St. Dominic’s Parish in Shortsville planned to celebrate its 105th anniversary with an organ concert by nationally known organist Cj Sambach. The Sept. 16 concert was scheduled not only to commemorate the parish’s anniversary, but also to showcase the organ, which was remanufactured and reinstalled in 2003, said Father John Gagnier, pastor.
The parish’s original pipe organ had been built in 1911 and was electrified in 1925, Father Gagnier said. When he took over as pastor of St. Dominic’s in June 2000, his predecessor, Father William Cosgrove, told him that the parish’s organ would have to be replaced fairly soon. Upon learning this, Father Gagnier approached Parsons Pipe Organ Builders in Canandaigua to see whether components from the old organ could be worked into a new, bigger organ for a reasonable price.
The company was up to the job, and the parish council unanimously approved the project, so in late October 2002 the original organ was removed from the choir loft, he said. It took about six months to finish the organ, and Parsons employees began installing it in the parish’s choir loft the day after Easter 2003.
“The whole of Easter week (the employees) were there and people could watch them work,” Father Gagnier said.
The installation was completed on April 26, 2003, and Bishop Matthew H. Clark dedicated the organ the next day. As the parish had hoped, the organ is a combination of old and new components. It has 719 pipes, 304 of which are from the original organ. The organ’s two keyboards are new, but they were fitted into the console from the original organ, Father Gagnier said.
The new organ is a bit bigger than the original — although it is still considered fairly small as far as organs go — and it has a wider variety of sounds, Father Gagnier noted.
“It’s not the size so much in a small church. It’s not the volume, it’s how interesting you make it,” he said.
Sambach is an expert at making organ music interesting, and listening to him perform on St. Dominic’s organ should give parishioners an even greater appreciation for what they have, Father Gagnier added.
“He has a good repertoire of (pieces) and he can just make an organ sound great. He can get things out of it that you wouldn’t think were there,” he said.
The organist is no stranger to St. Dominic’s, as he performed a concert for the parish to showcase the organ about a month after it was installed.
Sambach has always loved the organ and has been a concert organist for more than 20 years. He began taking piano lessons when he was in second grade and caught his first glimpse of an organ the next year. He was immediately attracted to the instrument’s “gadgets” and the variety of sounds it produced.
“I sat behind it and thought, ‘That’s what I want to play,'” he said. “The burning desire was always there.”
He began taking formal organ lessons in high school and eventually enrolled in Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton, N.J. Although he was intrigued by the idea of playing professionally, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to make a living that way and instead went into business administration after graduation.
Sambach enjoyed working in business, but still felt a strong pull toward the organ. In 1980 he reduced his work schedule to part time and — using some of the business and marketing skills he’d learned on the job — began to try to make it as a professional organist. Although it was scary at first, it’s a step he said he’s never regretted.
Sambach currently performs between 20 and 30 concerts each year, but what’s really pushing his career forward is a traademarked educational program he developed called the Pipe Organ INformance. The program’s goal is to encourage more people, especially young people, to become organists by teaching them about the pipe organ.
“Nobody knows anything about the organ. There’s so few young people coming up in this profession, and we don’t want to see it die,” Sambach said. “We’ve got to give the kids the exposure. The whole idea is just to plant seeds.”
Using large, colorful posters, Sambach explains to adults and children alike how and why an organ works and sounds the way it does. He likens an organist to a painter, noting that a painter starts off with three primary colors and an organist starts off with four primary sound colors. From there, the sound possibilities are almost endless, he said.
“I always explain something verbally, then I back it up visually with these big posters, then I go to the console and demonstrate,” Sambach said.
Many people are accustomed to hearing just one type of music played on the organ, so Sambach plays a wide variety of pieces in an attempt to dispel that notion and make organ music seem more attractive.
“It’s not just one sound, it’s thousands of sounds,” he said.