This fall, the cathedral celebrates an important birthday. 95 years ago, workers from Quebec arrived at the new church of the Most Blessed Sacrament on a train with a whole boxcar of wood, metal tubing, screws, wiring, leather, and pipes. These 3,504 pipes ranged in size from that of a narrow pencil to thirty-two feet. Some were made of a mix of soft tin and lead, while others were enormous trunks of wood. These French Canadians hauled the boxcar up Woodward Avenue to the corner of Boston Boulevard. There, they spent weeks assembling, voicing, tuning, and carefully crafting the boxcar full of goods into a beautiful pipe organ, tailored perfectly for the grand stone sanctuary of Blessed Sacrament church.
Today, the Casavant organ of the cathedral continues to ring out beautiful music from the choir loft. The instrument (the pipework) is approximately double the size of the instrument in the front of the church, which was installed during the renovation in 2003. Looking to the loft, you will notice the user interface of the Casavant organ, called the console, is in the center. The console includes three keyboards (called manuals), a keyboard for the feet (the pedalboard), and 43 little knobs, called stops. These stops control which pipes play when one plays a note on the keyboard. Each stop activates a set of pipes (called a rank) that include one note per key on the keyboard. If one wants a lot of sound, one adds more stops, much like adding instruments to an orchestra to create a thrilling crescendo. The expression “pulling out all the stops” comes from this concept.
The Casavant pipework sits in the bell towers on both sides of the loft behind grillwork of fake organ pipes. In the south tower, two keyboards of pipes (called divisions) are enclosed in thick wooden boxes three stories high. These boxes have thick wooden louvers that open and close to control the amount of sound that can exit. These louvers (called expression shades) are controlled by a balanced pedal near the pedalboard.
In the next birthday installment, I will describe how the instrument creates sound.
Joe Balistreri, Director of Music