Original Boe Memorial Chapel
- Dedicated in 1954
- Built to replace Hoyme Chapel, which was destroyed by fire in 1923
- Seated 1500, with choir and organ in the rear gallery
- Organ: built in 1960 by Schlicker Organ Company
- 49 stops, 73 ranks installed in gallery
- Chancel was prepared for an antiphonal organ, but it was never installed
- Repaired in 1960 by Holtkamp Organ Company: new console and electrical system, many Schlicker stops replaced with Holtkamp pipes
- Chapel struck by lightening in September of 2005, destroying organ’s electrical system, including the PA and recording equipment.
How was the space used in the original chapel?
In the 1950s, the college’s chamber orchestra and band performed from the front of the chapel, seated on the floor near the chancel (the space around the altar). The four choirs could perform, one at a time, from the rear gallery or the chancel. The gallery seated only 150, making it difficult to stage multiple-choir events, or events for choir and orchestra.
How have the college’s needs for the chapel changed since then?
There are currently eight choirs, two orchestras and two bands sanctioned by St. Olaf College. In designing the new space, there was “a clear need to provide an area large enough to stage events for multiple choirs or combinations of choir, orchestra and band.” A temporary platform had been used to improve sight lines from the pews to worship leaders and speakers, but a permanent platform was needed.
How have the chancel and gallery areas been redesigned to meet these changing needs?
The permanent raised platform forms the liturgical center of the chapel. With the addition of portable risers, the platform can accommodate a full orchestra or band, and the podium, altar table and baptismal font are movable. This flexibility of staging allows for many varied configurations. While the choir and organ have been moved to the chancel, they remain far enough back to be visually separate from the liturgy, to avoid interfering visually with worship. The sculpted organ case helps frame and soften the view of the front windows, providing a focal point for worshipers.
Meanwhile, the gallery has been redesigned for congregational use, so despite the larger area taken up by the liturgical platform, seating capacity remains virtually the same as in the original design. An additional gallery organ, complete with console, is also being installed. The full organ, front and back, can be played from either location, making the space as flexible as possible.
What changes have affected the visual design?
In addition to the organ case and colonnades which frame the stained glass windows, the side soffits, revised seating plan and new colors help create an environment of warmth and intimacy, despite the large size of the chapel.
What was wrong acoustically with the original chapel?
When it was first built, the chapel’s acoustics were “overly reverberant with prominent flutter echoes.” (Flutter echoes are the kind you stereotypically hear in movies. “Hello… hello… hello…”) Music was confused; speech was unintelligible.”
What was done to fix these problems?
Acoustical tiles were glued to the roof deck in the late 1950s.
What were the results?
Reverberations were deadened and flutter echoes were reduced. The sound was bright and thin, which was suitable for speech. Unfortunately, it was “unsympathetic to music of any kind.”
What problems remained after the acoustical tile installation?
Five main architectural problems remained:
- The ceiling was not rigid enough to reflect sound.
- The sound-absorbent tiles on the roof deck made the already ineffective ceiling even less effective.
- The A-frame structure of the chapel supplied too much sloping ceiling area and not enough vertical wall area, which meant the sound was reflected down to get trapped in the pews.
- The glue-laminated structural beams were so deep that they bounced sound between them, which led to a lack of free reverberation.
- The lack of a raised chancel platform meant that liturgical leaders, speakers and instrumentalists could be neither seen nor heard effectively from the pews.
How have these problems been resolved?
- The ceiling has been hardened with several layers of rigid gypsum board glued and screwed to the roof deck, making it more acoustically reflective.
- The old, ineffective acoustical tiles have been removed.
- The creation of two soffits on each side of the chapel has reduced the amount of sloping ceiling area. These structures have eliminated 18 feet of ceiling and added 14 feet of vertical wall space. Colonnades on each side of the chapel support the soffits, add even more wall space and frame the stained glass windows. Both of these additions provide diffusion of sound to reduce flutter echoes.
- The addition of the gypsum board to the ceiling has reduced the depth of the structural beams, further reducing flutter echoes.
- The elevated chancel platform, with its many possible configurations, allows for proper sight lines during worship and other events, and provides even and effective projection of sound from speakers, singers and instrumentalists.
- A new state of the art, digitally aimed sound system has been installed which enables clear articulation of the spoken word in this highly reverberant space.
What are the acoustic results of the renovation?
The sound, which was previously bright and thin, is now full and warm. The reverberation time has doubled, making it suitable for music. The acoustical flutters have disappeared, making it also suitable for speaking.
How is the Boe Memorial Chapel organ used?
College organists, music faculty and other advisors on the Boe Chapel renovation project all agreed that the organ should be “a servant to the needs of the liturgical and musical community of St. Olaf College.” This means the organ should not dominate or assault listeners but rather be welcoming and supportive. In its role as servant, the organ has four primary functions:
- Leading the congregation in worship
- Accompanying the many campus choirs
- Performing with orchestra or band
- Acting as the primary teaching instrument on campus
How have these functions influenced the design of the new instrument?
Each of the four functions requires different things from the organ:
- In leading the congregation, it must have well-balanced ensembles of distinct and varying timbre.
- In accompanying the choirs, it needs a variety of mezzo-piano to mezzo-forte stops, in order to support but not drown out the singers.
- In performing with instrumental ensembles, it needs a variety of mezzo-forte to forte stops, to allow it to be heard in ensemble.
- In acting as the primary teaching instrument, in addition to all the above, it needs to have color stops to be used in organ literature.
How have these needs been met by the new organ?
The organ has been designed to provide a fullness of sound in the large space of the chapel, without being overwhelming or oppressive. The ensemble voicing allows the many stops to blend well in both horizontal and vertical directions. For more details about the organ design, visit the Organ section of this site.
Information quoted from The American Organist, September 2007 edition, pages 64-65, written by F. Christian Holtkamp.