Many people know that when it came time to fill the position of Kantor at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Johann Sebastian Bach was not the town council’s first choice. The city’s leaders originally wanted Georg Philip Telemann, then the music director of Hamburg. But his employers wanted him to stay, and upped his salary as an incentive.
The council’s second choice was Johann Christoph Graupner, but his employers also did not want him to leave, so the Leipzig folks turned to their third choice, Johann Sebastian Bach. Can you imagine, Bach as the third choice? He certainly was not third-rate, though!
In 1971 the Lutheran Church of Honolulu was at the desperation point with their aging Aeolian organ of indeterminate age and prone to ciphers, which are “notes that continue to sound when the organist doesn’t intend for them to sound” (Wikipedia). According to Sandra Wagner-Wright, the author of For Beer and the Bible, which was published in celebration of the church’s 100th anniversary, the organ “hadn’t been repaired in a long time and we would get ciphers. That means something sticks and one pipe blows. You have to turn off the electricity and it whines down.”
Carl Crosier, the church’s organist, was sent to the mainland to study tracker organs by several builders, and the list was whittled down to three choices: Rieger and Hradetzky organs from Austria, and Beckerath from Germany.
When Carl returned to Hawaii, he wrote this to Joseph von Glatter-Götz of Rieger Orgelbau: As organist of the Lutheran Church of Honolulu, I recently made a tour of several mid-western and western states to hear and play tracker organs. I had the opportunity to plan and hear five of your instruments (4 in Denton, Texas and your new one in Charles City, Iowa.) I returned to Hawaii with you as my first choice of builder and subsequently made that recommendation to the church. They instructed me to contact you further about some changes we are considering on your previous bids.
But when Glatter-Götz refused to budge on the specifications of the organ, and demanded 90% down as a deposit, the deal was off. Carl had also visited the Hradetzky organ at UCLA and liked it very much.
Ultimately, as you know, the committee chose the firm of Rudolf von Beckerath. They were not the first choice because at the time, the committee thought Beckerath organs were too loud, and asked that the instrument be made to sound more lyrical.
It took five months for the organ to be built and the finished instrument arrived in over ten thousand pieces in a Matson container, accompanied by two craftsmen, Klaus Schmekal and Hans-Ulrich Erbslöh. They assembled the musical puzzle in preparation for the arrival of the master, Rudolf von Beckerath, who voiced the organ over a period of five weeks in May 1975. He died November 20, 1976, making this the last organ in the United States he personally voiced. Some people said he put a lot of love in this organ, and really felt the aloha spirit, as evidenced by the lyrical way the organ is voiced. McNeil Robinson, a world class musician who gave the inaugural concerts three weeks after its installation, proclaimed the organ one of the finest he had ever played.