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A Diamond In the Rough

Patrick Sweeney / The Arbiter

On any given day in 1953, the Hemingway Building would have been bustling with Boise Junior College (BJC) music students.

It was also in 1953 that Dr. C. Griffith Bratt and Euguene Chaffee, then-president of BJC, brought the Cunningham Memorial Pipe Organ to the Hemingway Building.

Today, the organ gathers dust, the bench is pushed to the side and the room equipped for its performances is quiet.

The organ’s elaborate pipes, which reach up to 16-feet high and cover almost an entire wall, sit as a backdrop to an art gallery.

“Organ music has fallen into bad times,” C. Griffith said. “It’s a shame for it to sit there.”

According to C. Griffith himself, the organ cost almost $30,000 to have installed.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, the organ would cost over $258,000 to have installed today. That’s without taking into consideration what the value of a pipe organ that isn’t synthesized would be
worth today.

“It’s an exceptionally well-built instrument,” said Wallis Bratt, C. Griffith’s son and associate professor of music. “I’ve been trying to push people to use the organ.”

When C. Griffith retired and other departments moved into the Hemingway building, the organ’s use began to dwindle.

According to Wallis, department members who had offices in the building complained the organ’s noise was too loud.

“So the only time people could get in and really practice was probably after seven o’clock at night until the wee hours,” Wallis said. “That’s not always a good time for everyone. They have coursework
to do.”

Subsequently, the organ’s use began to become less and less frequent.

“(The organ) has been used maybe once in ten years, twice in ten years, maybe 15,” Wallis Bratt said. “Personally I think it is particularly important students, especially piano, have the opportunity to take one full year of organ.”

Seeing as organ classes are not a requirement, or even an option at this point, it is obvious he is still facing obstacles.

The organ is currently at performance level because of a collaboration between Wallis and the American Guild of Organists.

The organ is ready to go and there are a handful of people Wallis believes would willingly teach lessons on it.

Wallis said he knows of students who would take organ at the drop of a hat, especially on an organ like the one here on campus. This organ has the ability to play not only romantic pieces, but baroque music as well, which is not a small achievement considering the wide ranges of noises necessary to play both of these types of music.

According to the original pamphlet from the May 10, 1953 dedicatory services of the organ, the pipes “emit their tones in uninhibited, unblemished freshness—all the little overtones that grace superb voicing are here conserved.”

J. B. Jamison of Austin Organs, who wrote the letter describing the organ within the pamphlet, congratulated the college calling the organ, “a beautiful gift with lasting educational and spiritual

“It really is a shame,” Wallis said in regards to the rarity that has become the organ’s use.



About Katie Johnson (0 Articles)
Katie Johnson is in her second year at the Arbiter, and loves being a part of the paper's staff. Having adapted the little sister role in the office, she is sometimes referred to as "child". Originally from an island off of San Diego, California she chose Boise State for a change of scene, and to have all four seasons. She has an awkward obsession with Harry Potter, and knows that her mischief will mostly likely never be managed.

1 Comment on A Diamond In the Rough

  1. This is really a shame. When I was enrolled at Boise State, the organ was still in use. It was great to walk by the conservatory after dinner and hear someone playing. This time of year it could be absolutely haunting. It is a beautiful instrument. It is a jewel in BSU’s cap to have this instrument on campus. Too bad it isn’t being used. There is absolutely no excuse for the music department to not offer a class.

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