Beautiful music

Iowa State’s organ is a hidden gem

music_mainVEISHEA. The C6 Virtual Reality Applications Center. Hilton Magic. All things Iowa State University is known for.

An organ that people travel from all over the world to see? Add it to your list of things that make Iowa State unique.

One of the campus’ best-kept secrets sits within the Martha-Ellen Tye Recital Hall in Music Hall. One of 10 in the world, the Brombaugh organ boasts the unique feature of “unequal temperament.” Translation? All of the keys are not tuned equally, creating a dissonance that makes music much more attractive to the listener. “When listening to a piece in the recital hall, it’s beautiful. It’s almost like the organ is breathing it’s so alive,” said Lynn Zeigler, Iowa State professor of music and university organist.

When the organ was constructed by John Brombaugh, consideration of its future home state played an important role in the design process. Reminiscent of Iowa, shocks of corn and wheat can be spotted in the hand-carved walnut that makes the pipe shades. Costing only $327,000 when constructed in 1987, the organ today is worth close to $1 million.

Concerts are held every Monday in April, when professional organists and students play the organ. “Students here are much more appreciative of early organ music thanks to this outstanding instrument we have access to,” said Zeigler.

“People don’t realize how unique this organ is. It’s so well crafted that Bach would have been very comfortable at it. He would have chosen these stops himself.”

music_sidebarThe Brombaugh Organ

  • Built by Brombaugh and Associates of Eugene, Ore.
  • Took two years to construct (1985-1987)
  • Size: 34 stops, 50 ranks, 2,326 pipes
  • Includes wood from 12 species of trees
  • Funded through private donations
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