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Archives New organ fills cathedral with beautiful music

Dec. 9, 2020

By Jessica Hargrave
Contributing Writer

OGDENSBURG – All that remains of the old pipe organ inside St. Mary’s Cathedral are metal pipes crawling up the balcony wall. The original pipes played through countless Masses, ordinations and celebrations since 1952. Over the years, many of those pipes experienced water damage and worked inconsistently, while other parts of the organ needed to be rebuilt, so it was time for an upgrade.

“Certain pipes would sound fine one day, and then some days they would be out of tune, and I couldn’t use that pipe anymore. There was just no time to go through all the pipes every time. We were just limited on our options,” said organist and St. Mary’s Cathedral Music Director Christine Bookman.

Thanks to the generosity of donors who supported the It's Our Church, It's Our Future capital campaign, the cathedral was able to work with Viscount Organs in choosing the right organ and for its installation. In the pipe organ’s place, there is now a new digital organ so extraordinary, the sound is as if it’s part of the building.

Josh Dove, managing director for Viscount North America, an international organ company, said St. Mary’s Cathedral is fortunate to have what this digital organ offers, which is called physis technology. This technology uses a computer-generated model of a pipe organ to not only create the sound of pipes, but also how they interact with one another in real-time.

“When the organist is playing, you’re sure you heard the valves open up, which they don’t exist. You will be sure you just heard a slight dip in air pressure when they play a big cord which isn’t there,” said Dove.

The digital organ has a custom set of instruments Viscount created just for St. Mary’s Cathedral. With a touch of key, it can play the sounds of oboe, harp, a string ensemble and a horn ensemble. If there’s an instrument the organist wants added, all it takes is a phone call to Viscount. The Cathedral hopes one day to tie the original organ into the digital organ, which would make the possibilities endless.

The complete installation took a few weeks, a much shorter timeframe than to rebuild or repair a pipe organ. Such a repair project could leave a church out of commission for months, if not years, depending on the scale of the project. Once the organ was built, a tonal director spent four days in the cathedral choosing the best sound for the space and speaker placement.

“It isn’t just throwing speakers on the wall and stringing cable; our speaker system is custom built for the purposes of every job we do,” said Dove. “He then goes through an entire library that holds thousands of organ pipes. The process combines increasing or decreasing air pressure and scaling rank of the pipes.”

With the project now complete, Bookman continues to adapt to the organ’s technology and sound.

“It’s loud up in the balcony, but I don’t know what it sounds like in the congregation so I’m still getting use to the combinations and what is too loud or not loud enough.”

Regardless of the transition, Bookman feels honored to have the new organ.

“I’m so grateful to be entrusted with such a beautiful instrument and I look forward to exploring its full potential,” she said.

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