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What is it like to play a pipe organ?

Sounds from the Woodberry & Harris Opus 100 tracker organ are heard well beyond the stained glass windows and granite walls of St. Mary’s Church. A professional organist must approach this intricate and integral device with respect. After all, the instrument has been played for more than a century.

“The technology in general is of a different generation,” says Daniel Sauceda, Parish music director and organist.

On a modern electric pipe organ, keys signal a blower to send pressurized air through a set of pipes. On the Church’s 1892 tracker organ, the blower is the only electrical component, but linked to every key and pedal to trigger any of 2,501 pipes. Some of the pipes are the size of pencils, and some are the size of cannons. Architects designed the pipes to straddle the enormous stained glass window in the back of the church.

Sauceda views the instrument as an early kind of synthesizer. Thanks to the variety of pipes and linkages, the organ can approximate the soft octaves of a flute, the boast of a trumpet, or the pulse of an oboe or clarinet. He says there is more for to think about when using “all the colors of the organ” when compared to playing a piano.

An experienced organist will harness the qualities of such an instrument, but also expect different organs to respond in different ways. On the Woodberry & Harris, the keys feel heavier because of older, non-adjustable pieces. “No two organs are exactly alike, that can play exactly the same, that can do the same things,” Sauceda explains.

Soon the instrument will undergo an extensive restoration by Andover Organ Company. When the project is complete, the rich and robust sounds of St. Mary’s cherished pipe organ will draw the admiration of churchgoers for years to come.

Watch our CatholicTV video advertisement for our upcoming Palm Sunday Concert, featuring the Woodberry & Harris Opus 100, renowned organists and performers, and splendid classical music!

Visit the Restoration section above to learn more.

Jeffrey Proctor