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Opus 24b

Brombaugh continuo organ with unique WWU connection finds home

Kraig Scott, professor of music at Walla Walla University, first rented the small continuo organ, Opus 24b built by John Brombaugh of Eugene, Oregon, for the Walla Walla Symphony’s performance of Handel’s Messiah in December 1986. Now, more than 30 years later, the same Opus 24b organ sits tucked away in WWU’s Melvin K. West Fine Arts Center, after being purchased by the Department of Music in June 2017.

Brombaugh, who holds degrees in electrical engineering, built the small pipe organ in 1980. Opus 24b is the fourth out of a total of 12 built by Brombaugh during his career. His other continuo organs reside in universities and cathedrals across the country, including Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio; Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral in Indianapolis, Indiana; and Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee.

Before finding its home in the FAC, however, Opus 24b was rented and played all across the country, including by WWU’s very own organist, Scott.

“I recall playing this exact continuo on five separate occasions,” says Scott.

After his initial rental of Opus 24b for the 1986 performance of Handel’s Messiah, Scott decided to rent the small pipe organ again for two additional Messiah performances with the Symphony.

“I can remember specifically one time we were in Chism Hall [on the Whitman College campus] with just the soloists and the continuo group,” says Scott. “The conductor of the Walla Walla Symphony, Maestro Yaacov Bergman, commented on how gorgeous the sound of the organ was.”

In July 1999, Scott borrowed Opus 24b for a fourth time, after being asked by Joe Galusha, WWU professor emeritus of biology, to provide music for a weekend during the Department of Biological Science’s annual summer program at Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory.

“This organ made the cafeteria ring,” says Galusha. “It seemed as though it was almost living, just like most things we study here in the marine environment.”

Almost 10 years later, Scott was invited to perform at the 2008 Idaho State University Baroque Festival. After arriving in Pocatello, Idaho, Scott was surprised to discover the instrument he would be playing, for now the fifth distinct time, was the same small continuo organ—Opus 24b. 

Flash forward another nine years to 2017, when Scott encountered Opus 24b yet again. This time, however, the little continuo was far from its original home in the Pacific Northwest. Listed for sale on the Harpsichord Clearing House’s website, Opus 24b had ended up across the country in the small town of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, where it had most recently been rented and played extensively at the 2017 Boston Early Music Festival—a festival which BBC Radio 3 describes as “arguably the most important and influential Early Music event in the world.”

Within a week of its online discovery, Opus 24b was bought by the Department of Music. “Brombaugh’s continuo instruments are the best organs of this type that I’ve ever played,” says Scott. “I believe he will go down as the most important organ builder of the late 20th or early 21st century. We could not pass up the rare opportunity to acquire an instrument of this quality.”

Scott will play the portable continuo for another Walla Walla Symphony performance of the Messiah on Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m., as well as for the WWU Christmas Concert on Dec. 8 at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Both events will be held in the Walla Walla University Church at 212 SW 4th Street in College Place.

Posted Nov. 10, 2017

Last update on November 23, 2015