St. Anne's historical pipe organ in need of restoration

Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - Updated: 2:07 pm

By Paula A. Smith Correspondent

One of the most resounding relics of early church history in the Diocese of Pittsburgh is a pipe organ with some original pipes dating back to 1900. The organ is in use at St. Anne Church in Castle Shannon, which is part of St. Paul of the Cross Parish.

The illustrious organ that majestically resonated with sacred hymns and music and inspired the faithful to praise God since the turn of the 20th century, is in need of restoration.

Three upcoming fundraisers are planned to support the repair work. Information on the events to support the organ restoration can be found on Page 2.

This historic instrument is significant because it was formerly used at the second and third (present) St. Paul Cathedral under the leadership of five diocesan bishops from 1900-62: Bishop Richard Phelan, Bishop J.F. Regis Canevin, Bishop Hugh Boyle, Cardinal John Dearden and Cardinal John Wright.

In 1900, Andrew Carnegie gifted an organ built by the renowned W.W. Kimball Co. of Chicago, the world’s largest piano and organ manufacturer in the 19th and 20th centuries, to the second St. Paul Cathedral. The organ was a large, three-manual instrument built with superior craftsmanship and the finest materials. It was initially installed at the cathedral and dedicated on Sept. 27, 1901. The last Mass held in the church building was in May 1903.

While a new cathedral was being built at Fifth Avenue and North Craig Street in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, Carnegie paid to have the organ disassembled and shipped from the former cathedral to a storage shed on Craig Street. The organ was stored in the shed until the cathedral was constructed. Upon completion of the building, the organ was reinstalled in the loft and the new St. Paul Cathedral was dedicated in 1906.

After 58 years of use at two cathedrals, the mechanical components were wearing out on the Kimball organ and it needed to be rebuilt. A new Rudolf von Beckerath organ was made to replace it and installed in the cathedral in 1962. At the time, the newly constructed St. Anne Church was in need of a pipe organ, and the Kimball model was donated to the church the same year.

Tellers Organ Co. of Erie was contracted by the church to repair the Kimball and build a new, three-manual instrument using most of the pipes from the Kimball. Because the organ’s mechanism was entirely new at the time, select new pipework was added and the instrument was able to perform a broad range of organ music. The process was completed and the Kimball-Tellers organ was installed in 1964.

Over the years modifications were made to the organ, but the overall tonal aesthetic has remained the same. The organ possesses 40 ranks of pipes and 46 stops, and is said to fill the church with a rich, full and colorful sound.

Fifty-five years later, Brendan Lowery, music director for St. Paul of the Cross Parish, worries the organ may just stop working. He pointed out three significant areas of organ restoration to be addressed: mechanical, tonal and the console.

“The mechanical aspects of the organ are failing drastically,” said Lowery, who has a master’s degree in sacred music from Duquesne University, has served as director for three years and has worked in the diocese for eight years. “The same craftsmanship is hard to find today. This Kimball pipework is valuable material.”

Each of the pipes sit on wind chests that are not functioning properly. This results in a lot of dead notes, keys that stick and ciphers (when a note is hit it continuously rings), and many wind leaks that make a “shhh” sound after turning on the organ. On several occasions, Lowery has used a 20-foot ladder to reach the organ chambers and pull a cipher. One time he played the entire Mass on the piano because of a massive cipher.

Regarding tonal repairs, Lowery said in some places the pipes have collapsed and are held in place with duct tape and wires. Repair of the pipes is essential for revoicing so the organ sounds good in the sanctuary of the church. There are different acoustics in different churches and rooms. The organ should be made specifically for St. Anne and be as much an individual part of the church as the altar, artwork and marble floors, he said.

A new console needs to be installed because the present system that controls stops and allows the organist to recall multiple stops at the push of a single button is cumbersome, complicated and difficult to service. There is only one level of memory, and that requires the organist to change settings every time a different piece of music is played. Leather has dried out and needs to be replaced and portions are not functional.

Luley & Associates of Pittsburgh, pipe organ builders, was selected from many proposals to begin a multi-phase rebuilding project for the organ. Joseph Tuttle, vice president, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in organ and sacred music from Duquesne University, focuses on pipe restoration, carpentry, wiring and field maintenance.

“A pipe organ requires a major overhaul every 35 to 45 years depending on its design and the environment in which it is situated,” he said. “Air pollution, changes in temperature and humidity, and the skill of technicians all factor into the working lifespan of the organ.”

According to Tuttle, the antique Kimball pipes are “generously scaled,” which was standard at the time of the organ’s original construction. All of the surviving Kimball pipes will be restored and incorporated into the new organ. He considers the preservation of older pipes, as is being done at St. Anne, to be a good way of perpetuating the initial investment because they are so well made.

Tuttle said future phases of rebuilding will see the complete replacement of the mechanism of the organ with a new design to eliminate the majority of perishable leather components; restoration of the organ chamber; restoration and revoicing of the pipework; and select additions and replacement pipes.

“From a parishioner’s standpoint, most people just hear the music playing,” said Karen Xander, who has been a member of the parish for 13 years, sings in the choir and serves on the committee for the Pipe Organ Renovation Fund. “They don’t realize all the things mechanically wrong with the organ.”

The estimated cost for a full restoration of the organ is approximately $450,000. However, Lowery said a brand new, comparable pipe organ would be about $1 million.

“Another restoration would not be needed for another 50-75 years,” he said. “It’s a generational investment. We have the valuable pipework and we have the opportunity to make it one of the best organs in the diocese to elevate worship services.”

Father Michael Caridi, pastor of St. Paul of the Cross, said it is important to restore the organ at the church for a couple of different reasons. He considers it an important part of the church’s patrimony.

“The fact that St. Anne’s was able to acquire such a historical organ when the church was built in the early ‘60s was a real blessing and quite remarkable,” he said. And because St. Anne is a very large and beautiful church, it requires a significant and substantial instrument to celebrate liturgies in a noble and appropriate manner, Father Caridi added. The current organ is such an instrument. To restore it is much more viable and affordable than to replace it altogether.

Jim Hanna, pastoral associate at the parish, agreed.

“Sacred music enhances the liturgy,” he said. “With the organ’s connection to St. Paul Cathedral, we want to preserve that as much as possible because it’s a unique pipe organ.”

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