Organs

Upper Church Organ | Lower Church Organ

Sanctuary Organ Pipes

Casavant Frères, Opus 2641 (1961)


Pipework rebuilt by Emery Bros.
Console by R.A. Colby
Digital Additions by Walker Technical (2006)

(Notes on the organ by Charles Callahan, project consultant and recitalist)

The cornerstone of St. Bernard’s Church is dated 1942. At that time, the nation was re-directing manufacturing activities towards winning World War II. Materials used in pipe organ building were vital to the war effort, so practically all organ building (and much church-building) ceased. Plans for the installation of a large four-manual Aeolian-Skinner organ were laid aside as this Boston firm turned from organ building to assembling military crates and coffins. It was not until the late 1950’s that the parish was able to turn again to the organ project.

Joseph Michaud, organist and choir director of St Bernard’s by then, was favorably disposed towards the well-known French Canadian organ firm of Casavant Frères, and in the early 1960’s, the exchange rate with Canada was in the Church’s favor, so a contract was signed for a large three-manual organ of 65 stops and almost 100 ranks of pipes, of which over two-thirds were harmonic-corroborating stops (mixtures). This organ was designed by Casavant’s recently-appointed tonal director, the Boston native, Lawrence Phelps, who had trained at Aeolian-Skinner as a flue voicer. During his 5 years working there, he developed a friendship with Michael Harrison, son of G. Donald Harrison, the distinguished head of the firm. The young Harrison in 1947 developed early electronic stops which were installed in several Aeolian-Skinner pipe organs.

Some personal notes – Joseph Michaud went from St Bernard’s to become music director of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where he was kind enough to present a certain 19-year-old Boston organist in one of his first major recitals. Lawrence Phelps later left Canada to move to Erie PA to found his own organ company, and later worked for a large builder of electronic organs in the Lehigh Valley. He was very kind and extremely helpful to the writer of these notes when I was researching my two books on American organ building, The American Classic Organ and Aeolian-Skinner Remembered.

The liturgical reforms initiated by Vatican II had a very significant effect on the form and content of Roman Catholic Church music. Greatly expanded congregational hymnody, responsorial psalmody and the use of choral repertoire from many diverse periods and traditions are but a few of the major aspects of the expanded horizons emanating from the mid 1960’s and continuing into the present. All of this has had its effects on the use of the organ in American churches. Another major seismic shift in this era has been the development of technologies only dreamed of forty years ago.

By the late 1990’s, the Casavant organ was in need of major overhaul. Studies of various approaches to the renewal of the instrument were examined over several years. It was determined that any plans for organ work must consider the expanded liturgical, musical and technological developments since the organ was built, while retaining its general design and superb features such as the pneumatic swell engines.

It soon became apparent that a new console was much more cost-effective than retrofitting the 1960 console. The new four-manual console is by R. A. Colby of Johnson City TN. In conformity with the new national electrical codes, antiquated components were replaced with new wiring and solid-state systems for keying and combination actions. This enabled development of the tonal palette with the addition of digital voices specifically selected for this project. These tonalities include expanded bass frequencies, new stops for choral and congregational accompaniment, and colorful solo voices. In this aspect of the work we were following the example of Mr Phelps in collaborating with Robert Walker, of Walker Technical Co., Zionsville, PA.

Under the auspices of Emery Bros. of Quakertown, PA, pipes were removed, cleaned, repaired as needed, fitted with new tuning collars where appropriate; chests were releathered, and some replacement pipes provided where this was more cost-effective and appropriate for the long-term reliability of the organ. Finally all of the pipework was reinstalled and tonally regulated, and digital voices tonally finished to blend with the pipework.

Specification

Viscount, Physis 245 (2015)

A.E.Sterner Organ Company

The Viscount organ is a 30 stop instrument with two manuals and pedalboard. The instrument was installed in February of 2015 and includes a main division in the apse and side altars of the lower church and antiphonal division above the rear doors of the church.

Specification