Brown Memorial’s pipe organ was installed in the chancel in 1931. It was built by the Skinner Organ Company of Boston (opus 839), one of the finest organ builders of the 20th Century. The organ is internationally known and admired by the historic organ community as an exceptional example of the Skinner firm’s work.
G. Donald Harrison, who designed some of the finest and largest pipe organs in the United States for the Skinner Company, tonally finished Brown Memorial’s organ. Except for a few minor volume regulations to several stops over the years, the instrument has had no tonal alterations.
The organ has approximately 3,000 pipes of varying size. Some are large enough to fit a Shetland pony. Others are the diameter of a pencil.
In the early 2000s, the Di Gennaro-Hart Organ Company of McLean, VA, conducted restoration work on the instrument according to historical guidelines. All 11 reed registers underwent museum-quality restoration, and new replica Skinner interior cabinetry and components was installed. The organ has new ivory and Gabon ebony keyboards with tracker touch, and an ample complement of thumb pistons to access the 99 channels of memory of the capture system offers.
Celebrated organist Virgil Fox served as Brown’s organist, while also leading the organ department at the Peabody Conservatory, from 1935-1946. On the organ he worked out his famous arrangement of Bach’s “Come, Sweetest Death.” He later premiered the piece on the John Wanamaker organ in Philadelphia for an American Guild of Organists’ Convention. Fox left Brown to become organist at New York City’s famed Riverside Church.
The great composer and organist Jean Langlais gave two recitals on this organ in the early 1950s at the invitation of his close friend Richard Ross, who succeeded Virgil Fox as Brown’s organist.
Following the sudden death of Richard Ross, F. Eugene Belt who served as Assistant Organist to Mr. Ross was appointed Organist and Director of Music. “Gene” served faithfully for nearly 51 years until his death in 2001. The organ was dedicated to Gene’s memory at that time.
In recent years, renowned organist Dr. John Walker served as Brown’s Minister of Music, and the church’s Minister of Music Emeritus. Interestingly, he reversed Virgil Fox’s trajectory, coming to Brown from New York’s Riverside Church. Brown’s former Minister of Music, Michael Britt, then succeeded John Walker in 2012 through 2022.
In 2010, Brown’s Tiffany Series featured a concert, “Celebrating the Skinner Organ,” honoring the 80th anniversary of the instrument. The concert is believed to be the first solo recording ever made on the organ.
Organists John Walker, Marvin Mills, Michael Britt and Janet Yieh played works by Jean Langlais, Florence Price, Alexandre Guilmant, Robert Elmore, Alexander Russell, Louis James Alfred Lefébure-Wély and Healey Willan. Notably, on the recording, John Walker plays Virgil Fox’s arrangement of J.S. Bach’s “Come, Sweetest Death.”
Brown also recorded the 2009 Tiffany Series performance of Mendelssohn’s “Elijah,” with Frederick Swann as guest organist playing the accompaniment.