J.H. & C.S. Odell, Pipe Organ Builders

More than 150 years building distinctive and refined instruments for worship

Brothers John Henry and Caleb Sherwood Odell founded the organ building firm of J.H. & C.S. Odell on the bustling corner of West 42nd Street and 9th Avenue in New York City in 1859. Odell was immediately successful and built more than 500 pipe organs at that location before relocating to Westchester, New York in the 1930s.   Odell remained active in the Greater New York Metropolitan area well into the 1970s, but after the death of the principal of the firm, William H. Odell in 1979, decided to dissolve the firm after completing obligations to then-current clients.

In the pursuit of a long sought vision, the Odell company was re-established by Caleb Sherwood Odell's  great-great grandson Edward Odell, in 1999 -- this after garnering more than twenty years of organ building experience -- both on his own and with other well-established national firms. With more than three decades of full-time work in the trade, Edward is now a respected and credentialed professional as a Colleague member of the American Institute of Organbuilders.  The new Odell firm has been active in a modern shop in central Connecticut for more than 15 years.

Since re-establishing the firm, Odell has successfully built many exciting new pipe organs, executed meticulous historic restorations and performed vastly complicated repair projects. With our team of carefully recruited artisans, Odell performs all its own millwork, joinery, fabrication, voicing and finishing. Further, unlike many firms today, Odell casts its own pipe metal and makes its own organ pipes.

Timelessness, musicality and an unflinching commitment to quality are our foremost concerns as pipe organ builders. We possess a profound dedication to our work;  clients quickly learn  that when they partner with Odell, they work directly with people who -- given the opportunity  --  will design and construct their instrument from raw materials with passion and exactitude. Our ever-present goal is to develop nuanced solutions and create pipe organs that will serve their congregations with reliability and grace for generations to come.

Our opus 653 began life as Roosevelt opus 53, installed at the Church of St. Stephen on 28th Street in 1879.  It was and is a simple one manual instrument designed for service music.

In 1920, the organ was incorporated by Kimball into their opus 6567, improbably as an Echo/Antiphonal division.  The scope included gutting the mechanical action to connect it to the Kimball console and building a new case around the original Roosevelt case.

Late in 2012 we were contacted by Paul Murray, K.H.S. in his capacity as the newly appointed Director of Music for the Church of Our Saviour, which had been recently been merged with both St. Stephen's and the Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary on 33rd Street.

Mr. Murray's request to us was simple:  could the Roosevelt be restored and installed at the new Chapel? Having examined the organ extensively in 2009 for Paul's predecessor, we knew in terms of size that the organ would fit the bill.  What we did not know was the extent to which the organ had been altered.  This aside, our answer was an enthusiastic yes, and we proceeded immediately into visual design work.

What began in concept as a restoration became -- out of necessity -- a new mechanical action organ, designed and built from the ground up around the Roosevelt windchest and pipes.  The space for the organ at the new chapel required the smallest footprint possible, as well as a departure from the traditional case design, where all pipes were placed at impost level or higher.

 The evolution of the case design was based on a desire for a balance between the employment of classic, proportional entablature and a sense of harmony with the modern appointments of the chapel sanctuary.  The use of polished common metal facade pipes, quarter sawn white oak and ebony accents seemed logical choices.

The key action of the organ is a modern backfall with a floating pivot rail.  The restoration of the windchest included a new table made from western red cedar (acquired from our friends at Taylor and Boody), and the original Roosevelt pallets were converted from leather tail hinges to standard modern hardwood tails, with balance pins to better facilitate maintenance and improve the overall action geometry.  The action weighting is set at roughly 100 grams, and unlike many comparable organs of the era, has a touch that is light and responsive to the player.

Tonally, our goal was to bring out the very best possible in the instrument without major alteration.  This began with our usual careful approach to pipe restoration.   Pipe damage was fortunately minimal. Wherever possible we disposed of coke tin tuning sleeves in favor of newly cut scrolls, matching the original metal composition: common metal of 70% lead for everything 4' and up, and 55% spotted for all of the zinc basses.  

There were only two alterations: first was to fabricate ten new speaking pipes for the 8' Open Diapason for placement  in the new case:  8' EE through 4' C# were built from metal cast, planed, scraped in our shop by Edward Odell, scaled and voiced to match precisely the existing stop, which was 130mm at 8'C.  

Second was conversion of the 8' Stopped Diapason;  as the second most important stop in a small instrument, we knew it was crucial that every pipe speak with clarity and color.  Having done much restoration work on similar pipes over the years we sought the most comprehensive and detailed approach possible.  Hence the wooden bass pipes (8'CC to 4'B) were all carefully restored and repaired, with many pipes requiring new blocks. All were fitted with new pipe feet with cast lead toes to facilitate the best potential for regulation.  From C25 upward the stop is constructed as a metal chimney flute, which, as might be expected, was in poor condition when we first found it.  Rather than attempt repairs to the severely damaged original caps, we decided to facilitate the best possible solution by converting to new, soldered caps.  This required extending the pipe bodies with matching alloy and fabricating new ears, caps and chimneys. The result is an unquestionable improvement.

The remaining pipes (Principal 4', Dulciana 8' and Pedal Bourdon 16') all received similar treatment.  The original double-rise wind reservoir was kept, but otherwise the organ sits on an entirely new chassis with a BDO pedalboard. The result, in sum, is an organ of subtle grace that leads congregational singing with ease. 

 We are grateful to Father Robert J. Robbins, Paul Murray and  Stephen Tharp for their vision and enthusiastic support.  Giving us the opportunity the build the first Odell organ with mechanical action in the modern era was a bold and courageous choice many in similar circumstances would not have made.  We know that this congregation will reap the rewards of their wise leadership for many, many years to come.


 

Odell Opus 653, I/5, Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Murray Hill, NYC

Odell Opus 653 • I/5 • Compass 58/30 

 Pitch: A455 • Wind Pressure: 64mm

  • Open Diapason 8'
  • Stopped Diapason 8'
  • Dulciana 8'
  • Principal 4'
  • Pedal Bourdon 16'

We are grateful to Father Robert J. Robbins, Paul Murray and Stephen Tharp for their vision and enthusiastic support.

Giving us the opportunity the build the first Odell organ with mechanical action in the modern era was a bold and courageous choice many in similar circumstances would not have made. We know that this congregation will reap the rewards of their wise leadership for many, many years to come.


Videos from the metal casting and pipe making process at the Odell shop: