From the builder
The new organ at St. Bridget Catholic Church in Richmond, Virginia, is the 42nd new organ to come from the workshop of John-Paul Buzard Pipe Organ Builders in Champaign, Illinois. It was completed on October 1, 2013, and inaugurated by Ken Cowan in concert on November 15.
The organ’s visual design was guided by the parish’s desire to reclaim a large stained glass window, which the former organ completely blocked. Pastor Monsignor William Carr, who began his clerical career at St. Bridget as the assistant pastor in the 1970s, remembered the beauty of the occluded window and began discussions with John-Paul Buzard in 2005 about the possibilities. The deteriorating mechanical condition and musical limitations of the previous instrument hastened the desire to proceed. The Great Recession delayed the start of the project until the parish raised all the funds to purchase the organ, as their bishop required.
The gallery’s floor space is quite limited and the window is large. But, the church’s acoustical volume and musical needs required an instrument of a larger tonal size than that which would have been possible with a traditional design. This required some outside-the-box creative thinking, and resulted in our recommendation that the Great division be suspended over the gallery rail, and that the enclosed divisions be thought of as more a divided Swell than independent Swell and Choir divisions. Area organist Grant Hellmers was invited to consult, and enthusiastically agreed that the design met both musical and architectural requirements. The Great’s profile is kept low in order to keep this portion of the organ below the field of glass. The former heavy wood railing was replaced with a more transparent wrought-iron rail. The two enclosed divisions are located in matching cases on either side of the window. The cases’ designs utilize shapes and details found elsewhere in the Tudor-revival building. The result is that the organ cherishes the window, and the gallery and organ are architecturally integrated into the entire worship space rather than being set apart.
Executive Vice-President and Chief Engineer Charles Eames created an instrument whose physical essence truly flows from the building, therein creating room for a larger instrument than the space would have otherwise held. With the new organ in place, the gallery has an additional 100 square feet of usable floor space for the choir and other musicians, which it did not have previously.
This is indeed a three-manual organ. The three-division design evolved from the original two-manual divided Swell concept. The introduction of the 8′ Claribel Flute into what became a somewhat untraditional Choir division allowed the instrument to take on its three-manual identity. The organ exhibits a far greater variety of tone colors and pitch ranges than is typical of many instruments of its size. And it has the uncanny ability to take on the appropriate tonal characteristics of various historical and national styles to fit the character of the musical composition. All of history informs and directs us in the evolution of our singular “Classically Symphonic” tonal style.
The engineering, mechanical systems, and pipe-making all support the artistic end result. The main manual windchests are all electrically operated slider and pallet chests. The chests for the unit stops have expansion chambers built into the very thick toe-boards, to replicate the winding characteristics of the slider chests. All of the pipes are made of high tin content pipe metal, even in the bass, rather than zinc. The large pipes play promptly without having to use beards. The result is fullness and warmth without any hardness or inelegance of tone quality, all the way to the bottom of the compass.
The church’s acoustics change drastically when the room is filled with people, and the church is nearly full every time the organ is used. Tonal Director Brian Davis ably met the challenges that this condition presents by scaling and voicing the instrument for optimal performance when the room is full. The result is that the organ is never too loud, but it fills the room with sound even when played softly. An entire congregation can be supported in its singing with a single 8′ Diapason; the strings are voluptuous and shimmering; the haunting Flute Cœlestis provides an air of mystery; the Choir reeds provide some of the most beautiful cantabile colors imaginable; the smooth and stately Tuba soars above full organ. Nearly every stop can be used with any other to create a new musical color.
Superior tonal design, sensitive voicing, and painstaking tonal finishing result in the exquisite blend and balance of the individual stops and their choruses, relating to both themselves and to the room. And, as Ken Cowan demonstrated to the delight of his audience, there are many ways that this instrument can render seamless dynamic changes. As is the case with all Buzard organs, symphonic color and romantic warmth never sacrifice sprightly clarity and transparency of tone for rendering polyphonic music.
The church’s growing music program is under the direction of Allen Bean. The children’s program, which Bean instituted and includes both boy and girl choirs, has performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and Alice Tully Hall in New York City.
Thanks to the staff of Buzard Pipe Organ Builders whose professionalism shines forth in all the work we undertake!
John-Paul Buzard, Artistic Director
Brian K. Davis, Tonal Director
Charles Eames, Vice President and Chief Engineer
Keith Williams, Director, Service Department
Shane Rhoades, Foreman, Production Department and Cabinetmaker
David Brown, Foreman, Service Department
Christopher Goodnight, Master Cabinetmaker
John Jordan, Service Technician
Michael Meyer, Cabinetmaker
Dennis Northway, Chicago area representative and Service Technician
Jay Salmon, Office Manager
Stuart Weber, Senior Service Technician
John Wiegand, Service Technician
Ray Wiggs, Console and Windchest specialist
Jonathan Young, Tonal Department Associate
As a first-time voicer on any project, let alone one of this size, the installation of the St. Bridget’s organ was an eye-opening experience for me. The tonal design of the instrument was set before I was brought onto the Buzard team, but I had the opportunity to voice several stops under the tutelage of Tonal Director Brian Davis. Because of the acoustical characteristics of the room, the organ had to have plenty of treble ascendancy while still maintaining warm foundations and good blend. Thus, the higher pitches “sang out” a bit in the voicing room, but the effect in the church is a lively sound, not at all top-heavy but not dark or muffled.
The organ proved an overwhelming success—clear choruses and the proximity of the Great case to the seating area mean contrapuntal music can be rendered quite effectively; the variety of reed colors available lend themselves to solo work as well as forming a striking Swell reed chorus; two contrasting strings in separate boxes add variety to the foundations; and the presence of two cornets, one in the Great, enables the organ to reproduce French Classical music particularly well. However, it is equally adept at handling more modern literature and orchestral transcriptions, as was demonstrated by Ken Cowan at the inaugural recital.
Throughout the process of voicing and tonal finishing, I was struck by how each installed stop expanded the ability of the organ as a vehicle for improvisation and interpretation of literature. The body of music this instrument will render is indeed large, and with that in mind I went back to Richmond at the beginning of November to record enough music to demonstrate some of its capabilities, including pieces by Guilmant, Langlais, de Grigny, and several major Bach works. All came off admirably, a testament to the versatility of the instrument and the integration of colors not usually found on American organs, such as the large Pedal 4′ open flute.
The St. Bridget’s organ represents a tremendous outlay of time, energy, and planning in pursuit of an instrument that will handle repertoire of any period with a clear but rich sound, and one which I hope the congregation will treasure for years to come.
—Jonathan Young, Tonal Associate
Buzard Pipe Organ Builders
From the director of music
St. Bridget Parish, a Roman Catholic parish of about 7,000 registered members, is among the largest in the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. Established in 1949, with the building completed and consecrated in 1950, the parish has thrived since its inception.
The church building is Tudor style with Gothic elements. Seating only 500, the church provides five regular Masses every weekend to accommodate parishioners. Four Masses are led by organ and cantor, with assistance from choral ensembles. The Sunday evening Mass is led by piano, guitars, and a contemporary choir.
I became Music Minister at St. Bridget in October 2005. The primary accompanying instruments at that time were a transplanted E. M. Skinner organ, which was ¼-step flat and in need of restoration, and a mid-1920s Steinway M, also in poor condition. The Parish Adult Choir of about 20 singers sang for one Mass on Sunday morning, and the other Masses were led by volunteer cantors.
Since then, the music ministry has grown. The Parish Adult Choir has grown to 35 voices, and choirs for children (absent from the music ministry for more than 30 years) include a Boy Choir of 11 singers, and a Girl Choir of nearly 30 choristers. The Boy and Girl Choirs, using the RSCM Voice for Life Program, have established themselves as important and valued ensembles, and distinguished themselves in performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and Alice Tully Hall in New York City.
As the parish’s music ministry has grown, so has the need for an organ that could accompany an ever increasingly diverse music ministry, in a church whose acoustics change dramatically depending on the number of worshippers in the church.
The installation of our new instrument evolved out of conversation between Monsignor Carr and me in August 2005. The 1920s E. M. Skinner organ that so nobly served this parish since the 1970s, brought here from the now deconsecrated Monumental Church in downtown Richmond, was in need of restoration. Conversation quickly turned to action. Within a few months we had explored restoring and enlarging the Skinner organ, with additions that would give it the flexibility required for our growing program. We also received from John-Paul Buzard a proposal for a new instrument, one that would be tonally designed for our acoustical space, give us the flexibility we need to support choirs, cantors, and congregation, and uncover a great west window that is an architectural feature of the church.
The original design proposed by Mr. Buzard underwent several modifications over the following months. The stoplist was refined, as the organ became slightly smaller in scope than we originally envisioned, yet considerably more flexible. Mechanical components were also addressed in this process (another nod to flexibility), including independent swell shades on two sides of each enclosed division. The design process of this instrument was a delight for me as parish musician. The parish is forever grateful for the work of our Organ Project Consultant, Grant Hellmers, whose wisdom and experience helped define the parish’s needs in an instrument, and brought clarity to the process as St. Bridget personnel and I worked with the Buzard shop in the design phase.
Once the design was finalized, the Buzard shop began to plan the physical design of the instrument, and, under the direction of Tonal Director Brian Davis, began to envision the tonal color of each and every stop in the instrument. Mr. Davis’s ability to take the numbers that represented the (ever-changing) acoustical properties of the church, and to determine scale and timbre of each of more than 2,000 pipes in 38 ranks, producing more than 48 stops, proved to be remarkable. Charles Eames also worked magic, engineering the organ that John-Paul and Brian envisioned to fit into a relatively small space.
Several weeks of voicing accomplished by John-Paul Buzard, Brian Davis, and Jonathan Young brought St. Bridget Parish’s organ to completion. The instrument’s design, its pipes, its mechanicals, the construction of the instrument’s beautiful casework, its installation, its voicing, the work of St. Bridget Church’s own organ project committee, building committee, and staff, altogether required more than 20,000 hours of labor. I believe that even when it was labor bought and paid for, it was a labor of love, and that the Buzard shop always acted with a sense of vocation.
St. Bridget parishioners gave freely of their time to make sure the church was ready to receive the instrument. John McCulla coordinated our efforts with the Buzard shop. Richard Lewis designed the mechanical and electrical components the church provided. Terrence Kerner arranged for the addition of HVAC for the organ gallery. Patrick Ross and the St. Bridget maintenance staff were always on hand to help subcontractors and the Buzard crew with whatever they needed. These parishioners have remained involved even after the organ’s completion to assure the project is truly complete and in keeping with the church’s beautiful architecture.
Several enabling gifts allowed this project to move forward. In all, some 265 parishioners, a relatively small number of our many parishioners, made this instrument a gift to the parish. Additionally, still more parishioners have contributed to the Friends of Music Fund at St. Bridget, to enable an inaugural concert series, so that we can make it a gift to the Richmond community.
Because this platform is here for me to do so, I want to express my special gratitude to our Pastor, Monsignor Carr, who began this conversation more than eight years ago. He envisioned a pipe organ for St. Bridget Parish. He let the donors to the project know of our need. He guided Parish Council, Parish Finance Council, and all who made decisions about the organ throughout the process. And, if there is anyone who delights more in this instrument than I do, it is Monsignor Carr.
Minister of Music, St. Bridget Parish