When renovations are completed next year, the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City won’t just have a renewed appearance, it will also have a clearer, more colorful voice.
A new, custom-designed organ is being built to make the hymns sweeter and the moments of encounter deeper for parishioners and pilgrims alike.
“We believe that God is the source of everything that is true, good and beautiful, the work of our hands and the creativity of our minds,” said Father Jeremy Secrist, pastor of neighboring St. Peter Parish in Jefferson City, who is also the diocese’s moderator for pipe organs.
“That’s why we strive to make the most of these things as preparation for an encounter with the Triune God, from Whom all of these artistic attributes flow,” he said.
This Cathedral’s first major renovation in its 53-year history will incorporate classical elements into the familiar structure, enhancing its beauty, functionality, capacity for hospitality and uniquely Catholic identity.
Fr. Secrist has been working with the Buzard Organ Company (buzardorgans.com) of Champaign, Illinois, to design an organ of suitable beauty and proportion for the renovated Cathedral.
“As is often said in organ-building, the most important stop of any organ is the room, the space that it exists in,” Fr. Secrist noted.
The new instrument will occupy the same space as the previous one, but the Cathedral itself will be substantially different, with many new materials that will enhance its acoustics and bring greater depth to all sung and instrumental music.
Mindful of that, said Fr. Secrist, this new organ is being designed and built “to serve the needs of the People of God, respective of the other beautiful things that will be occurring within the Cathedral, while giving a nod to the rich and colorful history that came before.”
A phase of that history ended shortly after noon on Jan. 9, when the last triumphant strains of “O God, Beyond All Praising” and a postlude arrangement of “Rejoice! The Lord is King!” gave way to stillness.
“We decided to send it off on a high note,” said organist Annette Kehner, who accompanied the last Mass before the Cathedral was closed for renovation.
Several sets of pipes from the previous organ, installed when the Cathedral was built in 1968, will speak again in the new instrument.
Others will find homes in different organs that are yet to be built.
“So we’ll be taking a bit of what was good about the old instrument and incorporating it into something new and even more beautiful,” Fr. Secrist said. “It’s a very Catholic approach that we’re taking.”
It was clear that the old organ was wearing out and needed to be replaced.
“It served us well, but it was very much a product of the time in which it was produced,” said Fr. Secrist, who used to help tune and maintain the organ when he was associate pastor of Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish from 2004-07.
The blower and wind-boxes for forcing compressed air into the pipes were deteriorating, as were some of the pipes themselves.
In addition, because of the instrument’s tonal qualities and the building’s dry acoustics, the voices never mixed properly. Much of the sound came from about head-level, right behind the choir, meaning that it had to fight its way past a group of people.
The new organ will have more voices — 40 ranks of pipes versus 31 — most of which will project into the Cathedral from high above the choir members’ heads.
Many of the various sets of pipes will be enclosed in chambers. The organist will be able to adjust the volume at which those pipes are heard by opening and closing swell shades on the front of the chambers, using a pedal on the console. This arrangement, known as “expression,” multiplies the possibilities for mixing the organ’s voices and creating appropriate tonal effects for whatever kind of music is being played.
The new pipes and the complex systems that will make them speak are being built to last for generations.
“We’re laying the foundation for people still to be praising and worshiping here long after we’ve all gone to meet God,” Fr. Secrist stated.
Love’s greatest depths
John-Paul Buzard, president and artistic director of Buzard Organ Co., has stated that the company’s purpose is to create “functional works of art.”
His objective all along has been to combine the tonal strength and richness of late-19th- and early-20th-century organs with modern versatility and timeless functionality.
“Our organs truly sing in their spaces, and their singing encourages us in our singing,” the company’s website states.
Fr. Secrist said hearing is believing. As a member of the Organ Historical Society and Missouri district convener for the American Guild of Organists, he has had the opportunity to hear numerous organs throughout the United States and in Europe.
That’s why Bishop W. Shawn McKnight appointed him four years ago to promote the use and preservation of existing pipe organs throughout this diocese, and assist in designing the new instrument for the Cathedral.
Fr. Secrist developed a short list of possible organ builders for the project. He conducted copious research, listened to organs built and installed by each, visited with the builders to get a better sense of their creativity and flexibility, and reviewed each company’s submitted proposal.
“I recommended to Bishop McKnight and the Cathedral Commission that the proposal by the Buzard Company be accepted because of their tonal philosophy that aids congregational singing; their ability to build organs in less-than-ideal acoustical and architectural environments; and John-Paul Buzard’s ability to create striking facades that appeal to the eyes, as well,” said Fr. Secrist.
Furthermore, the company is growing and is headquartered in a neighboring state, which will help with maintenance and tuning, he said.
Fr. Secrist spoke to the relevance of enhancing the prayer and worship environment of the Cathedral for this and future generations.
“As Catholics, we are connected in a special way with our church buildings,” he noted. “They are places for us to have sacred encounters with Almighty God. And through all of this — whether it’s Sunday Mass, baptisms, marriages, ordinations, funerals, individual visits or the countless diocesan functions that have taken place in this Cathedral — our buildings become impressed on our souls.
“We are sanctified by the prayers that have been prayed by the people who have been here before us,” he said, “and the moments we have experienced here have helped to make us the people we are.”
Enhancing the beauty and preserving the history of the Cathedral will help orient visitors and regular worshippers toward God and assist them in their desire to grow in relationship with Him.
Fr. Secrist noted that music has the power to reveal love at its deepest level.
“And whom should we love more than anybody else but the Lord?” he said. “So the music that we use is an expression of that love, of the deepest longings of our heart.”
It will be all the more so when that music echoes off of colorful marble, mosaics and stained glass and ascends like incense toward heaven, he said.