Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was touring Rome with his father. As it was Holy Week, the two of them attended the Tenebrae services at the Vatican. He was mesmerized by Allegri’s Miserere but knew well that this piece was played only twice during the year, and that the sheet music was given only to three important figures—the King of Portugal, the great composer Giovanni Battista Martini, and Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I. Mozart perceived this as a minor barrier. The 14-year-old listened attentively at the Mass and rewrote the entire piece later from memory. As the story goes, Pope Clement XIV was so impressed when the news reached him of Mozart’s ability to transcribe music so precisely, he bestowed upon him the Chivalric Order of the Golden Spur—a papal knighthood.
The love and respect for ecclesiastical music in this story is inspiring, but it does beg the question: would this ever happen in the Church today? Does our liturgical music so completely transform us and uplift our minds to the Divine in the same way it captivated young Mozart? If it does not, perhaps it should. Over the last several decades, the Church has witnessed many changes, one being the deterioration of church music in America. It has become far less common to hear the traditional sound of an organ during the Mass or the angelic tones of a church choir resounding from the choir loft. Music has become more commonplace. Often when you enter a modern church—despite good intentions—the music seems more fit for a campfire than the royal court of our King.
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The restoration of beautiful liturgical music has always been a priority at Christendom College. Thanks to the generous donations of anonymous donors, the Sacred Liturgy at the new Chapel will be enhanced through beautiful organ music. The anonymous donors funded the construction of a traditional handcrafted pipe organ, in addition to scholarships to train student organists and prepare them to take the beauty of the Sacred Liturgy with them wherever they go.
After careful research and consideration, Kegg Pipe Organ Builders, based in Hartville, Ohio, was entrusted with this great project.
Charles Kegg, artistic director at Kegg Pipe Organ Builders, oversees the initial design work. He meets with the client, and, after careful consideration of the client’s needs, designs the visual display as well as the console. Kegg also oversees the initial tuning of the pipes and the final sound of each organ.
“Each organ bears my name, and, in many ways, they are my children,” he muses. “They each are different, with their own personality, but you can tell who the father is.”
Kegg’s favorite part of the process is the design stage, where ideas slowly become reality. He explains that most employees at the family-run business come to them with some sort of mechanical background or with woodworking experience.
“Some have a primary musical background,” he notes, “but most have come to love the organ by on-the-job training. This is a craft in the truest sense of the word. The Kegg shop has been compared to Santa’s workshop on many occasions. We have fewer candy canes and only seasonal Christmas décor to tell us apart.”
The initial steps in designing an organ begin with a simple conversation. The musician and organ builder discuss and agree on the musical design, as well as how many sets of pipes will be included. This design is influenced by the musical needs and desires of the client, as well as the budget and space available. The organ is first sketched out, including a basic layout of the pipes.
From there, a proposal is presented and approved by the client. The builder then completes blueprints of every part of the organ. These drawings resemble the construction drawings of a large building, with all the details. In the case of the Christ the King Chapel organ, its drawings took about 10 months to complete. From these finalized drawings, the new organ is constructed in the shop and assembled. The current process takes approximately 14 months for a shop of eight people to build.
“This is a craft in the truest sense of the word. The Kegg shop has been compared to Santa’s workshop on many occasions.”
Once complete, the organ is disassembled, and each piece is marked for reassembly in the church. The pieces will arrive in two semi-trucks, and the same Kegg crew that built the organ will reassemble it in the new chapel. Once the organ is properly installed, Mr. Kegg and his assistant will make careful adjustments to each of the 2,825 pipes in the organ.
These adjustments are called “voicing” and include pipe tone, volume, attack, and release. During this process, which can be completed only once the organ is in its final acoustic home, each stop is balanced between its mates within each section of the organ, and each section is balanced between the other sections. The installation of the organ will take two to three weeks for a crew of six people to complete. The voicing process is where the organ is turned into a fine instrument and will take two people approximately six weeks to complete.
When asked which part of the process is most rewarding to him, Charles Kegg says it is twofold:
“The first being the signing of the construction agreement. This is when a client shows in an outward and visible way that they have faith in their selection of builder. It is exciting and humbling. The other time that is most rewarding is installation time. At this time, the excitement and energy are running at the highest level as everyone sees the organ become real before their eyes, after years of work and waiting.”
The Christendom community is hopeful and excited as everyone awaits the completion of the beautiful new chapel. The college is particularly grateful to all those who have made the construction of the new chapel and the new organ possible, and to Kegg Pipe Organ Builders for their dedicated service to the college in helping to bring traditional, beautiful music back into our churches and restore all things in Christ.