Our Pipe Organ

Organ Lesson #2

In my first position as director at St. Aloysius in Bowling Green, OH, I spear-headed a five-year organ search project, which resulted in the installation and dedication of a beautiful Letourneau trackeraction pipe organ. As a result of that experience, I then consulted with other parishes undergoing the same process in the Diocese of Toledo, OH. I am thankful that I can use my past experience to benefit St. Paul of the Cross.

The next two articles will illustrate the mounting mechanical issues we are experiencing with the organ and how they affect us musically.

1.) Reversed expression (swell) pedal.

When looking at the organ, one notices the vertical "shades" on either side. These shades are operated via a respective foot pedal (much like that of your car accelerator and brake pedals). This allows the organist to create dynamic shading (gradual changes from loud to soft, soft to loud). This has happened on multiple occasions. Each time, we have had to live with it for 4-6 weeks until we can get the organ serviced. It recently recurred over the course of the summer during a very busy funeral and wedding season. While it was possible to fix it this time, we have learned that it is an issue with the (separate) AC power supply to the swell shades. It has reached the end of its life, and it would be costly to replace. (We have two divisions of the organ with these expression pedals. When one is faulty, the two pedals are working in reverse of each other, which requires a true mental shift.) Imagine if your cars' computer went haywire and your accelerator or brake all of sudden worked in reverse.

2.) Combination action.

This component of an organ allows the organist to set certain stops and then put them in a memory bank, which can be recalled quickly at the push of a button (piston) in a rhythmic manner. (It works similarly to the presets on a car radio). In instances where a preset does not "take," the organist has to quickly try to change registration (selected organ sounds) mid-piece--or stop and start over. This is a tremendous "no-no" in terms of musicianship, and when it happens during the course of a liturgy, it is highly distracting and somewhat embarrassing.

One issue occurring is "ghost stops" turning on without being selected by the organist. The Harp and Flugelhorn from the Choir division have decided to "chime in" at the most inopportune and unmusical time. For Ed, this recently occurred during the lovely and quiet Canon in D during the bridal procession of a wedding. The second issue is entire levels of memory vanishing. Perhaps the most stressful instance was on Christmas Eve when I arrived to warm-up and found that an entire level of memory vanished. It takes weeks to prepare all of those registrations, and I had to scramble to reset everything in time for Midnight Mass.

In efforts to avoid these problems, we now hand-register whatever we can and use presets as a last resort. Whenever possible, we have stopped performing pieces that require too many changes.

To be continued...

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Contact Information

St. Paul of the Cross

320 South Washington Street
Park Ridge, IL 60068

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Phone: (847) 825-7605
Fax: (847) 825-5186

Mass Schedule


7:30 a.m. - Upper Church
9 a.m. - Upper Church & Holy Family Chapel
10:30 a.m. - Upper Church & Holy Family Chapel
12 p.m. - Upper Church
5:30 p.m. - Upper Church

Monday - Friday

6:25 a.m. - Upper Church
8:30 a.m. - Upper Church


8 a.m. - Upper Church
4:30 p.m. - Upper Church & Holy Family Chapel