St. Bede's Beckerath Organ

The Beckerath Organ

Our beautiful and treasured organ was dedicated by The Right Reverend Robert Burton Gooden, DD, on Sunday, January 11, 1970.

Ten years of planning led up to that celebratory day: ten years involving parish, architect, acoustical consultant, organist, and organ builder. The sanctuary space, designed by architect John Hill, had been imagined from the very beginning to hold an excellent organ. The music committee decided the space called for a neo-baroque organ with a tracker action, and the best company to build the instrument was that of Rudolf von Beckerath of Hamburg. Rudolf von Beckerath himself traveled to Menlo Park twice during the planning stages.

The instrument was completed in Germany in the fall of 1969, dismantled and shipped to San Francisco in many crates to be installed in our organ loft. All was in place by December when Rudolf flew over to take charge of the project in its final stages, and “voice” each of the 1718 pipes. To quote from a St. Bede’s publication of the time:

The famous “Beckerath sound” results from the voicing of the pipes. The warmth of the sound, together with its clarity, is produced by controlling the air entering the pipes so as to generate ringing overtones. Mr. von Beckerath says that he works to discover the potential tone within the pipe rather than to manipulate the sound.

The organ has delighted the congregation for forty-two years, and, after a very recent restoration, with the exception of the Cromorne rank, has regained its original clarity and beauty. As we have gone through the documentation from the sixties, it was projected by Mr. von Beckerath that the organ would need a major cleaning and overhaul within forty to fifty years. And that was indeed the case. By 2011, there had developed some major leaks in the wind system that could lead to failure at any time. There had also been all the wear and tear that one would expect over time.

In November of 2011, we were surprised by the arrival in the organ loft after a Sunday morning service of Hans-Ulrich Erbslöh: one of the original Hamburg ‘voicers’ of the instrument as it was being built. We were delighted to contract with Hans-Ulrich to repair the wind system, as well as remove, clean and repair all 1718 pipes, as well as sand, level, polish and rebush the two keyboards and pedal board. Additionally all the felting and washering within the mechanism would be replaced as most of the moving parts were moving and rattling in ways not intended.

After a very successful organ restoration appeal in early 2012, we were able to raise $45,000. We are most grateful to the extreme generosity of our donors. A measure of its importance to the congregation is that the funds for its restoration were raised within months, in a separate capital campaign immediately after the major church capital campaign. We appreciate the support of our community to keep this instrument in full beauty.

Hans-Ulrich and his assistant Bernd Becker spent five weeks with us in August, and have done marvelous work on our very special instrument. They were additionally able to restore the original pitch, raising it from A440, to A442: a virtually imperceptible change that has restored the sound of the organ to Rudolf von Beckerath’s original intention, making the reeds sound less strident and also allowing the pipes to stay in tune better.

We thank everyone who has contributed so generously to the upkeep of our lovely Beckerath. It is a renowned organ of its type, equipped with all the colors and timbres needed for German and French Baroque and Classical organ works.

We welcome you to experience its beauty at any of our 10:15 Sunday morning services.