gatherings began in the 1870s, so the only organs available were pipe organs and “reed organs,” also known as pump organs, harmoniums, and melodeons. More portable than pipe organs, reed organs were usually supplied with wind by bellows continuously pumped by the organist’s feet while playing. The organs were often housed in fine cabinetry and frequently found in parlors and in smaller public halls. They accompanied the hymn singing of Christian Science students gathered in these venues.
In several passages in her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Eddy explained her metaphysics in terms of music, comparing musical harmony to man’s mental and physical harmony. She wrote, “The realization that all inharmony is unreal brings objects and thoughts into human view in their true light, and presents them as beautiful and immortal. Harmony in man is as real and immortal as in music. Discord is unreal and mortal.”1
The Original Edifice of The Mother Church in Boston was built in 1894, with a fine pipe organ built by the prominent Detroit, Michigan firm of Farrand & Votey. The organ was a gift from a man whose wife had been healed by Christian Science.
The Extension of The Mother Church, designed to seat 5,000, was completed and dedicated in 1906. A much larger organ than the one in the Original Edifice was installed, built by Boston’s Hook & Hastings Organ Company. The Boston Post commented that “there is nothing more wonderful than the organ which has been installed. Nowhere in the world is there a more beautiful, more musical, or more capable instrument.… with four manuals [keyboards], seventy-two stops… and forty-five hundred and thirty-eight pipes, the largest of which is thirty-two feet long.…”2
The four-manual console described by the Post was located to the right side of the Readers’ platform, replaced in 1928 by a new four-manual console located in front of and below the platform.
By the mid-20th century, the Hook & Hastings organ needed extensive repairs. Advancing scholarship had thrown new light on authentic performance practices of the classical organ repertoire, making the tonal design of the organ outdated and not entirely appropriate for the performance of this music. The Hook & Hastings instrument was replaced with a much larger one, built by the Aeolian-Skinner Company, a distinguished Boston organ firm. Aeolian-Skinner had in 1948 installed a large organ in the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah. One of company’s organ architects, Lawrence Phelps, designed The Mother Church’s instrument.
The new organ took over a year and a half to build and install, and was completed in 1952. Its tonal designs gave an organist the ability to perform music of many countries, historical periods, and styles—certainly appropriate for the headquarters of what had become an international church. Designer Phelps gave many technical details about the instrument in an organ magazine, The Diapason, and also included information about the design of the organ’s “facade,” “the result of many weeks of close collaboration between the organ architect [Phelps] and William G. Perry of the Boston architectural firm of Perry, Shaw, & Hepburn, Kehoe, and Dean, which was the architectural consultant for an extensive program of renovation in which the Mother Church has been engaged. Certain limestone and plaster features which were part of the old front were retained and incorporated into the new design. Most of the old front pipes also were retained and redecorated. About 300 new pipes were added to the display and there are now 377 polished tin and gold-leafed pipes visible across the front of the organ. The majority of these are speaking pipes.”3
As Phelps indicates, the striking display of organ pipes in the auditorium of The Mother Church Extension is merely the tip of the iceberg when one considers the vast number of pipes that lie behind this facade.
In addition to being played for church services since 1952, talented organists over the years have performed in special recitals. There have been occasional renovations and updates to the organ and in the late 1990s the original designer, Lawrence Phelps, oversaw a major restoration of the instrument, with Foley-Baker, Inc. doing the technical work.
Since the organ’s installation, many thousands have thrilled to its tonal beauty and its ability to range from ethereal whispers to thunderous fortissimos. It’s definitely an instrument that fully supports Eddy’s requirement for music in The Mother Church to be “of a recognized standard of musical excellence.”4
- Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (Boston: The Writings of Mary Baker Eddy, 1906), 276.
- Mary Baker Eddy, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany (Boston: The First Church of Christ, Scientist, 1908), 70.
- Lawrence I. Phelps, “Great Organ Placed in C.S. Mother Church,” The Diapason, July 1, 1952, 1, 2, 13.
- Mary Baker Eddy, Manual of The Mother Church, 89th ed. (Boston: The Writings of Mary Baker Eddy, 1908), 61.