In 2005, American organbuilder John Brombaugh (b. 1937) retired from a 38-year career of organ building during which he and his firm constructed 67 pipe organs. His methods of construction revolutionized American organ building in the twentieth century, and his instruments were installed internationally, as far as Sweden and Japan. Brombaugh organs have been influential to both organ builders and organists, defining many aspects of the historically informed American organ in the late twentieth century.
Surprisingly, the salient characteristics of Brombaugh's organs were developed over a few short years and are demonstrated in his early instruments at Lorain and Ashland Avenue. His distinct preferences--the use of unequal temperaments, the hammering of pipe metal, his voicing in "vocale" style, mechanical action, organ cases built on historic principles, the use of solid wood in the construction of the slider windchests as well as others elements of the organ, and the employment of wedge bellows--would persist for the duration of his career.
Despite the relatively small number of instruments by Brombaugh, his impact on the field has been enormous. He directly worked with and trained many of the leading organ builders in America, including George Taylor, John Boody, and Michael Bigelow. Countless others have consulted his instruments and been inspired by his example to study the organs by the European master builders of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In addition, the qualities of Brombaugh's organs have influenced a new generation of performers, informing them about the pipe speech, winding, tuning, and touch appropriate to most of the organ repertoire. He gained prestige by installing instruments in academic institutions such as Oberlin College, Duke University, University of Connecticut, Southern Adventist University, University of Oregon, Cornell University, University of Vermont, Arizona State University, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Lawrence University.
This project documents the legacy of this organ building genius by providing the first complete opus list, which contains 67 organs, ranging in size from a mere 26 pipes to the impressive 4,860 pipes in his Opus 26. During the course of his career, Brombaugh also became a master teacher for organ building, shown by the extensive list of apprentices and others who worked in the Brombaugh & Associates shop. Many of these have continued to build organs in other shops or as entrepreneurs. Prefacing the documentation of Brombaugh's influence is biographical information in the form of an assisted memoir, details for which I am indebted to John Brombaugh, his family members, and his associates. As this dissertation project shows, Brombaugh's influence has had a ripple effect that not only changed the face of American organbuilding, but in fact helped shape academia's approach to the study and teaching of organ literature.