Tuesday, August 9, 2016
Catholic Culture: Organist
For 70 years my grandfather was the choir director and organist at the church of the Assumption in downtown Saint Paul, Minn.
He began this role on Christmas Eve, 1926.
These are images of my childhood: walking up the stairs with him, watching him arrange the music for the day, witnessing him sing his heart out while playing the organ.
My first church experience was in the choir loft, until I graduated to the sanctuary in 1988.
This was our ancestral church, along with a neighboring German church, St. Agnes. There were other German churches, too, such as St. Boniface and St. Bernard's. But we were loyal to ours.
Grandpa was in the choir loft most of his life. He played two Masses each Sunday, Stations of the Cross during Lent, and even weekday Masses.
He was happiest in the choir loft. His place was at the organ. Many times he told me: "Your reward will be in heaven."
Gramps once complained while we were walking from church: "Gregorian chant was supposedly the most perfect kind of music, then we were suddenly told to stop."
As an organist he was a gifted musician. He even wrote several of his own Masses, in Latin, with the Ordinary done beautifully.
The present organ he played dates from 1935 -- from the Kimball-Welte Organ Company of Chicago. It had 11 ranks of pipes.
In 2004, sadly, the parish restored and "renovated" the organ, adding contemporary age technology which meant 10 more ranks of pipes and electronic enhancements. The resulting tone of the organ does not fit the parish’s rich German history or the sacred liturgy.
It is too loud! That is a big problem in Catholic liturgies today in America. The organs are too loud. The choir cannot be heard. Even babies are sometimes frightened. At Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul the organ began to blast the Sanctus and kids in the church began to scream. When will pastors wake up? Some parishes have too much money on their hands.
Note to priests: your choir does not need to sing into microphones. And your organ does not need to be destroyed to be louder. And it's not a good enough excuse that you want your church to be able to host "concerts."
The Church needs organists! I was delighted to hear two of Grandpa's great-granddaughters aspire to play the organ at church. Let's hope they persevere -- pray for this intention.
Many of our best organists are Anglican. Let us hope the Church will produce a new generation of able choir masters to receive what has been handed on to them.
at 9:46 PM