Phase One and Two

Phase One – The tale of two consoles

The first phase focuses on the floor console. A little backstory will shed light on where we are today.

When the organ was comissioned, it was state of the art – electro-pneumatic action and computer system. That is, a computer that activates the pipework through pneumatic action remotely. This is how the organist can play at floor level. On many old instruments, as well as new instruments where it has been requested or is appropriate to the style, the organist is connected directly to the organ through a series of rods and linkages.

Today, the computer system is obselete and its hardware is no longer readily manufactured or supported by organ builders. Computer technology has progressed beyond anyone’s expectations in a mere 30 years!

Two consoles were built – one for the floor level (which is moveable) and one for the loft. Due to the cost, only two keyboards (also known as manuals) for each console were permitted. This presents a problem, principally that an organ that has three divisions of pipework and unique sounds (not including pedals, of course) should have three keyboards that can operate each set of pipes individually. A compromised system of relay switches is now in place – highly cumbersome to the organist!

The loft console also is problematic. Due to the live accoustics of the Basilica, any organist who plays in the loft is in danger of permanent hearing damage! Thus, the loft console has gone unused for more than a third of its life and is now totally disconnected.

When the initial meetings took place about possibly improving the organ organist Tiffany, explained the benefits it would make in all music performed on the organ. This led to a phone call to Casavant to explore how much adding a third manual would cost.

When Jacquelin Rochette, the Artistic Director of Casavant, visted the Mission in a preliminary consultation about the instrument, he put forth a brilliant idea – combine the two consoles into one! There was enough room, he said, to use the combined parts and make a “new” console. This allowed a savings of $100,000!

Fortunately, the loft console is in like new condition and will become the new floor console. Two more HUGE benefits were then revealed: without the console in the loft, the star window would be better seen from below AND the removal of the excess weight also paved the way for the addition of new pipework!

He confirmed that the electronic system was obselete and would have to be totally upgraded. This is where the entire cost of the second phase is, at a cost of $85,000.

The remaining console was initially considered to turn it into a small practice instrument as is common with organ at universities. But without additional fundraising, and more importantly, space, the remaining console will most likely be sold for parts.

Phase Two – Four new unique sounds

During the meeting with Jacquelin and discussing the weight reduction allowing for more pipework, the long standing issue of balance arose. Tiffany said she felt that the full organ with too loud for the Basilica and she couldn’t use two important stops on the organ – the mixture on the Great and the Trompette en Chamade (the forward facing trumpets). All those present at the meeting agreed that the instrument verged on qualities best described as “strident,” “piercing,” and “loud.”

Jacquelin explained that what may be perceived as loud may actually be something that is out of balance. After reviewing the organ specification, for which he was originally involved with in 1986, he suggested the following:

  1. Flûte harmonique (a flute sound)
  2. Salicional (a string sound)
  3. Salicet (an extention of the Salicional, pitched higher)
  4. Clarinette (a reed sound)

A Harmonic Flute (Flute Harmonique) is a pipe that was invented by the famous organ builder Cavaille-Coll, whose organs reside in many of France’s great Cathedrals (Notre Dame in Paris is an example) and is a unique flute sound that can be bright or dull depending on the demands. At the Mission, it would be used to help round the sound of the instrument. While it may be said that this stop is a “Romantic sytle stop” the Harmonic flute was well know the Praetorius (1571-1621) and thus could make sense on a “classical peroid instrument.” Here is a link to what this pipe sounds like (this is from a real Caveille-Coll in Mainz, Germany):

It can also be used as a solo stop:

The Salicional is what is considered a string stop, another sound that would add to the fullness of the organ. The salicional originates in the late 15th century as a rustic flute that evolved into the most common foundation stops on organs around the world. This sound is currently unavailable on the organ and will allow for interesting and varied texture sounds. Here is a link to what this pipe sounds like:

The Salicet is an extention of the Salicional – it sounds an octave higher. It first appears in the last part of the 18th century in Germany. Here is a link to what this pipe sounds like:

The Clarinette is perhaps one of the most exciting additions to the instrument. This stop has been described as being “better than its orchestral counterpart” and first appears in 1790 in Germany. It is a solo stop like the Hautbois (Oboe) and is a favorite of American and British organists. Here is a link to what this pipe sounds like:

The pupose of all of these additions is to add color and richness to the organ. The natural accoustic of the Basilica allows this instrument of small size to sound bigger than it is. You can add depth and color without necessarily adding loudness.

These additions, Jacquelin added, would be made to keep in the style of the instrument but without being dogmatic about what kinds of sounds can and cannot be used. Just the simple addition of these four sounds would make the instrument more versatile for liturgy and concert use!

To add these stops, a new enclosure would need to be made in the loft and a blower added. The total cost curently for this phase is $108,000.

The remaining cost lies with a final voicing and cleaning, shipping of the consoles back to the builder’s workshop in Quebec, and a newly fabricated enclosure for the pipes behind the reredos (complete with a remote motor for dynamic control. The current system is operated by a switch at the altar – you just have to run up there while you’re playing and switch it on!)

When Completed –

When all work has been done and everything ready to go, a year long organ celebration festival will be held. What better way to hear this instrument in it’s full capacity than in recital! Talks have already begun the nation’s leading organ soloists and teachers, all who have expressed an interest to come to Carmel and play. Stay tuned!

We thank you for your support!