The 105th Psalm offers this joyful invitation: “Sing praise, play music, and proclaim all the Lord’s wondrous deeds.” Whenever the Sacred Heart University community answers this call in its Chapel of the Holy Spirit, it will be aided by a magnificent pipe organ designed to enhance worship there for generations to come.
This astonishing musical instrument was hand-crafted in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, by the storied Casavant Frères organization, one of the oldest and most respected organ builders in the world. Its façade was designed to blend in with the unique architecture of the Chapel, as well as the stunning mosaic behind the main altar. It features a wooden screen on which pipes made of polished tin are attached. These pipes will actually sound, along with the majority of the pipes that will not be on view inside the organ.
The organ stands over 28 feet high and occupies a prominent position immediately to the right of the main sanctuary and mosaic. The modernist façade houses an instrument that remains very traditional in its tonal and mechanical arrangement. Its tone is grounded in the French musical tradition which has inspired some of the most illustrious organ music in the repertoire, and it features a rich, warm and singing tone that is full, but not harsh or overpowering.
The sound of this organ is created exclusively by pipes blown by lightly pressured air, called “wind.” When sounded, each pipe gives one specific note or pitch. Each stop knob on the organ console controls a set of pipes known as a rank, which contains pipes from lowest to highest pitches of a given sound, for example, flute, trumpet, string or principal. Sacred Heart’s instrument consists of 1,261 pipes with room for an additional 628 to be installed later. Its pipes are made of tin or wood; the longest is about 16 feet long – and the shortest is the size of a pencil. In total, the organ weighs about four-and-a-half tons. When completely installed, the console will feature three manual keyboards of 58 keys each and a full pedalboard with 30 pedals that also play the bass pipes. The manual keys are mechanically linked to pallets (which open the air to individually wind each of the pipes) by thin strips of wood called trackers. This mechanical action offers multiple benefits. To work successfully, the keyboards and pedalboard need to be located fairly close to the pipes. Having a close, tactile connection between the individual keys and the pipes is musically quite advantageous.
When the organist presses a key, it directly pulls a tracker that physically opens a channel for air to enter a pipe. The player can actually feel the nuances of touch and articulation that are immediately affecting the musical sounds coming out of each of the pipes. With mechanical action, the pipes can speak with a more clearly defined character and presence. And mechanical action itself is actually more reliable and long lasting, since there are many fewer parts to wear out or need replacement over time.
Although the organ’s mechanical action is based on a technique of organ building going back hundreds of years, the University also wanted its organ to be as up-to-date technologically as possible. The instrument features its own computer memory that will allow the organist to set combinations of sounds known as registrations. The organist can pre-select these registrations based on the volume and tonal requirements of the music performed. Another important feature is called a midi (for Musical Instrument Digital Interface), which is a technologically modern way for musical instruments to interface with each other. Basically, the midi will allow other keyboards and synthesizers to be played through the organ’s keyboard, while simultaneously playing the wind-blown pipes.
The University’s tracker organ was constructed and tested in Québec before being dismantled and rebuilt in Sacred Heart’s new Chapel. Casavant Frères has been making organs for 130 years. As with musical compositions, each of its creations is assigned an opus number, and Sacred Heart’s is 3,869.