Project is music to parishioners’ ears
The pipe organ at Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Wichita had been struggling for years when Trisha Miller began playing it at a funeral in the summer of 2018.
Rachel Dugan, the parish’s music director, was singing the responsorial psalm when the organ died. “So we continued singing and Trisha hopped over to the piano for me,” Dugan said.
The funeral was an appropriate occasion for the 70-year-old organ to issue-forth its last gasp. The parish recognized that the life-support schemes were no longer enough – a replacement was required.
Timing a little off
The timing could have been a bit better, though.
Dugan said Father Drew Heiman had just been assigned as the parish’s pastor when the organ went to its heavenly reward.
“You don’t ever want to hit a new priest with fundraising – but we did,” she said. “And he was very kind and very receptive.”
After several meetings and committee gatherings, music-minded parishioners thought the parish would agree on a price of about $500,000 for a new organ.
“But they also said, Rachel, we can’t put in a beautiful instrument and leave our hideous acoustic tile ceiling,” she said.
Parishioner to the rescue
Parishioner and architect Matt Schindler came to the rescue. His plans for a coffered-ceiling with energy-efficient lighting and a railing for the choir loft matched the beauty of the new organ with its gleaming pipes.
“These beautiful coffers harken back to the arts and crafts style of the College Hill neighborhood and honor the tradition of the rest of the sanctuary,” Dugan said. “It just looks beautiful.”
Acoustic engineers were consulted to make adjustments to project as much music and singing as possible toward the altar.
“When you sing in here now or play the piano, it’s just a perfect amount of reverb – there’s not too much that you can’t understand the dialogue, but it still has a beautiful resonance.”
Parish quickly responds
The parish generously responded to the $1.6 million Glory & Praise renovation project, she said.
The church improvements began in January and were finished by Easter. The pandemic delayed the installation of the organ, which was designed and constructed by Berghaus Pipe Organ Builders of Chicago. The organ installation began around the Labor Day weekend and should be finished by the end of September.
“Most of the parts were already built,” Dugan said from the choir loft next to uninstalled sections of the organ. “They just had to come and put all the little tiny pieces together like a giant jigsaw puzzle.”
The puzzle will soon be complete, she said, adding that the parish is planning events featuring the new organ.
Organist’s fingers are ready
“Our organist, Patrick Harms, says the people of the parish have not heard a real organ for decades because the old organ has been deteriorating for a long time.”
She said that Harms added that the older organ wasn’t designed for the church as is the new organ. “So we’re very excited to shake the pews a little bit with those bass notes.”
Harms is planning an hour-long concert for sometime in November. The parish is also planning a lessons and carols concert in December. Details about both events will be announced when complete.
From Chicago to Wichita
Kelly Monette and an associate installed the new organ before the Labor Day holiday. The installation included the console, the electronics, and the wooden and metal pipes. Another crew tuned and voiced the organ afterward.
Monette, a project manager for Berghaus Pipe Organ Builders in Chicago, said the parish commissioned the three-manual (keyboard) organ last year and spent the first two weeks of September installing the instrument in the choir loft of the church. The installation was interrupted by the pandemic, he added.
“We anticipate another two to three weeks to get the organ fully playing so that it can work well for liturgical worship, weddings, and funerals,” he said.
He and another Berghaus employee drove from Chicago to install the organ.
“It’s a team effort,” Monette said during a video interview. “I am one of the many craftsmen on the job. I wish I could list everybody’s name right now but I can’t.”
The organ is unique, he said, with many artisans contributing their expertise in steel and wood construction, low-voltage wiring, and acoustics.
A related story appeared in the March 6, 2020, Catholic Advance and is available at DigitalCatholicAdvance.org.