The beautiful melodious sounds of the pipe organ are infrequently heard in parishes across the nation. Instead, in a supposed effort to be more appealing to the secular culture and today’s youth, parish ministers of music are opting for more “lively” instruments in their choir lofts, such as guitars, drums, and pianos.
But at Christendom College, the pipe organ still holds pride of place, and rightfully so.
The Vatican II document which talks of liturgical worship, Sacrosanctum Concilium, discusses the role that the pipe organ should play by stating that it should be held in “high esteem” because it is “the traditional instrument” which adds a “wonderful splendor” and “lifts minds up to God and higher things” (120). The 1967 instruction from the Vatican, Musicam Sacram, reiterated this sentiment as well, while the current General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which governs the celebration of every Mass, instructs the celebrants that the pipe organ should have “pride of place” among musical instruments (393).
Additionally, Pope St. John XXIII, just prior to the opening of Vatican Council II, gave some detailed remarks about the use of the pipe organ, explaining that besides adding solemnity and grandeur to a liturgical celebration, it can be seen as a way to lead to the sacramental mysteries of the Church, especially regarding unity, diversity, and eschatology. He referred to the organ as “the king of sacred musical instruments” because “its melodies make it easier for the mystical movements of the sacred event to penetrate into the depths of the soul; admiration of virtue or desire for it; resolutions of penance and purification; a longing for a more intimate union with God; a pledge to struggle against evil; a foretaste of the happiness of heaven.”
With all of that in mind, as the college prepares to begin construction on its new Christ the King Chapel, the need for well-prepared and skilled organists is essential, for in the new chapel there will be a magnificent new pipe organ, and the college will need students capable of playing it. Prior to that, though, the college uses its current organ at Mass each Sunday, as well as at other liturgical offerings throughout the week.
This past year, the college decided to increase its music offerings by expanding the music minor to allow for the attracting and recruitment of students interested in playing the organ in the chapel, by expanding the program to include a special emphasis on pipe organ studies, which will be of great interest to the Benedict XVI scholarship awardees.
The scholarship was created by college choir director Dr. Kurt Poterack, who has been involved in the selection and building of the college’s new pipe organ since its inception. As director of the liturgical music minor, Poterack, along with seasoned expert organist Dr. Jeffrey Alban who will provide the organ lessons, will guide awardees in becoming expert organists, expanding their repertoire as they serve the entire college community in the process.
This fall, four scholarships have been awarded. The first is for the principal organist position, which includes $5000 in tuition reduction and organ lessons throughout the year. The organist holding this position will play at the Sunday Masses. The second scholarship is given to the assistant organist position and includes $3000 in tuition reduction and lessons throughout the year. This organist will play at weekday Masses. Finally, two $500 scholarships were awarded to promising beginners which also allows them to have lessons throughout the year.
This year’s recipients are freshman Therese Ohotnicky (Principal Organist Position), sophomore Ian Simon (Assistant Organist Position), sophomore Maria Rechner (Beginning Organist Scholarship) and freshman Matthew Wright (Beginning Organist Scholarship).
This entire scholarship program is possible due to the $2 million donation of an anonymous donor who wanted a program to train Catholic parish organists. It is not just for the college’s personal benefit, but rather for the benefit of the whole Church, so that there might be highly trained church organists available to play in parishes around the country.