Organ Panels and Wood Carvings
Robert Rogers, an artist and artisan in wood work, designed and built the magnificent screen that covered the Hook and Hastings Organ. The screen was huge, measuring 60-feet high, 50-feet wide, and 30-feet deep and the design centered on music, of course, and expressed the significance of nature - ''reflecting music's origin within the early reed instruments, bird songs, and the rustle of leaves. Within the design, there was a morning, noon and night theme and a four seasons theme which featured 15 Western composers and identifies them with certain flowers and greenery that has special meaning to each. the morning-noon-night cycle was placed directly above the organ's keyboard.
Overseeing the carving of the screen were three Englishmen who had settled in Cincinnati: Henry Frye, his son William H. Fry and Benn Pitman. It is estimated that a hundred and fifteen people worked on it, mainly women. The women would take the panels home and devote their leisure time to working on them, returning the panels toward the end of the project for assembly.
The panels were made of native wild cherry and they include the names of the great composers: Schumann, Schubert, Wagner, Beethoven, Mozard, Haydn, Bach, Rossini, and others for a total of 15. Each panel is signed by the persons who designed and carved it.
In addition, Reuben Springer offered ten premiums totalling $500 in gold to the female students who were carving designs.
In the mid 1890s, when the Music Hall Association announced intent to remodel Music Hall, Mr. Pitman indicated that only half of the contemplated decoration been done when the organ was installed in Music Hall. He also bemoaned the fact that the beautiful original carvings could not be seen by all in the hall. He took the opportunity of the renovation to engage art students to carve new panels for the organ, which were finished a few months after work in the hall was completed. Further, when the main auditorium was remodeled, the organ was moved back 16 feet. At that time, the panels covering the rear of the organ were removed completely and returned to Mr. Pitman.
In 1971, the organ screen was removed and dismantled and the pieces were auctioned off. Today, two of the carvings are hanging on the wall above the steps near the Critics Club (north end of the hall). The largest group of carvings line the orchestra pit. They are not often seen, however, because the pit is not often lowered for productions. There are several carvings on public display at the Cincinnati Art Museum in the Museum's Cincinnati Wing including a panel designed by Laura Ann Frye, the daughter of William H. Frye.