Duke Chapel is exceptional in having four outstanding pipe organs, each in a different style, which are used regularly for worship services, recitals, and the study of organ performance.
They are the Benjamin N. Duke Memorial Organ (Flentrop, 1976) located in the nave, the Kathleen Upton Byrns McClendon Organ (Aeolian, 1932) located in the chancel, the Brombaugh Organ (1997) found in the Memorial Chapel, and a Continuo Organ (John Bennett, 2014), typically found in the chancel and used for accompanying small groups.
Learn more below about organ programs at the Chapel as well as each individual instrument.
Carillonnamed in honor of J. Samuel Hammond, university carillonneur emeritus.
The carillonneur begins the 5:00 p.m. recitals by ringing the hour on the largest bell. For holidays or other public occasions, the programs often feature selections appropriate to the day. In a tradition started during Terry Sanford’s tenure as university president, the Duke Alma Mater (“Dear Old Duke”) is played every Friday.
Organ Recital Series
During the academic year, the Organ Recital Series presents free concerts by internationally acclaimed organists, including the university organist and the Chapel organist. The series is made possible through the generous support of the Marvin B. and Elvira Lowe Smith Memorial Fund, established by their daughter, Alyse Smith Cooper. All recitals are on Sundays at 5:15 p.m., unless otherwise indicated, and are free and open to the public.
With its world-class organs, excellent choirs, and a tradition of fine sacred music, the Chapel boasts a treasure of resources found in no other educational institution in the country. As stewards of this heritage, Chapel Music has the responsibility to nurture, to teach, and to worship God using all these assets and all of the talents of its staff. To ensure Duke Chapel's great musical traditions for the future, the Organ Scholars program was created in 2015.
Organists' Open Rehearsals
Open organists' rehearsals are held regularly in the Chapel by the Chapel organist and local organists. Visitors to the Chapel are invited to listen from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday during the academic year, excluding breaks and holidays. To confirm if an open rehearsal is happening on a given day, check the calendar. For a formal organ demonstration and tour, please email Chapel Music or call 919-684-3898 one week prior.
Organs at Duke Chapel
Benjamin N. Duke Memorial Organ (Flentrop 1976)
The Flentrop is a mechanical instrument that contains 5,033 speaking pipes, controlled by four manual keyboards and pedal. The main case houses four divisions of pipes; it rises approximately 40 feet above the gallery floor and is about 4 1/2 feet deep. A smaller Rugwerk division, located on the gallery rail, houses one division of pipes; it is 10 feet high and 4 feet deep. The cases are made of solid African mahogany, painted and decorated in gold leaf and various hues. The gallery, designed and built in Durham by William T. Muirhead, is constructed of solid oak in the classical style.
At Mr. Flentrop’s suggestion, the acoustics of the Chapel were improved to provide an ideal environment for the organ. When the Chapel was first built, its acoustics were deliberately deadened through the use of special sound-absorbing stone tile. The absorptive tile was sealed, increasing the maximum reverberation time, and a time-delay speech-reinforcement system was installed to accommodate the spoken word.
The Flentrop Organ was first played publicly in an informal preview for Duke University students on December 6, 1976, and in the Sunday morning worship service on Founders Day, December 12, 1976. An inaugural recital was played at 5:00 p.m. that afternoon by then-University Organist Fenner Douglass. See the dedication speech, here.
The Flentrop organ is played mainly for recitals and for hymns and voluntaries during worship services and university events.
Watch a video on the process for tuning the Flentrop Organ:
Designed in the post-Romantic tradition with electro-pneumatic action, which was in fashion at the time of its construction, the organ is known for its extremes of dynamic expression and the orchestral voicing of its individual stops. The pipes visible from the nave only hint at the Aeolian’s size, for approximately 6,600 pipes are located in the large chambers. In 2008 the organ was completely reconditioned by Foley-Baker, Inc. The original four-manual console has been replaced by a new one in similar style, built by Richard Houghten as part of the renovation.
Watch a video about the work that goes into keeping the Chapel's four organs in tune and pitch perfect:
Perhaps the most significant feature of the Brombaugh organ is its use of the historical "meantone" tuning system. In the modern "equal temperament" tuning system, the octave is divided into twelve equal half-steps, rather than being based on the natural scale. This allows modern keyboard instruments to play in any key, but it means that most intervals are not "pure," according to the natural scale.
In contrast, the meantone system of the Chapel's Brombaugh organ uses pure tuning for major thirds, offering choices of e-flat/d-sharp and g-sharp/a-flat. This means that it favors certain intervals, chords, and keys, while making others unusable. In the "good" keys, the contrast between consonance and dissonance is enhanced. Early music that might seem bland when played on modern instruments "springs to life." Only a handful of modern meantone organs exist in the United States, and its early Italian design makes the Brombaugh even rarer.
The Continuo Organ
The names of the stops are:
- 8’ Gedeckt
- 4’ Rohrflote
- 2’ Holtzprincipal
- 8’ Regal
The organ has four ranks (complete sets of pipes) but three stops. The Holtzprincipal 2’ can be taken out and the Regal 8' put in its place. So, there are four ranks, but three can be used at one time.
The range of the keyboard is from C to d’’’ (51 keys) for a total of 153 pipes inside the organ. The instrument is “transposing,” so it can be used for music from various eras where the “a” would have been tuned to 390, 415, 440, or 465 Hz.
The Gedeckt, Rohrflote, and Holtzprincipal are all made of wood.
The Regal is a reed stop, meaning it has a thin brass tongue that produces the sound.
The lowest pipe of the Gedeckt is about 4’ long and the body of the highest pipe of the Holtzprincipal is about 1 ½”. The larger pipes are “mitered,” meaning the body of the pipe has been cut at 45 degree angles and reglued so they take up less horizontal space. Imagine an “L” or a “J”. This is done for many of the larger pipes so they can fit inside the case.
The dimensions are 38” x 36” x 25” and the organ weighs 185 pounds. It sits on a stage dolly so it can be moved easily.
- Flentrop Stoplist
- "Behind the Pipes" - essay by Dirk A. Flentrop, organ builder
- "A Historical Perspective" - essay by by Professor Fenner Douglass, University Organist, 1976
- "What is Past is Prologue" - essay by James G. Ferguson, Jr., Duke Chapel Renovation Committee, 1976
- Benjamin N. Duke Memorial Organ Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Recital Program (Flentrop, 2001)
- Aeolian Stoplist
- Kathleen Upton Byrns McClendon Dedication Booklet
- Brombaugh Specification and Stoplist
- Brombaugh Dedication Recital Program and Notes
- From the Builder
- Essay by University Organist Robert Parkins