by Lin Yangchen
Adapted from a 2005 article in The Organ magazine.
The organ has since been rebuilt by Diego Cera Organbuilders.
See Theng (2018) for a complete history of the cathedral organs to 2018.

The 'Singaporean organ'

Singapore is a small tropical island with around 12 extant pipe organs. Like the cosmopolitan population, these instruments constitute diverse styles. Despite having been a British Crown Colony until 1959, Singapore boasts not only English but also German and Danish instruments with romantic, neo-baroque and eclectic tonal concepts.

The organ in the west gallery of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd stands out in several respects. Although the Klais installation of 2002 in the Esplanade concert hall (McVicker 2003) might be considered the 'industry standard', the cathedral instrument possesses artistic traits that are less conventional. Welch (1988) suspected that the organ was the Cavaillé-Coll orgue de choeur exported to Singapore (Eschbach 2003), but cathedral records subsequently revealed that the organ was built in 1912 by Bevington & Sons of London. The extinct Cavaillé-Coll instrument has been traced to the French missionary church of Saints Peter and Paul.

Bevington and Sons 1912 organ of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, Singapore
The great organ in the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd before it underwent major reconstruction in the mid-2010s.
©Lin Yangchen

Asymmetry is a key aesthetic element of the façade that is not seen elsewhere in Singapore. Only the symmetric central section, typical of organs of the period, is Bevington’s work. The left and right sections of the façade were constructed by Robert Navaratnam, the sole organ builder in Singapore and titular organist at the Cathedral, using the limited resource of pipes that could be salvaged from the war-looted Hill, Norman & Beard (1931) organ in the Victoria Memorial Hall (Singapore). These sections accommodate stops he added in the 1990s. Navaratnam served his apprenticeship at Emil Hammer (Hemmingen); German influence can be found in the decorative ‘Rückpositiv’ and the tonal modifications discussed later.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd bevington navaratnam organ facade ruckpositiv Singapore
The decorative Rückpositiv added by Robert Navaratnam. The original Bevington & Sons (1912) façade is visible behind.
©Lin Yangchen

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Navaratnam organ console
The author playing at the reversed console. One of the keyboards is now on the Auferstehungsorgel. Photo: Alphonsus Chern

Although the manuals and pedals have been replaced, the Cavaillé-Coll-style reversed console is original and unique in Singapore. [The original Bevington manuals had been replaced with those (seen above) from the Victoria Memorial Hall. Subsequent to this article, they were again replaced due to wear and tear.] Due to collapsed lead tubing, Bevington's tubular pneumatic action has been converted to electro-pneumatic and direct electric action. Navaratnam was responsible for reviving the organ from its unplayable state in the 1970s to the lively musical instrument of today. For the pre-Navaratnam history of the organ see Jonathan Tan's article.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Bevington Organ electro-pneumatic action Robert Navaratnam
Robert Navaratnam fixing a cipher in the direct electric action of the Trumpet 8 the pipes of which are hidden behind the Krummhorn 8 also on direct electric action. ©Lin Yangchen

Expectedly, an abundance of unison tone and lack of harmonic corroboration is observed in the Bevington specification. The ‘principal chorus’ on the Swell is softer but brighter than that on the Great because the Open Diapason possesses a fuller tone than the quasi-diapason obtained by drawing both the Gedeckt and Geigen on the Swell. Contrary to usual practice is Bevington's use of the Cornopean as the only reed where a Trumpet or Oboe would have been generally deemed more appropriate. In this case, however, the hornlike Cornopean blends more readily with the flues in the absence of mixtures.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Bevington Navaratnam organ stop list
Disposition as of 2005, compiled by Yangchen Lin from interviews and historical documents.
Reproduced from the magazine article.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Bevington Navaratnam organ stops
Physical layout of the stops as of 2005. Diagram: Yangchen Lin, reproduced from the magazine article.

The manual divisions and Bourdon 16 are fed by two reservoirs arranged in series, the second acting as a booster and backup. Bevington pipework stands on the original Kegellade while the newer pipes are planted on unit chests. Flutes alternate with strings to minimise acoustic interference. Pitch layout in the Swell is opposite to that in the Great, with the more acute stops situated at the front. This reduces the risk of the Swell upperwork being excessively attenuated by enclosure and the position of the swell box at the back of the chamber. However, the brightness of the German Cymbel and mutations allows for their placement in a rearward extension of the swell box (some of these pipes are now playing in the author's Auferstehungsorgel ). The opposing pitch layouts of the Great and Swell may also account partly for the abovementioned brightness of the Swell ‘principal chorus’ compared to the Great.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Bevington organ rohrquinte swell organ
Old Klais pipes of the Rohrquinte 1 1/3 in the Swell extension. ©Lin Yangchen

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd organ Mixture IV Navaratnam
a close-up of the small and bright Mixture IV (old Klais pipes). ©Lin Yangchen

With the stops added by Navaratnam, the organ is one of the most versatile in Singapore. Solo possibilities are increased by the Krummhorn and the quint and tierce mutations all of which are gifts from Klais Orgelbau. The two octave-quint mixtures transform the romantic chorus into a neo-baroque plenum for the benefit of repertoire and modern-day congregational singing. One of the stops rescued from the Victoria Memorial Hall is the Bombarde 16 [originally named Trombone, being less assertive within the larger instrument there] which substantially reinforces the weak pedal department. This stop, originally on 10" of wind, has been refitted with thinner Laukhuff tongues. [Subsequent to this article, the ageing Bombarde was replaced with all-Laukhuff pipework.] Despite the support of a pedal reed, however, a Principal 16 is needed to produce the true Gravität so prized by J. S. Bach.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Bevington organ pedal bombarde pipes
The Pedal chamber dominated by the Bombarde 16 (lighted) which has since been replaced with new Laukhuff pipes (three of which can be discerned towards the left, being shinier and of smaller diameter giving rise to a brighter complement of harmonics). Bourdon 16 at upper right; Bass Flute 8 behind the Bombarde and just inside the façade. In the extreme foreground is the Mixture IV of the Great division. ©Lin Yangchen

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Bevington organ pedal Bombarde 16 resonator
Resonators of the old Bombarde 16. ©Lin Yangchen

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Bevington Navaratnam organ reed Bombarde 16
Bombarde 16: block, tuning wire, wedge, shallot and weighted tongue. ©Lin Yangchen

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Navaratnam organ pedal bass flute Laukhuff
Tuning scroll on the Pedal Bass Flute 8 (Laukhuff replacement). ©Lin Yangchen

The coexistence of pipes from several schools (see disposition) results in a spicy, unblending tonal structure that may not appeal to some organists. However, in order to appreciate such a tonal structure, one only needs to consider the robust and dramatic sound of the symphony orchestra whose components were never ‘voiced’ to blend together. Anton Bruckner, whose monumental symphonies are based on organ textures, relied on the contrasts between orchestral instruments to promulgate musical ideas. Notwithstanding the tonal disjunction, the Bevington portion comprising the oldest playing pipes in Singapore can be heard in its original state except the Cornopean stolen during the war and the Swell Gedeckt 8 whose cork stoppers have disintegrated and been replaced with metal caps. The present Möller Cornopean, donated by The Diapason contributing editor Robert Coleberd, is the only specimen of the American Classic style in Singapore.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Bevington Swell organ
The Swell box with shutters visible at upper left and a glimpse of the pipes of the Great division behind them. The quaint mitred resonators of the Cornopean can be distinguished. ©Lin Yangchen

Complementing the main instrument is a choir organ built in 1994 in the north transept. The case is the only complete example of Navaratnam’s work. Werkprinzip elements are present in the façade in the form of Brustwerk, Oberwerk and diminutive ‘pedal towers’. These, however, do not reflect the internal layout. Reminiscent of mediæval organs are the flat placement of pipes and the arrangement of pipe mouths in horizontal lines. The case has a triangular roof and stands on four stilts, much resembling the traditional kampong (village) houses found along the rural coasts of Southeast Asia. This scheme saves space, aids sound projection and achieves a pleasing synthesis of Europe and the Far East.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Choir organ stoplist
Disposition of the choir organ as of 2005, compiled by Yangchen Lin. Reproduced from the magazine article.

Being the only acoustical space in Singapore containing two organs, the Cathedral is the only place where antiphony is possible. Magnificent effects can be created by juxtaposing the two sound masses emanating from opposite ends of the nave. Furthermore, the nave is the most reverberant among the Singaporean churches possessing pipe organs. Antiphony was recently demonstrated by the author and the cathedral organist in an unusual performance of the Introduction of Léon Boëllmann’s Suite Gothique. The Grand-Chœur sections were played on the gallery organ in alternation with the Récit sections played on the choir organ. It re-enacted a performance by Olivier Latry, Titulaire, playing in dialogue with another organist that the author had witnessed in the organ loft at the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Bevington organ console Singapore
As close as it gets to Olivier Latry at Notre Dame: Titulaire Alphonsus Chern at the reversed console of the great organ of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, Singapore's equivalent of Notre Dame. ©Lin Yangchen

Just as Singapore as a nation has grown from cosmopolitan roots, the organs of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd have evolved into a harmonious amalgamation of diverse tonal origins heralding the emergence of the 'Singaporean organ' alongside the English, German, French and other organ building traditions. The 'Singaporean organ' is capable of making great music under the command of great musicians, and is worth preserving as an element of Singapore’s kaleidoscopic cultural heritage for the enjoyment of future generations.


I am indebted to Robert Navaratnam, Father Adrian Anthony (cathedral rector) and Alphonsus Chern for their assistance.


Bevington & Sons Work Book 1905–1931 (Birmingham City Archives MS1963).

Eschbach, J. 2003. Aristide Cavaillé-Coll Vol. 1: Compendium of Known Stoplists Paderborn: Peter Ewers.

McVicker, W. 2003. Dream palace. Choir and Organ 11(3):30–35.

Theng, A. J. 2018. Saving the King: the Organs of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, Singapore.

Welch, J. 1988. Organs in Asia. The American Organist 22(7):42–50.
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