Bedient Pipe Organ Company, Roca, Nebraska
St. Mark’s Pro-Cathedral, Hastings, Nebraska
Hastings, Nebraska, 1927. While Edwin Perkins was perfecting the final collection of ingredients that was to become “Kool-Aid,” a few blocks away on North Burlington Avenue workers were assembling a limestone building that would become home to one of our more unusual projects.
Erected from 1921 to 1929, St. Mark’s Episcopal Pro-Cathedral was designed by Ralph Adams Cram, America’s leading Gothic Revival architect. This is the man who established Gothic as the standard style for college campuses across the country during that period. In fact, the Boston architect and writer served as consulting architect for Princeton when he drew up the plans for St. Mark’s in 1919.
Displaying characteristics of English Gothic churches, the building looks like a little piece of Europe relocated to the middle of the Great Plains. As described by the Adams County Historical Society, Cram’s design “emphasizes length, a moderately pitched roof, stepped rectangular apses, and a tower over the crossing.” Cram’s Gothic vision extends to the interior, which features post and beam construction, plastered walls and a vast array of stained glass windows.
However, when workers pulled down ladders and packed away their tools 77 years ago, the nave still lacked a very significant element. Cram had also provided a drawing for a grand pipe organ façade, the construction of which had to be delayed until funds were available.
When the congregation did raise money for a 21-stop Austin organ in 1931 (which they combined with an older organ), the instrument was squeezed into the organ chamber above the nave and bore no visual resemblance to the plans Cram had in mind. It was not until 72 years later, following a succession of repairs and attempted improvements, that the church conceded it was time to start over.
Although several builders were being considered, St. Mark’s chose Bedient following a tour of the interior of Opus 70 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Impressed by the attention to detail on general layout and structure, “they felt that indicated how meticulous the builder would be in other areas,” said Dr. Dan Schmidt, director of music. Our proximity to the project played a key factor, as well as our 36 years of experience building and renovating mechanical and electric action instruments, and our proven proficiency with electro-pneumatic slider chests.
The Bedient organ at St. Mark’s Pro-Cathedral was a challenge on several levels. Due to the general age and condition of the organ, and a questionable rebuild in the 1980s, we faced many issues that needed to be resolved. The original layout of the Austin organ was fine for the time, but the need to update the organ tonally necessitated a new, more accessible design.
One concern was the appearance of the organ. The congregation was initially hesitant to make any significant changes to their worship space—understandably so, as their church is on the National Register of Historic Places. Fortunately, Cram’s original blueprint for the organ was discovered in the St. Mark’s attic during a search for drawings for a renovation project. All involved decided that plan would be our guide.
Working from Cram’s drawing, Bedient designer Alan Baehr developed a façade design that closely resembles the 1919 plan. Where the previous organ was tucked into the chamber nearly out of view, the new white oak casework now projects three feet into the nave and towers more than 26 feet above the congregation. Bedient designers accentuated the projection by including an en chamade Trompette, one of the few modifications to the original façade design.
Pipe shades and ornamental carvings featured in the plans provided inspiration for our woodcarver, Todd Znamenacek, who closely followed Cram’s original organic/geometric style. Using the symbol of St. Mark, Znamenacek appropriately enhanced Cram’s design with the addition of two winged lions perched atop the instrument. Prior to their installation, many of Znamenacek’s Opus 74 carvings spent two months on display at the Stuhr Museum in Grand Island, Nebraska as part of the “Wings Over the Platte” exhibition. Because Cram’s façade would project outward from the organ chamber, it would also provide additional space for the inclusion of an independent Great division, which the organ never had.
Another layout concern was where to place the ubiquitous Austin 16¢ wood open pipes that were lying in a heap on the floor right where the new Great windchest needed to go. We solved that problem by refurbishing the pipes, painting them the same color as the wood ceiling of the church, and hanging the largest ones from the transept ceiling directly outside of the organ chamber. This was a very successful idea. It not only got the pipes out of our way, but their sound is much more present in the nave, a desirable achievement.
The new Great division and the new Swell division windchests are all of major third layout. They are slider windchests with rectangular electro-pneumatic key action valves, and the sliders are operated by magnetic solenoids.
One of the inherited problems with the old layout was the jumbled arrangement of the 16¢ Bourdon pipes on top of the Swell box and other places. We thought that the idea was good but the arrangement left a lot to be desired. The new arrangement is much more orderly, with good access to all of the pipes for tuning.
The remaining Austin Universal Windchest is that of the Choir chest, which was originally duplexed to be a Great and Choir division. It now serves only as the Choir division and has been augmented in size, including space for future additions.
The weakest remaining element of the organ is the Pedal Bombarde 16¢/Trumpet 8¢ unit by Austin. The sound is simply not large enough, and it is hoped that one day in the future, this stop can be replaced by a new one as was originally proposed.
Because the Austin console had some nice cabinetry details and the church was attached to it, we retained the keyboards, unit key contact assemblies and the shell. The console features a new Peterson Master Stop Processor combination and key action relay system. It was revised to have a tilting tablet stop action system by Harris. The original pedalboard, toe studs, and pistons were also retained.
As the “before and after” pictures reveal, this unique organ experienced a marvelous transformation. We are honored that St. Mark’s gave us the opportunity to resuscitate a dilapidated wallflower into a magnificent instrument worthy of their building’s historical stature. Organists’ reactions to the sound of this reborn instrument confirm the project a success on all levels.
Dean Rich Martindale of St. Mark’s summed up the project this way, “I want to thank you so much for all your efforts to restore and enhance this wonderful component of our worship here at the Pro-Cathedral. The entire parish is grateful for your skill and your dedication in helping us complete this project. Thank you again for your help in making our splendid new organ a reality.”
—Gene Bedient and Jon Taylor
Alan Baehr, design and management
Jasmine Beach, financial administration
Gene Bedient, president, design and voicing
Gwen Bedient, administration
Duane Grosse, head pipe maker
Chad Johnson, project manager, woodworker and voicing
Paul Lytle, vice president and sales
Mark Miller, vice president of field operations and sales
Dave Musfeldt, woodworkerv
Eric Smith, pipe shop
Jason Smith, pipe maker, safety coordinator, and machine shop supervisor
Ed Stibal, head woodworker
Jon Taylor, woodworker, marketing, purchasing
Donna Varney, voicing, marketing, sales and service
Fred Zander, woodworker, chest builder
Todd Znamenacek, woodworker, carver
St. Mark’s Pro-Cathedral
Bedient Opus 74
8' Dean’s Trompette (TC)
8' Stopped Diapason*
8' Voix céleste*
4' Harmonic Flute*
8' Dean’s Trompette (TC)
Swell Unison Off
8' Unda Maris
4' Prestant (prepared)
4' Flute d’Amore*
Sesquialtera II (prepared)
8' Dean’s Trompette (TC)
Choir Unison Off
16' Open Diapason*
16' Lieblich Gedackt*
8' Open Diapason
4' Choral Bass
* 1931 Austin stops