DECEMBER 2020 UPDATE
2020 has certainly been a rollercoaster of a year! Yet, through the difficulties and surprises common to us all we kept ourselves occupied at St. Francis de Sales Oratory. We are pleased to report that, excluding minor adjustments, the Wilhelm Organ is now completely installed, voiced and tuned!
The organ is now being played on a regular basis, every Sunday and then several times through the week. According to our organist and director of sacred music, Mr. James Marck, it is consistently playing well and adjusting well to the atmospheric conditions in the church.
A first, public showcase of its potential was made for our titular feast of Christ the King at the end of October 2020. We encourage you to take a listen! As impressive as the recording is, there is no comparison to the experience of hearing it in person. For all of those following our progress, we encourage you to stop by for a Sunday Mass at 7:30am or 10:30am to hear it.
This closes out the most important phase of the organ construction. This period was lengthened considerably due to travel difficulties related to the covid pandemic which impeded our builder from progressing as quickly as he would have preferred.
Now installed, we look forward to its thundering forth for many years to come!
The Rector thanks the advisory body which helped guide him in the direction of the project ever since his arrival in St. Louis last year. Most importantly though, he extends his thanks to the many benefactors from all over the United States. All of these friends had divers reasons for involving themselves in our project: love of the Oratory, love of organ music, love of the traditional Liturgy, love of St. Louis patrimony…just to name a few. Our collective vision has come to fruition!
We are in the final stages of completing our remaining bills totaling about $94,000.00.
Please consider helping us this Christmas to complete our goal. Thank you again for your devotion to our vision!
MARCH 2020 UPDATE
The Finishing elements to the St. Francis de Sales Organ installation have progressed steadily over the winter. We heard the organ’s first notes at the Midnight Mass. Though only one-third of the pipes were in, the impressive tones bellowing forth gave all in attendance an exciting taste of things to come!
As you can see from recent pictures, a very talented artistic plaster company was able to cast new pointed arch elements, positioned under the smaller, front case of the organ known as the positive. The process took longer than expected as the surfaces needing the decoration were not entirely flat, necessitating a dynamic approach was taken to produce a well-crafted, crisp detailing solution that is both sympathetic to the original plaster design of the balcony and sensitive to the insertion of the positive. One would never know that so much care had to be taken for this specific detailing. Soon, the scaffolding will come down and the case will look as though it has always been there.
In addition, during these past winter months a local electric company installed necessary upgrades to both light and power the organ. Power was brought to the organ balcony all of the way from the sanctuary of the church. As St. Francis de Sales Oratory is so large, this involved pulling hundreds of feet of encased electrical wire through the chase spaces of the building. Once the wires were pulled several track spots were installed on the nave pillars. This was done in order to correctly illuminate the elegant facade of the organ case and provide light for musicians and of course, the organist. New spot lights were also installed at the centers of the ceiling vaults that cover the choir loft area.
Dr. Wilhelm had planned to finish the pipe installation and voicing during March 2020. However, the recent quarantines related to the Covid-19 have held him up in Canada. He intends to come and finish as soon as normal international travel resumes.
This set back does not worry us though! Nothing good or important comes without snags and difficulties. The very fact that this grand instrument is now sitting in one of the most beautiful churches in St. Louis is an incredible accomplishment in itself! What is one more difficulty! for if Our Lord wills it, it will be done!
In addition to divine help, the project progresses through the steady efforts of the St. Francis de Sales Organ Committee, the members and friends of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, the Friends of St. Francis de Sales, and the DeSales Heritage Foundation. Thanks is especially due to all of those individual benefactors whose generosity has pushed us to nearly half of our $400,000 goal! Getting to the finish line of our final goal will be a challenge, but with so much interest behind this unique St. Louis project, we will prevail.
We ask you to please continue to let your friends know of our efforts and also encourage them to donate. We need everyone’s support in order to help finish what we have begun, thus beginning a new chapter in the musical life of St. Francis de Sales, the Institute of Christ the King and St. Louis.
OUR ORGAN MADE ITS FIRST PUBLIC APPEARANCE AT THE MIDNIGHT MASS ON DECEMBER 25, 2019.
Work will continue into the spring and we hope to be finished near Easter.
Your continued donations are making this all possible!
NOVEMBER 2019 UPDATE
To date, a tremendous amount has been accomplished towards the completion of organ. Beginning in mid-September, Karl Wilhelm assisted both by a technical crew from the Muller Organ Company of Columbus, Ohio as well as several members of our staff began assembly of the floor frames--the foundation, really--as well as the exterior white oak cases. Several weeks of work resulted in the completion of the cases, the installation of the 'wind chests' (the boxes filled with compressed air that all pipes sit on) and the connection of the delicate mechanism which links the keys to the valves allowing the air to enter the pipes which is a network of hundreds of levers, wires and springs.
As there are literally tens of thousands of pieces to this instrument, it probably isn't a surprise that the process of erecting an instrument such as this takes many months. It is a good indication of the even greater amount of time necessary to both design and build a machine such as this in the first place. One of the things which makes this instrument unique amongst all other instruments in the region is the extremely traditional methods which Karl Wilhem and his workmen employ in the construction process. The entire casework is fit together with mortise and tenon and literally locks itself into place piece by piece through the aid of gravity, The precision necessary to engineer such immense pieces of cabinetry is astonishing and a work of art in and of itself.
Once the mechanical linkage between the keys and wind chests is completed, the work will continue on to the installation of the stop mechanism. The large white knobs on either side of the keyboard are the 'stops' and, when engaged turn on various rows or families of tone within the instrument (all 2,670 pipes belong to one or another of 58 'ranks' or groups of pipes). Above the wind chest and connected to these knobs are large, delicate 'sliders' which were developed in Western European organ building beginning in the late Gothic period at a time when all of the pipes of the organ simultaneously sounded. The function of these laterally moving sliders with corresponding holes for each pipe was to "stop" the air from entering whenever the slider holes were not positioned under the pipe. Thus, the origin of the term 'stop'. Above these sliders are installed 'top boards' which the pipes actually sit on, as well as 'rack boards' which hold the pipes in place.
Once all of this mechanism is assembled, the blower (the only electrical component in our new organ--a modern replacement of the bellows pumpers of former centuries!) is turned on, the entire assembly checked for air leaks, and the holes which will hold the pipes will all be 'blown out' to remove dirt before for the pipes are put in place. Some of the first of the 2,670 pipes are now being installed including—most noticeably—the highly polished tin pipes of the facade. Thousands more will take their place behind them in the coming weeks.