The space at Sacred Heart Cathedral recently vacated by a loaned organ will soon be filled by a new 40-foot-tall organ featuring nearly 4,000 pipes. The instrument was built by Paul Fritts and Company Organ Builders of Tacomah, Wash.
Several donations covered the approximately $1.5 million cost of the organ, according to Father John Mulligan, pastor of the Cathedral Community and one of two diocesan vicars general.
The organ has been disassembled for shipment to Rochester, and on June 8 it will begin to be reassembled piece by piece at the cathedral. About 50 Cathedral Community parishioners will help with the unloading of the organ, according to the community’s bulletin. After tuning and fine adjustments throughout the summer, the Fritts organ will be dedicated Sept. 13.
The instrument will be organ builder Paul Fritts’ Opus No. 26.
"It was custom-designed for the cathedral," Fritts said. "It is one of a kind. The style is considered historically informed, which means that the organ has a lot of qualities of organs of the past that were built during the golden age of organ building: 1600s to 1700s in Germany and Belgium."
Though it has several more modern features, the organ has a mechanical, or "tracker," key action rather than an electric key action. Tracker-action organs allow organists to feel when a valve connected to an organ pipe is opening or closing, and Fritts said he believes the action helps the pipes "speak" better as well.
Once the organ is fully reassembled, it will be adjusted and tuned to the acoustics of the cathedral’s sanctuary.
"Each pipe will be tested and made to speak and sound properly in the room," Fritts said.
The organ maker said that the loudness, color and speech characteristics of each pipe are first made perfect before the completion of a final tuning.
A Brombaugh organ on loan to the diocese from Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, Calif., was removed from Sacred Heart in April and reinstalled at Rochester’s St. Michael Parish.
Sonoma State bought the organ three years ago from the now shuttered Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Toledo, Ohio, but is still in the process of building a performing-arts center in which the organ ultimately will be housed. John Brombaugh built the organ for the Toledo church in 1972, said organ builder John Boody, a former Brombaugh employee who now co-owns the organ manufacturer Taylor and Boody.
The delicate lead-tin alloy pipes of a pipe organ can become misshapen if they sit unused in storage, Boody said. Thus, the California college gave him permission to install the organ in the newly renovated cathedral, where it could be played until the cathedral’s new Fritts organ had been built. Since Sonoma State University is not yet ready for the organ, it was taken to St. Michael Parish, Boody said.
He noted that interest in and purchase of organs in Rochester has taken off recently due to the Eastman School of Music’s Eastman Rochester Organ Initiative, which is supporting efforts to update and restore the city’s catalogue of new and historically significant organs. The project’s goal is to enable Eastman organ students to practice and perform on high-quality instruments.
"There has been an explosion of organ building in Rochester," Boody observed.
The Fritts organ will be part of the program for a major organ conference in Rochester Oct. 16-20 being sponsored by the Eastman Rochester Organ Initiative. Fritts said that during the conference, internationally known organist Craig Cramer of the University of Notre Dame will play a concert on the Fritts organ.
Along with the new Fritts organ for the cathedral, Fritts said he is planning to bring a practice organ to Rochester that will be placed permanently at the Eastman School of Music for student use.