March 2015 TAO Feature Article

St. Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, PA
Buzard Pipe Organ Builders, Champaign, IL

by John-Paul Buzard

It has been a high honor to design and build this organ for the Basilica Church of St. Vincent Archabbey. The new gallery organ of 51 stops and 72 ranks of pipes was installed beginning in July 2014 and completed in October. St. Vincent is home to the oldest American Benedictine abbey, a parish, seminary, and St. Vincent College, a coeducational four-year institution.

In 1998, I recommended replacement of the organ previously installed in the basilica. Mechanical failure spelled its demise; but it was only 30% as large as necessary to fill the building with sound and provide a generous variety of tone colors and volume levels to meet the abbey’s and college’s growing musical needs.

In 2007, we constructed a small apse organ and a con-sole to control it and the planned-for gallery organ. The apse organ, our Opus 40-R, is installed in two small chambers and utilizes the best pipework from the previous organ, as well as new stops. It is divided into two sections that may be coupled to any keyboard or pedalboard at any pitch—much like the divided Swells we have successfully employed elsewhere.

When the abbey was ready to build a gallery organ, the 17-year-old budget was insufficient and could not be increased. The dilemma was: if we built the organ to accommodate the budget, it would repeat the past mistake of being too small. So, we prepared the Choir division for future addition but installed the Great, Swell, and Pedal. This provides the abbey with heroic bodies of sound to support liturgical needs, accommodate a goodly body of organ literature, and accompany registrationally uncomplicated choral literature. The Choir division will feature orchestral reed and flue colors, and its principal chorus will be a secondary foil to the Great. A gallery console is also prepared for.

The Great is located on both sides of the organ immediately behind the large facades, with the Swell further back on the right; the Choir will be on the left. The 32and 16Trombone resonators and 16Double Open Diapason basses are made of wood and installed horizontally under the window; the remaining Pedal stops, the Solo Tubas, and Trombas stand around the window. The facade pipes are made of thick, polished tin from the Pedal 16First Open Diapason, the Great 16Double Open Diapason continuing from the wood basses behind, the Pedal 8Principal, the Great 8First and Second Open Diapasons, Harmonic Flute, and the Pedal 4Open Flute. The 16and 8octaves’ feet are lined with copper for additional strength. The manual key actions are electric-slider; the Pedal and unit actions are electric.


A full house at the dedication


The general visual design was suggested by the abbey’s resident artistic director, the Rev. Vincent Crosby, OSB. Decorations take their cues from the basilica’s colonnades. These include 24-karat-gold-leafed interlocking rings on a deep green background between maroon and gold-leaf stripes; blue rosettes with gold-leaf highlights are centered in each ring. All the woodwork is made of 11/2-thick solid white oak, the lower panels incorporating Romanesque arches in each opening.

Our firm’s “Classically Symphonic” tonal style (a term coined by a reviewer for The Diapason) is easy to describe, but challenging to carry out with artistic success. Buzard organs are intended to play music from nearly every historical and nationalistic school with musical éclat and flair. The difficulty is creating a cohesive, eclectic instrument with an individual identifiable musical personality. This is accomplished through the depth of experience and informed musicality of the principals of our firm, and the “refiner’s fire” of knowledge and craftsmenship, which our tonal director Brian K. Davis and his associate Jonathan Young bring to bear.

Components of just about every style of organ voicing are represented to some degree in each Buzard organ, but these elements are interspersed evenly so that a balanced eclecticism is achieved. We don’t build a “German Great,” a “French Swell,” or an “English Choir,” for example, which would be far easier. This even-handed dispersion of the style of the stops’ construction and voicing is one reason we could, in good conscience, prepare the Choir division for later.


The console made of solid white oak and Honduras mahogany; Buzard tonal associate Jonathan Young.

The basilica has a sumptuous reverberation time of 6.5 seconds; bass frequencies are nicely amplified by hard reflective surfaces on the walls, floor, and ceiling. Depending upon the piece of music played, you can imagine yourself in Paris, Haarlem, or York Minster!

The organ was dedicated in a solemn service and recital attended by nearly 1,200 people on November 23, 2014. Tonal associate Jonathan Young, who is finishing up his DMA degree in organ from the University of Illinois, filled in for the Rev. Cyprian Constantine, OSB, as recitalist, due to Fr. Cyprian’s need for emergency retinal surgery. The first public recital on the new organ will be played by Alan Morrison on March 21, 2015.

Deepest thanks to Fr. Cyprian; the Rev. Donald Raila, OSB; the Rev. Stephen Concordia, OSB; the Rt. Rev. Douglas R. Nowicki, OSB, and the entire monastic community. I am grateful for the dedicated staff of Buzard Pipe Organ Builders for their tireless efforts.

St. Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, PA in fall

St. Vincent Archabbey in fall


St. Vincent Archabbey

Speak Your Mind