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No Longer a Pipe Dream

What has 1604 pipes, 2000 leather pouches and more than 10,000 parts in all? The newly restored pipe organ in Jessen Auditorium. Watch a video about how it was refurbished.

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Pipe organ music once again fills Jessen Auditorium.

A 50-year-old Aeolian-Skinner organ, rescued from a Houston church scheduled for demolition, is breathing new life into Homer Rainey Hall. After a complete deconstruction, cleaning and refurbishment by Coulter Organbuilders last fall, the new instrument was dedicated at a recital Dec. 14.

“The additional recital-quality instrument was needed to accommodate requirements of the Butler School students, sustaining a 75-year history of organ performance and church music instruction at The University of Texas,” said Douglas Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts. Butler’s organ program, which has grown 600 percent in recent years, continues to expand while programs at other universities have downsized or closed.


some of the 1604 pipes in the restored pipe organ at Jessen Auditorium

Robert Coulter and his team at Coulter Organbuilders cleaned and restored the more than 10,000 pieces that make up the Opus 1393 Aeolian-Skinner organ. [Marsha Miller] 

Robert Coulter, the organ builder, and his crew of nine technicians removed every pipe all 1,604 of them for cleaning and inspection. (Watch the video to learn more about the restoration process.) They removed six layers of faded white paint from the roll-top console and installed solid-state electrical switching to provide greater versatility for numerous musicians. Even the 50-year-old ivory keys were reconditioned at their shop in Atlanta.

The total restoration took more than 2,500 hours.

This organ built in 1963 by the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company, the premier pipe organ builder in the United States until it closed in 1971 replaces the original Aeolian-Skinner instrument on which William Doty, the founding dean of the College of Fine Arts, performed and taught.

Judith Hancock, professor and organist in the Butler School of Music, plays the new organ

Judith Hancock, professor and organist in the Butler School of Music, plays the new organ. [Marsha Miller] 

One of Doty’s most successful students was the late Gerre Hancock, professor of organ and sacred music at the Butler School, who was instrumental in acquiring the organ, along with Philip Klockner, music lecturer at Rice University.

Gerre Hancock, with Philip Klockner and Manual Rosales

Gerre Hancock (seated) didn’t live to see the organ’s installation, but he played a big role in its acquisition. Philip Klockner (left), of Rice University, and Manual Rosales, of Rosales Organ Builders, joined Hancock in the Houston church from which the organ was rescued. 

Hancock, who died in January 2012, was recognized as one of America’s most highly acclaimed concert organists. After a distinguished career that included 33 years at St. Thomas Church in New York where he and wife Judith built one of the finest Anglican Church music programs in the country, he returned to his alma mater to teach in 2004. Judith Hancock gave a recital Dec. 14 to celebrate the installation of the instrument.

The organ was acquired thanks to the generosity of Butler School of Music friend and supporter Robert Sherrill, M.A. ’56, who has given two Mary Elizabeth Sherrill Endowed Presidential Scholarships in organ and piano to the Butler School.

See more coverage of the new pipe organ in the Austin Chronicle, The Longhorn Network, The Alcalde, The Daily Texan and The Austin American-Statesman.