St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church San Antonio, Texas John-Paul Buzard Pipe Organ Builders

By Buzard, John-Paul | The American Organist, June 2010 | Go to article overview

St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church San Antonio, Texas John-Paul Buzard Pipe Organ Builders


Buzard, John-Paul, The American Organist


St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church, San Antonio, Texas, is a vibrant Christian community of 5,000 families located about 20 minutes north of San Antonio International Airport in a new residential neighborhood on Thousand Oaks Drive. It has a well-deserved reputation for superior community outreach, building several Habitat for Humanity houses per year and operating a traveling meal program for the needy. Former organist and director of music and liturgy Lena Gokelman contacted me nearly twelve years ago to share ideas for a new organ for the large church building then being planned. She and the church's consultant, Fr. James Brobst, traveled to Illinois to hear and play our instrument at Holy Family Catholic Church in Rockford, and were immediately convinced of the need to have the Buzard sound and visual sensibilities for the instrument's total impact at St. Mark's.

St. Mark's had no pipe organ in its original, temporary sanctuary, and the majority of parishioners had never heard nor seen one. It was a daunting endeavor to educate the parish to the difference a pipe organ could make in their liturgical and musical lives, and then convince them that they needed one! A long-standing parishioner was convinced, and through his anonymous fiscal generosity made it happen.

This is our 38th new organ. All our instruments are designed to marry themselves to the architecture and interior design of a church but without an excess of decoration or expensive opulence. This organ was designed to visually complement the sculpture of the Christus Rex, incised into and built out from the brick wall at the front of the assembly. The simple pipe shades at the tops of the facade frames curve and reverse upon themselves, allowing the eye to find nice things to feast upon, yet always returning to the sculpture of Christ the King.

The building seats about 1,000 people, and is surprisingly lively in its acoustical environment. The organ itself is raised 18 feet above the floor and sounds nicely down the building's axis. Sonically, it fills the entire room whether played soft or loud. The woodwork in the facade is solid white oak, stained and finished to relate to the church's other woodwork. Pipes in the facade are made of polished tin and flamed copper.

Two sets of horizontal trumpets provide the aural excitement that a pipe organ can bring to a solemn liturgical occasion. A high-pressure Tuba made of polished tin is in the organ's facade; a polished copper set of Pontifical Trumpets on lower pressure is mounted over the entry doors. Lest you think that resources were squandered on an unnecessary luxury of two chamades, they were included only after the organ's installation area had been completely filled with the stops necessary for a properly conceived and executed specification.

The choir is located in a "bump-out" area to the right of the building's axis, effectively in another acoustical room. Since the singers could not clearly hear any sounds naturally created in the main body of the church, we built a four-stop Choral Organ to accompany them. It is housed in a small freestanding case that stands behind the choir. These four stops are of sufficient tonal variety and volume gradation to support the choral singing in perfect balance. Stops from the main portion of the organ may also be used to color the Choral Organ's sound or play obbligato lines of accompaniments.

The instrument contains 35 independent stops and 43 ranks of pipes across three manuals and Pedal. As in all Buzard organs, there is a wealth of tonal variety, even when the instrument is modest in size. At the hand of tonal director Brian Davis, no two diapasons sound exactly alike; the flutes are liquid in tone and often take their cues from their orchestral counterparts; strings impart a warmth and shimmer to the palette. The chorus reeds are spectacular, each stop having its own depth and degree of éclat; the plaintive Continental-style Oboe is a tremendously effective solo player, but also subtly colors the Swell flues. …

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