Belle Skinner Hall of Music
The Music Department resides in the Belle Skinner Hall of Music, a beautiful neo-Gothic building that opened in 1932. At the heart of the building are the Mary Anna Fox Martel Recital Hall and one of the finest college music libraries in the country. There are also several classrooms, including Thekla Hall (a small recital hall), an Electronic Music Studio, and 21 practice rooms, nearly all furnished with grand pianos. Vassar maintains a large collection of instruments, including over 65 Steinway grand pianos, seven pipe organs, six harpsichords, the Darlington Collection of early keyboard instruments, and a miscellany of non-Western instruments.
The George Sherman Dickinson Library is one of the largest and finest collections of music, sound recordings, and books about music possessed by any college in the United States. Its holdings include some 30,000 scores, 30,000 sound recordings in various media, and 20,000 books and periodicals. A lending collection of records and CDs is also available to the college community, and the library contains listening facilities.
Vassar College has possessed a pipe organ since its opening in 1865. Counting the new Paul Fritts, the college currently has seven such instruments. The largest, built in 1967 by Gress-Miles, resides in the Chapel. It occupies the same space as the original chapel organ of 1904, which allowed for the retention of the hand-carved façade designed by the architects of the Chapel, Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge of Boston. The Gress-Miles organ has four manuals and pedal, 99 stops and 5,710 pipes. It has mainly direct electric action. Specifications of the Gress-Miles Organ (PDF)
Next in size comes the Paul Fritts organ, with two manuals and pedal, 34 stops and 2,418 pipes. It can be pumped by pedal (though it also has an electric blower for everyday use) and possesses mechanical stop and key action (“tracker action”). This means that the keys are connected to the pipe valves mechanically, without pneumatic or electric assistance. The Fritts organ replaces a 1964 three-manual instrument with 69 stops, about half of which was newly built by the firm Gress-Miles. The other half consisted of revoiced pipework from the original instrument built by Kimball in 1931. This hybrid organ has been acquired by the United States Military Academy at West Point and is installed in the Old Cadet Chapel there. Specifications of the Paul Fritts Pipe Organ (PDF)
Thekla Hall, on the fourth floor of Skinner Hall, houses an organ built by Thomas Hall early in the 1820s. It possesses one manual and five stops. This is considered to be one of only two Hall organs in existence. It was restored to playable condition by Susan Tattershall, then of Rhinebeck, NY, in 1994.
In frequent use as an accompanying instrument in the baroque repertoire is the Taylor and Boody continuo organ made in 1987. This instrument was designed and built by Bruce Shull. It has oak pipes (Gedackt 8′ and Blockflöte 4′).
The smallest organ in our collection is the Memling Portative, which was fashioned by Phil Levin in 1981 to resemble the instrument frequently depicted by the Flemish painter Hans Memling. It is used in performances of medieval and Renaissance music.
Two practice organs complete the collection: from 1910 by Estey Organ Co. of Brattleboro, Vermont; and from 1964 by Gress-Miles of Princeton, New Jersey. These are located in practice rooms 226 and 126 of Skinner Hall.