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Jc Company Crafts Console For Naval Academy

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JC company crafts console for Naval Academy












JC company crafts console for Naval Academy pipe organ

Monday, January 30, 2006



NET News Service


R.A. Colby Inc. of Johnson City is working on the console of the U.S. Naval Academy's pipe organ. Photo by Lee Talbert.


JOHNSON CITY - In the coming weeks when the organ plays as midshipmen sing hymns in the chapel at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., it will have special meaning to some residents of Johnson City.


Cabinetmakers and other professionals - all employees of R.A. Colby Inc., 2300 S. Roan St. - built the console, a cabinet that holds the keyboards, draw knobs and controls used by the organist.


The Naval Academy graduating class of 1951 is donating the new console to the chapel. It is being built at an approximate cost of $700,000 to $800,000.


Construction required more than 1,000 man-hours to complete.


The console has five manual keyboards, a pedal board, 520 draw knobs, 53 coupler tabs, 171 thumb pistons and 47 foot controls.


"It is the world's largest console of its type and unique because of the amount of detail," according to Brad Colby, company vice president.


The console is expected to be shipped to the academy on Tuesday, said Roger Colby, company president.


Construction began in November after months of planning, he said.


The workmanship is unique. Some 25 employees at R.A. Colby are involved in the production, including the painstaking craftsmanship and attention to delicate detail in the ornate woodwork of the console, which is made from oak.


Although oak is harder than walnut, the wood is not forgiving when hand-carved mistakes are made, said Gary Ollis, who has 30 years' experience in woodworking, as he sanded on a carving of a fish, the logo of the chapel.


"You have to be careful. On occasion, I have had to glue a piece back together," he said.


Ollis and Larry Rosolina, the latter one of the three original employees when the company moved to Johnson City in 1979, remove slight imperfections by hand after a computer-aided router makes the initial carving.


The process begins with a three-dimensional, computerized design produced by Jason Hensley, who is a digital media graduate of East Tennessee State University. Next, Travis Chambers, draftsman, feeds the digital information into the router.


A sample of the carving is first made in Styrofoam. If the desired design and quality are achieved, the router next cuts the impressions in wood.


"The computer router does all the intricate carvings. Gary and I just clean up the routing then put the pieces together," Rosolina said.


Nearby, Ken Jenkins uses a paintbrush to put an acrylic urethane top coat sealer on the finished product.


The console will arrive at the Naval Academy in two weeks, be installed and wired, and be up and running in about a month, the senior Colby said. The present organ in the chapel will continue to be used until its replacement is ready.


"They won't lose the services of the organ at the chapel," he said.


"We work with high-profile firms. For the Naval Academy project, R.A. Colby is serving as a subcontractor for a firm out of Pennsylvania. The project had to go through several sophisticated channels and had to be approved by the secretary of the Navy," he said.


"In the past six years, we have been growing at the rate of 25 percent a year. We just purchased a new building three times the size of our existing facility. Our primary customer base are churches and other organ builders. We do a lot of contract work due to the specialty level of work we do," the senior Colby said.


Formed in 1974 as an adjunct to a major pipe organ builder, the firm began as a supplier of specialized electrical components under the name of Kimber-Allen Inc.


With the company's relocation to Johnson City, the product line was expanded to include component construction for the organ building trade. By 1984, the main focus of the company became design and construction of custom components for the pipe organ industry.


The firm introduced computer-controlled machinery to the pipe organ industry in the mid-1980s. In 2001, a new state-of-the-art, large-format computer-controlled router was installed.

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While this posting should not be construed as an attempt to "kiss up" to those who are geographically located on the opposite side of a certain large body of water to that on which I reside; I must say that I much prefer the English console ideal, with gorgeously tall jambs sporting two columns of knobs for each division and no more. There is just something remarkably handsome and elegant about this way of grouping knobs.


Granted, to incorporate 520 knobs on an English console would make necessary the introduction of an elevator to the organ bench, but even so, I've never been turned on by three or four-column divisions with no space or divider in between divisions.


What floor, please?




Nathan, notorious Tubular-pneumaticist

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The navy organ was a Hutchings till Don Gillett of Moller reworked it into a decent American Classic with a German accent circa the 1980s I'd say.

It has an Antiphonal with chamade and a big honk in the nave organ. At what stage it went from a decent 4-manual to 5 needing 500+ knobs is all new to me unless they are preps for more to come. Sure hope it is PIPES and not circuits.


West Point has a 1950 console with 10 banks of stop tongues on either side and some adjoining the music rack as well as 2 rows of rockers at the bottom level of the side jambs for such goodies as the 64s and 42-2/3s.


I have been told informally that it will cost 2 million dollars to rebuild that console presumably in situ but I may be in error. Thus we see that a console of significant dimensions can cost a plenty. Must admit the Colby console is very nice looking. Evidently it is larger than the duplicates at Crystal cathedral; the Ruffati and the Moller twin also the twins at Los Angeles First Congregational; one Moller and the other completed by Eastern Organ Supply of Hagerstown, Maryland.


Well folks, just in: this post from another list seems to solve the puzzle of the 500+ knobs. Look!



Guy Henderson" <gfhenderson@earthlink.net>




Subject: Re: Annapolis Console


To: PIPORG-L@listserv.albany.edu



>I used to take lessons on that organ. While I have not lived

>in Annapolis for over 25 years, I do remember the Möller

>consoles very well.


>Judging by the size of the new Colby console, it is obvious

>that much new work was added (digital?), or else prepared

>for. I'd have to say any new stuff would _have_ to be

>digital unless it was hung from the ceiling -- the existing

>(narrow and deep) chambers were already crammed full; there

>certainly wasn't room for another ~400 ranks up in there!


>The chancel console had four manuals and controlled an organ

>of about 60 (+/-) ranks. I'd have to dig through my archives

>for the specs to recall for sure. It had a very large Great

>and Swell (some of the stops saved from earlier

>instruments), then - by comparison - a fairly small Choir,

>and a pretty-good-sized Pedal Department.


>There was also a floating "E.M.Skinneresque" Solo division

>with 5 or 6 stops, and a very fancy electronic "Bongatron"

>with 4 or 6 different kinds of bell tones including a very

>convincing (for its time) Celesta. It had a big dial that

>you could turn to 'tune' the bells into different keys so

>they could be played polyphonically.


>Sometime in the mid 1960s I believe, an Antiphonal of about

>15 ranks was added, a new 2-manual antiphonal console (that,

>with "blind controls" could play the main organ), and a pair

>of small positiv divisions freestanding on flowerpot chests

>inside the chancel, as a nod to the fashion at the time for



>That would make a total rank count of around 85-90.


I was told by Walker himself that they were adding a lot of digital


I don't remember the number but it was rather large. I would have to

be, to

fill up all those knobs.


Guy Henderson




P.S. Guy Henderson is one of the curators of the organ at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove , California

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