Monday, October 1, 2012

Fine Musical Instruments: All the Difference

A glorious Monday has dawned here in the Midwest. Looks like our temperatures here in Chicago will begin to get lower as the week wears on.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of playing at the Masses at Saint James. Our music director's child was baptized at the 9:30 and I covered for him at the 11:30.

One of the things that non-musicians can't quite grasp is how important a good musical instrument is to the musician. I grew up in a parish in Massachusetts that housed an old  Hook & Hastings tracker pipe organ. While pretty basic, it nonetheless really filled the church with a full sound that supported the congregation's song.

While I was in the seminary, I played the organ regularly at Saint Peter's Church in Lowell, Massachusetts. Here is an old postcard depicting the church and the massive rectory:

It was another Hook & Hastings with four manuals and a sound that would blow your socks off. I absolutely loved playing that organ.  The church has since been demolished. In a strange twist of fate, Patrick Keeley was the architect for Saint Peter's. He was also the architect for Saint James in Chicago, which now faces demolition as well.  I always wondered what happened to that organ. Recently, I discovered that the organ had been saved. Here is an excerpt from the Andover Organ Company's web site:

The "new" organ was the Hook & Hastings instrument, Opus 1848, 1899, originally installed in St. Peter's Church, Lowell, MA, rescued at the last minute by Andover on a bitterly cold March day just ahead of the wrecker's ball. St. Peter's had been closed for 10 years due to structural problems. With some additions, the organ was ideal for the new Corpus Christi Church. Consultant James Jordan, James DeFrancesco and Thomas Ryan, Liturgist, along with the Pastor, Reverend Marcel H. Bouchard met with Don Olson of Andover to work out the details of the installation. The main problem was that in St. Peter's, the height of the organ case was 38 feet and the space allotted to the organ in Corpus Christi was 21 feet. With designer Jay Zoller and master woodworker Al Hosman, the case was reconfigured to fit into the space. The massive 16' Open Diapason pipes were lowered to six inches above the floor and the impost and case panels were cut apart, lowered and mitered to fit.

The organ was installed at the new (2003) Corpus Christi parish in East Sandwich, Massachusetts, which is on Cape Cod.

When I found this photo, my heart skipped a beat; the original style of the pipes (as I had experienced them at Saint Peter's in Lowell so many years ago) had been restored:

I would love to play that organ once again, in its "re-incarnation."

I say all of this because of the delight this musician experienced at Saint James yesterday. We obviously do not have a pipe organ in our Catholic school auditorium, our current worship space. But we do have a Yahama grand piano and, to be honest, it is one of the finest I have ever played. Its action is quite responsive and I find it so easy to "paint" with this instrument. There's nothing like having a fine pipe organ or a great piano at your fingertips.

Musicians, you know exactly what I mean in this post. There's nothing quite like arriving to play at Mass and finding an out-of-tune piano, or an organ with all kinds of notes taped to it warning the visiting organist to avoid certain stops, or keys for that matter!

I loved playing yesterday; it's one of those things I miss about working in a parish. Maybe I should do it more often.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Denise Anderson said...

Congratulations Jerry! It all makes a difference~ How great that the Guardian Angels of instruments were watching out when the Church was demolished. God is good~

Stephen A Romano said...

Actually, Corpus Christi installed a 3 manual Rodgers digital instrument a few years ago. The H&H pipe organ is silent for the time being..... Last I heard only the Great/Pedal divisions were operational....due to a lack of funds for a complete restoration.

catholic traveller said...

Sadly, it seems like regular maintenance on the church organ gets neglected. I play at 2 of the 3 parishes our priest serves, and when I get a call to play at the 3rd, the one I do not regularly play at, I always find something new. The only thing I can count on is that the organ still is not working, and I will have some variety of keyboard to contend with...seems there is a lack of organists out here in the west.

Dan said...

I remember reading that Robert Moog, inventor of the Moog Synthesizer in the 1960s, had to be on the defensive when people first said his analog synthesizers were not "real instruments", as these short-sighted people believed that for an instrument to be considered "real" it had to be made of wood and metal by a craftsman (like pianos, violins, etc.). His answer was that each of his synthesizers WAS painstakingly hand made and was every bit a "real instrument". Today, we realize that Bob Moog's instruments, though made from electronic circuits rather than wood and strings, started a revolution in new sounds that changed the music industry. Even with the amazing sounds that digital synthesizers produce today, analog synthesizers still hold a niche among many musicians, and are used in popular recordings.