From the Builder
The palm trees, sunny skies, and white sand beaches of southeast Florida make it something of a paradise on earth, a place unlike any other in America. Yet within this paradise lies a unique haven of beauty and wealth: the town of Palm Beach. Crossing over from the mainland on the drawbridges that span the Intracoastal Waterway, one is transported to a different time and place, where genteel manners abound and an appreciation for the arts is commonplace.
St. Edward Catholic Church in Palm Beach is a case in point. This gorgeous Spanish Renaissance–style structure was completed in only nine months, with Mass celebrated for the first time at midnight on December 25, 1926. Three sets of bronze doors welcome visitors into the ornate vestibule, flanked by chapels dedicated to St. Anthony and St. Theresa. Passing into the nave, one sees sunlight flooding through vibrant stained glass windows, given to the glory of God by such patrons as Mrs. William Randolph Hearst. The impressive Altar of the Sacred Heart, made of Carrara marble, is situated in the apse, which is over 40 feet tall, painted with a mural of the twelve apostles, and surmounted by a depiction of the crucifixion. The church is a breathtaking edifice dedicated to the glory of God. And as the home parish of president John F. Kennedy when he was resident at the “Winter White House,” it carries with it both national pride and historical significance.
In 1937 the Geo. Kilgen & Son Organ Company was awarded a contract for the installation of a new 30-rank instrument. This organ, completed in 1938, was under the direct supervision of Alfred G. Kilgen and was one of the company’s last instruments. It faithfully served the congregation for over 70 years in its original configuration. Unfortunately, a fire in 2018 rendered the organ unplayable, and steps had to be taken for its renovation.
On inspecting the instrument, we found that the console had sustained the most damage. Our initial recommendation to the church was to replace the console and solid-state technology, and to perform minor mechanical work on the balance of the organ to restore its playability. Once the new custom three-manual console was completed and returned for installation, it quickly became apparent that, while the instrument would be playable, years of deferred maintenance were keeping it from being the majestic organ the parish required. Given the age of the mechanical components, the problematic ventil chests (and their seaside environment), and various installation and access issues, our recommendation was to retain most of the instrument’s tonal character, completely renovate its mechanics, and fill some tonal gaps with new pipework. Based on this proposal, an agreement was reached to build a mechanically new instrument with tonal additions.
Before we milled the first piece of lumber, we built the instrument out in 3D drawings, in order to allow the best possible fit within the room while still giving the pipework purposeful egress for sound to properly develop. Thanks to this exhaustive process of design and engineering, the instrument’s success was virtually guaranteed from the start. In addition to proper pipe placement, the new layout allows ample service access, giving technicians the ability to reach every component with minimal effort. And, as with many other instruments, 3D rendering enabled us to mitigate the often-overlooked difficulties of long-term maintenance and its potential cost to clients.
The process of precision drafting allowed the installation to progress without any complications, paving the way for our tonal finishers to apply their art. The Kilgen pipework was regulated for the new action while retaining the ensemble balance of the original installation. Additionally, the complementary harmonic stops were voiced to blend seamlessly with the existing pipes, creating diverse colors that round out the specification.
The broad, majestic sound of the completed instrument will carry itself proudly into the next generation, inspiring all those who worship at St. Edward.
From the Organist in Residence
I have been blessed throughout my almost 40-year career to play many of the world’s great pipe organs, and my new position at St. Edward Catholic Church has brought me to yet another fantastic, inspiring instrument. Sitting at the new drawknob console, beautifully crafted by R.A. Colby with elegant wood carving and the latest technology, one might assume that this is a solid, midsize three-manual organ with every necessary tone color. Upon playing each individual stop, however, it quickly becomes apparent that there is much more to this instrument than meets the eye. Each voice exhibits fullness of tone, otherworldly character, and amazing blending qualities that are rare in organs of our time. The lavish scaling of the wood and metal pipes—from a bygone era when environmental rules and costs were very different—gives this instrument the tone color and majesty of a cathedral organ. Simply put, its 30 ranks give the impression of an instrument three times the size. Surprises in registration abound in the supercouplers, all with necessary extensions, meaning that one can play any repertoire on this organ to great effect. The Walker digital voices are scattered judiciously throughout the instrument, and they blend perfectly with the almost 100-year-old pipes.
From the Pastor
An organ of any type can only augment a congregation’s liturgical experience if it truly fits the space. Every consideration must be made with respect to the size and capabilities of an instrument in a given room, especially if there are alcoves, porticos, or an apse. Additionally, as with the wandmaker Ollivanders in the Harry Potter series, the organ is chosen for the church, not the church for the organ. The instrument finds a home at St. Edward in a perfect space, and it resonates perfectly throughout the building. It is an incredible feature of this magnificent church.
St. Edward is, and will continue to be, a traditional Catholic parish—one for which the pipe organ remains the instrument of choice. This beautiful Kilgen/Colby instrument allows the beauty of Catholic liturgy, especially the Mass, to shine through. Being able to “feel” the organ, especially when it is played by true professionals, allows church music to complement the prayers of the faithful.
Whether or not St. Augustine really said that “one who sings prays twice,” the music of faith must be sung in each person’s heart before it can be vocalized. As an instrument of accompaniment, the organ lifts our prayers to the rafters, and as a vehicle for liturgical organ music, it redirects our souls to the music of heaven. In both cases, the instrument is not merely passive—it is truly alive.
The Right Reverend Archimandrite Glen J. Pothier
Photos: Carrie Bradburn, Capehart Photography