Pipe Organs of Malaysia
St ANDREW's PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
J. A. Riddell
Andrew’s Presbyterian Church was historically known as the
‘Planters Church’ or the ‘Scottish Kirk’. The
planters of Selangor were mostly of Scottish stock and in 1910 they
resolved to have their own church in the Scottish Presbyterian
tradition. In 1915, Rev. Dr. A. Drummond Harcus OBE was installed as
the Minister-in-Charge of the new church of St. Andrew’s which
lacked its own premises. The fledgling congregation met at the old YMCA
Hall in Brickfields instead. Shortly after, land was successfully
obtained at the corner of Weld Road (today’s Jalan Raja Chulan)
and Weld Drive (today’s Persiaran Raja Chulan) for a church and
fundraising began thereafter. The foundation stone was laid on 3
October 1917 and the construction of the church building began
immediately. On 17 April 1918, the new church was officially opened by
His Excellency, Sir Arthur Young, G.C.M.G., High Commissioner of the
Federated Malay States in British-administered Malaya.
St. Andrew’s was built in the style of a post-Reformation Scottish kirk or church. Originally the church consisted only of a rectangular sanctuary (or worship area) and a small connected hall behind the sanctuary. The church was whitewashed on the exterior with a roof of cengal wooden slates. Inside, the raised chancel around the communion table was tiled by fine imported hexagonal terracotta tiles for acoustic reasons so that the preacher could be easily heard at the back of church without the need for modern sound amplification. A magnificent large wooden pulpit was donated by the women of the congregation in 1918. There was no pipe organ.
A pipe organ fund was started in 1927 and a pipe organ was only purchased after 12 years of lacklustre fundraising! The purchase of the pipe organ was a great relief to many who could hardly bear the wheezy harmonium which preceded it! Today, St. Andrew’s is an international church with a multi-national congregation and has one of the finest choral and organ traditions among the churches of Malaysia.
The Riddell-Eminent pipe organ
The Riddell organ today is a hybrid made up of the mechanical components of the original 1939 Riddell organ married to an Eminentdigital console in 1998. This was done by organ builder Mr Robert Navaratnam of Singapore (who also built the 9-rank Choir Organ in the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in Singapore).
Apparently the leaders of St Andrew's were so impressed by the sound of a Riddell organ built for All Saints Anglican Church, Taiping in 1938 that they ordered one for St Andrew's. The two organs had a similar appearance, the only difference being that the St Andrew's organ had an extra display pipe. The St. Andrew's organ current display pipes are replacement pipes fitted after WW2 and have a different configuration from the All Saints Church organ.
In 1939, Mr James A. Riddell, Kuala Lumpur’s resident organ builder, used local craftsmen to fashion all the organ’s components except the 29 display pipes which were cast and milled in England. The organ was first publicly played by Mr. W. J. A. Mallon, the organist from St. Mary’s Anglican Church (today’s Cathedral), at the dedication ceremony officiated by Rev. Alfred Webb on 16 April 1939. During the Second World War, the organ pipes were looted.
In 1948, Mr. Riddell restored the pipes but this time employing only local materials and expertise, making the Riddell organ the only 100% Malaysian-made pipe organ for the next 50 years until the organ upgrade of 1998. An organ screen was donated by the church’s Ladies Working Party and it was dedicated at the Sunday evening service of 31 December 1950. Today the organ screen is used to screen the audio-video booth.
The original specification of the 1939 Riddell pipe organ (2 manual and pedal drawstop) was as follows:
After Mr. Riddell's retirement and presumable departure from Malaysia, the Riddell organ was regularly maintained by J. W. Walker & Sons Ltd. of England up to 1968. Mr. Solomon (SweeChuan) Khooof the Read Masonic Lodge on Damansara Road was appointed by Rev. Colin G. Dane on 4 April 1972 to take over the maintenance of the organ and this he did until 1976. Records show that a new Piccolo 2' stop may have been added to the Great in 1972 by Mr.Khoo but this stop was not listed in the 1984 record of the organ stops.The Great Flute was also not listed, suggesting its removal before 1984.
By 1979, the organ was almost unplayable due to water damage caused by a leaky roof and acts of vandalism by visiting tourists. Mr. Anthony Welby of Australia was engaged to re-build the organ in situ at the quoted price of M$6,751. The work began in the second half of 1979. Work was slow going with unusual delays, forcing Rev. Jonathan L. Hoadley to remind Mr. Welby of his contractual obligtions! The work was finally completed at the end of 1980 at an over-the-budget cost of M$13,477.16. Despite reservations about Mr. Welby, the church engaged him for organ maintenance until 1984 as there were no other organ builders willing to come out to Kuala Lumpur. In 1984, Mr.Welby recommended the German-trained Mr. Robert Navaratnam of Singapore to take over from him. The church immediately appointed Mr. Navaratnam who continues to maintain the Riddell organ until the present day.
By 1998, the original Riddell console was becoming unplayable and a re-building of the console was proposed. A decision was then taken to re-build the organ as an upgraded hybrid with additional stops which was undertaken by Mr. Navaratnam. A new console was customised from a standard two manual Omegan DCS 300/325 model electronic organ from Eminent Orgelbouw BV of The Netherlands. A third manual (topmost) was added for the original pipe ranks. The organ has a tuning device to bring the electronic divisions into the same pitch as the pipes (which vary according to weather conditions) but there is no coupling available to allow the pipes to play on the Great or Swell manuals or the Pedal. The re-build cost RM66,934.
In March 2012, the sound quality was restored back to what it was in 1998, particularly for the pedals, which had become partly muted in 2003.Another upgrade in 2013 included repainting the display pipes and was to incorporate additional stops.
The Swell organ now plays equally with the Great, the shutters have been removed.
Specification of the organ is:
Three photos showing the repainted pipes for Advent 2013
Photographs of the church interior and of the old organ from St. Andrew's Church web site
Church and organ history, photographs of the pre-1998 organ and organ specification from Andrew Hwang, Kuala Lumpur. © Andrew Hwang, 2012.
Photographs of present organ consolel from Leonard Selva, Penang.
Specification of the organ from Andrew Hwang, St. Andrew's Church.
Additional notes and photographs from Bruce Duncan 20 March 2011 after a site visit.
Photographs of 2013 display pies by Andrew Hwang, St. Andrew's Church.
PO Box 1155
Northam WA 6401
+61 (0)8 9574 0410