Cathedral Pipe Organ Ready to Make "Joyful Noise"

By Clay Schuldt, New Ulm Journal staff writer

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NEW ULM — The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity is ready to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” with the completion of a two-year project to install a new pipe organ.

Its previous organ, built in the 1980s by Dan Jaeckel of Duluth, was relatively young. But structural issues made the organ’s replacement necessary, said Cathedral Music Director Nathan Knutson. “You could push on a side and the wall would move,” Knutson said.

The old organ’s frame was made from plywood material with a shorter lifespan.

In June of 2015, the old organ was removed. After two years of refurbishing, the pipework and adding new equipment, the church’s new organ will be ready to play for an audience this month.

The new organ was designed by several companies. The wood work was done by JF Nordlie Company out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. JF Nordlie has built approximately 50 organs, but Cathedral is one of the largest the company ever built.

A Norwegian wood carver hand carved basswood pipe shades, with gold leaf gilding as well as other decorative imagery to match Cathedral’s interior.

The new organ was not completely built from scratch. Cathedral was able to recycle equipment from the previous organ for use in the new instrument. The old pipes were sent to a company in Ohio to be refurbished and returned for re-installation in the new organ.

The Cathedral was even able to incorporate its bell tower into the design. The organ requires a large air supply to produce sound. An air duct system was placed in the back to pull wind in from the bell tower.

Knutson said the church’s first organ used the bell tower for the same purpose.

The new organ will have more pipes than it’s predecessor. The new organ will have a total of 2,500 pipes, but Knutson said the instrument will not be any louder. Ironically, the greater number of pipes will allow the organ to play lower.

“The volume is the same but there are more pipes,” he said. “But with more pipes we can get a softer sound.”

Knutson gave assurances the organ will be able to produce the very Germanic and forceful tones Cathedral is accustomed to, but it will be able to perform the lighter music as well.

The organ’s keyboard uses a complex electronic system that expands the style of music that can be performed on the organ.

Asked how organs became the traditional instrument for churches, Knutson said it was the best instrument to lead a congregation.

“The physics to a organ make it very similar to a human voice,” he said. The organ requires a wind supply, the pipes are similar to vocal cords. Several parts of the organ share names with the human body, such as mouth, feet and lips.

Another benefit of the organ is its ability to sustain a sound. If a person holds down an organ key the sound will last as long as the key is held down and air passes through the pipe, whereas with a piano the sound dissipates as the string stops vibrating.

Cathedral will celebrate its new pipe organ with a series of events. Bishop John LeVoir will bless the organ at the 10 a.m. Mass on Sunday, Aug. 13. The Solemn Dedication Recital will be held two weeks later at 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 27. Acclaimed concert organist, Jonathan Ryan will be the featured artist. Additional concerts will be held throughout the upcoming year.

Knutson said the concert series will feature music ranging from Bach to modern organ composition to demonstrate the range of the new instrument. 

The cost of the new organ has been covered by Cathedral. The church was able to plan and budget for the new instrument for the last several years. Knutson believes it is a good investment. The new wood cabinet for the instrument should last over 100 years. The organ also features a state-of-the-art humidification system for the dry winter months. This should help maintain the organ’s rich sound. There are organ pipes in the world from the 1400s that still function to this day. It is possible this organ will grace Cathedral with beautiful music for generations to come.