It seems counterintuitive — spend $800,000 on a magnificent pipe organ and hide it from public view.
But that’s exactly how architects planned it 14 years ago, when St. Joseph Catholic Church was built, said Monsignor Liam Barr.
“We didn’t want to draw attention to the beautiful instrument, but draw attention to the beautiful music happening in the sanctuary. That is the essence,” Barr said.
“It is not about performance, It is about serving the sacred liturgy. Music is supplemental to that -- always.”
Such is the story of Opus 89 -- the 89th instrument made from scratch by Lincoln’s Bedient Pipe Organ.
The organ, completed in August, was installed over a three-month period this past fall and finished just in time for the Advent season.
A formal dedication and blessing of the organ will be held at 3 p.m. Feb. 16 at the church, 7900 Trendwood Drive. The public program will include an organ performance as well as performances by a brass ensemble and St. Joseph Church’s various choirs.
The Opus 89’s location, on a concrete ledge not much larger than the 22-foot-by-16-foot organ itself, posed a unique challenge for the Bedient team.
Before installation, the organ had to be completely dismantled -- all 10,000-plus pieces. Each piece was numbered and moved by hand up through a 40-inch-by-32-inch hole in the floor. Pieces, ranging from the size of a pencil to an 18-foot-long pipe the size of a tree trunk, were hefted up by ladder and hand-cranked pulley system, said Chad Johnson, the organ’s designer and 18-year Bedient employee.
The two-story organ was then reassembled over a two-week period.
Built in 2000, St. Joseph Catholic Church left space behind the rood screen at the back of the altar for the major pipes of a pipe organ, Barr said.
Purchasing a pipe organ was a long-term goal, said Mike Zeleny, director of music at the church.
“The rich history of using pipe organs in worship dates back hundreds of years,” Zeleny said. “It’s a lasting investment, and nothing can match the clarity, brightness and liveliness of the sounds produced by a pipe organ in enhancing worship and praise.”
Previously, the church used an electronic organ, which, Barr confided, “had been limping along for a while.”
In designing the organ, Johnson had to keep in mind that everything needed to fit through that rectangular hole in the floor.
“And that somebody had to tune this,” he said, noting its pipes and pieces needed to be accessible for long-term maintenance.
Designing the organ is like creating a jigsaw puzzle, Johnson said.
“You start with a basic size, paste it in and see what works, and manipulate it,” he explained. “The basic layout is: What can I fit in this space? The basic question is: How much will fit with the amount of money I have to work with?”
Bedient Vice President Mark Miller added, “You look at how much organ needs to fill the space and then look at the reality of the space. It is a lot of compromising and shaping.”
The organ’s design is dictated by the needs, desires and seating capacity of the facility, the acoustics and the music to be played.
“All (pipe) organs are one-of-a-kind,” Johnson said.
When it comes to music types, St. Joseph Church uses a bit of everything -- from hymns to chants to song, Zeleny said. While the primary purpose is to support congregational singing, the organ also will be used to accompany choirs and soloists and to play solo liturgical music and a wide variety of organ literature, Zeleny said.
“It is a little more diverse organ,” Johnson said, comparing it with some of the other organs built by Bedient.
The Opus 89 has more than 2,000 pipes, 40 stops (the individual sounds the organ can produce) and 36 ranks (which is like the individual voices of a chorus.
The difference between St. Joseph Church’s old electronic organ and the Opus 89 is phenomenal, the monsignor said.
Electronic organs use digital music. While digital components are essential to the workings of the pipe organ, its sounds are made by puffs of air traveling through the wooden and metal pipes of various lengths, diameters, thicknesses and shapes.
“The pipe organ sets air into motion like a live concert,” Miller said. “This is an actual living, breathing instrument.”
The Opus 89 is a beautiful instrument, Barr acknowledged.
“There is a real feel to it. It adds so much richness,” Barr said.
“But the instrument is not as important, in and of itself, as what it helps us do -- it helps us pray better,” he said.