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University installs new organ in Basilica

| Friday, September 16, 2016

Although there are many weddings during the summer, there weren’t any scheduled in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart during the first two weeks of August. Nor were there any Masses. From Aug. 1 to Aug. 14, the Basilica was closed so a new organ could be installed.

20160907, 20160907, Basilica of the Sacred Heart, new organ, Peter St. JohnPeter St. John

The efforts to replace the organ were led by associate director of music and choir Andrew McShane; rector of the Basilica Fr. Peter Rocca; and the late Gail Walton, former director of music. The new organ was funded by Wayne and Diana Murdy.

McShane said the process of replacing the old organ began 10 years ago, due to increasing maintenance costs.

“It was the cost of the upkeep of the organ that was the main factor,” McShane said. “We were spending thousands of dollars a year just to service the organ, but that wasn’t the only problem with it. There were some design flaws, mainly the winding, and, also, the organ was never really big enough for the Basilica. So when you would have a big crowd, like on Easter or Christmas or [a] football weekend, people from basically the altar area to the Lady Chapel really couldn’t hear. It just was not an adequate-sized organ for the space of the Basilica.”

Professor of organ Craig Cramer, who served on the committee for the new organ, said the University’s administration was very supportive of the project.

“The administration was really aware of the ongoing mechanical problems and inadequacies of the old instrument,”  Cramer said.  “I don’t think it took a lot of convincing. I think the problem was more just one of ‘How do we want to do this project?’ so that we really do it right and don’t compromise the instrument.”

Cramer said this process can take some time.

“You have to have meetings with the administration,” Cramer said. “You have to explain your position vis-a-vis the old organ, and you have to educate all concerned about what an organ is, what it could be, what it should do, what its role is in the liturgy and then you just come up with a plan.”

According to an email from McShane, the organ is equipped with 5,164 pipes, four keyboards — each of which have 58 notes and 30 pedals — as well as an air conditioning system to keep the temperature consistent throughout. It was built by Paul Fritts and Company and took 1,100 hours to design and 36,000 man hours to install.

Michael Plagerman, a graduate student in the Master of Sacred Music program who is studying the organ, said he believes these features will allow the organ to be used for a diverse array of music.

“The main advantage of this new organ is that it is very large, more than twice the size of the instrument it replaces,” Plagerman said. “A much wider variety of literature can be able to be played on it and a much wider variety of both choral and congregational accompaniments will be possible, in the liturgy itself and it will become, I think, a major recital instrument for our program.”

The organ is currently in the process of tuning and voicing, McShane said, and will not be completed until Thanksgiving. It will be dedicated on the feast day of Fr. Basil Moreau and will be blessed by Bishop Daniel Jenky.

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