Cover Feature St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church Camillus, New York Lewtak Pipe Organ Builders

By Lewtak, Tomasz | The American Organist, September 2008 | Go to article overview

Cover Feature St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church Camillus, New York Lewtak Pipe Organ Builders


Lewtak, Tomasz, The American Organist


The Church

The history of St. Joseph's Church in Camillus, New York, goes back to 1852 when the first resident pastor came to the parish and started to care for the religious needs of local Catholics. The original St. Joseph's Church was finally built in 1867. The congregation eventually outgrew the small space of the old church and in 1965, construction started on a new building-the cross-shaped church, with parabolic arches rising 90 feet and dramatic windows at the ends of each wing. As often is the case in situations when substantial funds are required for construction, the purchase of a new pipe organ had to wait. The delay turned out to be a long one-nearly 40 years!

For years, the rich and varied music program of St. Joseph's parish was supported by an electronic organ and a Kawai grand piano. During the fall of 2001, an opportunity came along, and finally the decision was made to begin construction of a new pipe organ that would fulfill the musical needs of the congregation and would aesthetically complete the church's sanctuary. That year, another church in the Diocese of Syracuse-St. Louis in Oswego, New York-was closed and the pipe organ from that church was purchased with the thought that it would become part of a much larger instrument at St. Joseph's.

The Old Organ

The old organ, a tracker consisting of two manuals with 21 stops was built by Casavant Frères in 1896 as their Opus 69, and it was the first organ from this builder to be imported to the United States.

At the time of acquisition, the Casavant organ was in a state of complete disrepair. It was obvious from the beginning that a true historical renovation was not feasible for two primary reasons: the cost and the size of the instrument. Even if the parish were to allocate the funds, St. Joseph's has a cubic volume approximately four times that of the Oswego church. The volume of sound required to fill this large space could not possibly be achieved from a rather small and softly voiced instrument. With heavy hearts and facing no other options, the old organ from Oswego was dismantled and moved to St. Joseph's in Camillus. Only the salvageable parts would be used in a new instrument. Virtually all of the old pipework was saved. A total of 1,202 pipes were moved to Camillus, most of which were in shoddy physical condition; some were badly damaged because of poor maintenance and careless handling. For example, an existing Mixture HI in the second manual had twelve original pipes missing in the center, a sign of an obvious "tuning accident" occurring many years ago. They were replaced with "stock" pipes that did not make any sense in terms of scaling and proper Mixture repetition sequence. Many wooden pipes also had visible water damage. The same was true for both manual windchests, which were also transported to St. Joseph's. From four pedal chests, only two were salvageable, with the remaining two damaged beyond any reasonable repair.

The New Tonal Design

Even though the old organ had to be dismantled, it became the backbone for-first and foremost-the tonal design of the new instrument. Ulrik Spang-Hanssen from the Royal Danish Music Conservatory in Aarhus, Denmark, was consulted, and a plan was devised for preserving the original stop configuration and augmenting it with a new third keyboard that would serve as the foundation for the "big sound." Very few old ranks have been shifted. What was acquired from the Oswego instrument became the second and third manuals (Positif and Récit) with some changes necessary to move the timbre out of the dark and 8' heavy character. The original configuration did not have any fifths or thirds among its stops. In addition, the first manual (the Great) had four 8' stops and one 4' stop; the second manual (the Swell) had a 16' Bourdon and a sub-octave coupler to the Great. New ranks were added with the purpose of not just strengthening the volume but, more importantly, brightening the sound of the organo pleno in these two divisions. …

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