I remember coming to audition day in March and seeing a delivery truck filled with organ parts parked behind the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. I knew the Basilica was due to receive a new organ, but I did not realize it would be arriving this quickly. It turns out that was the wrong organ. The Sacred Heart Parish church that meets in the crypt of the Basilica was the recipient of a new Rieger organ. The organ was donated by Durel and Barbara Reid from Dallas Texas, and it was built in Austria by the firm Rieger Orgelbau. The dedication concert on Wednesday night, September 10, displayed the value of this new instrument as both a versatile performance instrument and a leader of song. The organ has only 7 ranks dispersed across three divisions and is only eight feet tall, but the builders of the organ made every pipe and inch of space in the organ count. The swell box has plexiglass sliders to control volume and the pipes of only independent pedal stop, the Subbass 16’, are attached to the back wall of the organ. However, that independent pedal stop, along with a reed in the swell, and flue pipes at 8’, 4’, and 2’ pitch make it a very versatile instrument for its size.
The organ repertoire chosen for the program demonstrated both a performance and liturgical use for the organ. The Mendelssohn pieces played by Dr. Craig Cramer absolutely sang in the room, especially the Andante in D with Variations. They showed the warmth and beauty of the flue stops in the organ. The Prelude and Fugue in G Major, BWV 541, by J. S. Bach, was a splendid show of the organ’s contrapuntal capabilities. The liturgical aspects of the organ were demonstrated by Dr. Paul Walker, using liturgical music from four different Christian denominations to show the organ’s versatility. The Lutheran chorale settings of Bach demonstrated counterpoint and showed that great organ music does not necessarily require pedals. These three settings were written for no pedal, but that does not diminish their complexity or effectiveness a bit. The hymn Praise My Soul the King of Heaven was taken from the Episcopal tradition, with four different harmonizations, one for each verse, taken from the Episcopal hymnal. It demonstrated the organs’ purpose in church, to lead the song. The singing was so enthusiastic, the organ was temporarily lost in the space, though that is probably due to the number of professional singers in the room at the time. Under normal circumstances, this organ should lead song magnificently, though it would be wonderful to have congregations sing loudly enough to drown out the organ more often! From the Dutch Reformed tradition, a song about the calling of Simon and Andrew was the subject of a modern Neo-Baroque chorale setting which used some fun and modern technical devices which had the audience on the edge of their seat, especially when one of the variations just seemed to stop without any hint of conclusion. The Catholic tradition was represented by a setting of Ave Maris Stella by Charles Tournemire from his L’Orgue Mystique, which was an appropriate chorale, given the proximity of Wednesday to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The donors of the organ were both present at the recital. One thing that made them very happy about the organ donation was the opportunity the students would have to use it for practice. Organ playing has been labeled as a dying art quite often, unfortunately, and it is encouraging to see such a thriving organ program at a university dedicated to the church. That this organ can be used for both worship and teaching is quite fortunate and certainly something to be thankful for. It is indeed a cause for celebration that another beautiful-looking and beautiful-sounding instrument has found its way to the campus of the University of Notre Dame.
The parts of the organ began arriving in March of 2014, and they were slowly reassembled over the summer. Here are some pictures showing the progress.