The American Organist, September 2008
The history of St. Joseph’s Church in Camillus, New York, goes back to 1852, when the first resident pastor came to the parish and began to care for the religious needs of local Catholics. The original St. Joseph’s Church in the village of Camillus was built in 1867. The congregation eventually outgrew the small space of the old church, and in 1965 construction started on a new building—the cross-shaped church, with parabolic arches rising 90 feet and dramatic windows at the ends of each wing. As is often the case when substantial funds are required for construction, the purchase of a new pipe organ had to wait its turn. The delay turned out to be a long one—almost 40 years! For years the rich and varied music program of St. Joseph’s Parish was supported by an electronic organ substitute and a Kawai grand piano. During the fall of 2001, an opportunity came along, and finally the decision was made to begin the construction of a new pipe organ that would fulfill the musical needs of the congregation and would aesthetically complete the sanctuary of St. Joseph’s. That year, another church in the Diocese of Syracuse—St. Louis in Oswego, New York—was closed and the pipe organ from this church was purchased with the thought that it would become a jump-board for a much larger instrument at St. Joseph’s.
The Old Organ
The old organ, a tracker consisting of two manuals with 21 stops, was built by Casavant Frères in 1896 as their Opus 69. It was the first organ from this builder imported in the United States. At the time of acquisition, the Casavant organ was in a state of complete disrepair. It was obvious that a true historical renovation was not feasible for two primary reasons: the cost and the size of the instrument. Even if the parish were to allocate the funds, St. Joseph’s has a cubic volume approximately four times that of St. Louis Church. The volume of sound required to fill this large space could not possibly be achieved from a rather small and softly voiced instrument. With heavy hearts and facing no other options, the old organ from Oswego was dismantled and moved to St. Joseph’s in Camillus. Only the salvageable parts would be used in a new instrument. Virtually all of the old pipework was saved. A total of 1,202 pipes were moved to Camillus, most of which were in shoddy physical condition; some were badly damaged due to poor maintenance and careless handling. For example, an existing Mixture III on the second manual had twelve original pipes missing in the center, the sign of an obvious “tuning accident” occurring many years ago. These were replaced with “stock” pipes that did not make any sense in terms of either scaling or in the proper Mixture repetition sequence. Many wooden pipes also had visible water damage. The same was true for both manual windchests, which were also transported to St. Joseph’s. From four pedal chests only two were salvageable, with the remaining two damaged beyond any reasonable repair.
The New Tonal Design
Even though the old organ had to be dismantled, it became the backbone for—first and foremost—the tonal design of the new instrument. Professor Ulrik Spang-Hanssen from the Royal Danish Music Conservatory in Aarhus, Denmark was consulted, and a plan was devised for the preservation of the original stop configuration, augmenting it with a new third keyboard that would serve as the foundation for the “big sound.” Very few old ranks have been shifted. What was acquired from Oswego became the second and third manuals (Positif and Récit) with some changes necessary to move the timbre out of the dark and 8′-heavy character. The original configuration did not have any fifths or thirds among its stops. In addition, the first manual (the Great) had four 8′ stops and one 4′ stop; the second manual (the Swell) had a 16′ Bourdon and a sub-octave coupler to the Great. New ranks were added with the purpose of not just strengthening the volume, but more importantly brightening the sound of the organo pleno in these two divisions. The old Great (current Positif) received the 2′ Piccolo from the old Swell, and the original Dulciana 8′ was moved to the new Grand Orgue division. The old Swell (current Récit) received a new Nasard 22?3′, Principal 2′ and Tierce 13?5′. From the same division, the Trumpet 8¢ and Bourdon 16′ were moved to the new Grand Orgue.
The addition of a new first manual (the Grand Orgue) allowed not only for keeping the stop configuration as close to the original as possible, but also opened completely new sound prospects to build on and to draw from. This is the division that is by far the strongest. It is rather basic in terms of utilized ranks, not too far from the tonal character of the old instrument and yet created with the sole purpose of giving a complete Principal chorus to the entire instrument. The Cornet Harmonique III deserves special mention. It is a three-rank cornet (22?3¢, 2¢ and 13?5¢) consisting of widely scaled, overblown flute pipes with two small holes midway through the body length. The aural effect is quite unusual: the cornet combination has a far greater penetration and clarity of timbre
thanks to the characteristic “hollow” sound of the harmonic pipes.
Obviously the Pedal division required more power. This was simply achieved by adding to the original three stops (Double Open 16′, Bourdon 16′ and Violoncello 8′) a new Octave 8′, Cor de Nuit 4′ and a round-sounding 16′ Buzène, a reed stop with leathered shallots. It would have been an asset to have a mixture in the Pedal; however, the financial constraints made it impossible.
The New Façade
The difficult task of designing the façade for this organ fell on our shoulders after we approached various outside architects and artists. The problems we encountered with the architects were their lack of understanding the principles of how the organ works, not knowing what is and what is not attainable. There was also the lack of positive and healthy aesthetics. The objectives were quite simple: first, to fit the organ into the arch shape of the ceiling, and second, to show that this instrument blends the old with the new. An additional requirement came from the fact that it had been explicitly requested that the console must stay on the main floor of the church while the rest of the organ rests on a 10-foot high loft. The reasoning for this came from the liturgical documents of the Second Vatican Council, which dictates that the music ministry is not to be separated from the congregation. In the case of a tracker organ, it immediately makes things a lot more complicated simply because the linkage becomes dangerously long.
The design of this church building cannot be classified as “contemporary” but it may be described as “modern.” However, all throughout the building there are many elements of traditional architectural design: harmonious lines, time-honored proportions, and a lot of symmetry. The answer to all of these challenges came from my brother, architect Pawel Lewtak. He is the creator of the design that became a real head-turner among parishioners and visitors alike. In his words, his worst fear was to create another organ that would be sitting “up there” with the console that is placed “down there,” and one has little to do with the other. Instead, he created a homogenous shape that ties the top with the base in a seamless manner. The tower-like structure of segments gives it slenderness and allows for traditional pipe grouping. To reflect what is inside the organ case, the original façade pipes were kept in their distinctive clusters, and new groups of double flamed copper pipes were added. Copper was definitely the material of choice for its perfect blend with the surrounding color scheme.
There is one special feature of this façade that separates it from all others: mirrors, more specifically, forty of them! Hardly noticeable at first glance, they add light, depth, spark, and elegance. The mirrors are only four inches wide, and are of various lengths. They are placed in wooden frames in the spaces between the pipe clusters. They enhance the design by offering a true three-dimensional effect. As people walk through the church they are always viewing a distinctive picture with variegated light reflections, innumerable shadows and highlights, an array of geometrical shapes, yet all elements are well organized with pleasing aesthetic integrity.
The façade is made of white ash with mahogany ornaments, and the case behind it is made from birch and carefully selected white poplar.
The Mechanics and Materials
The key action is purely mechanical. It is referred to as a suspended action and was the only logical choice given our circumstances. Long distance between the keyboards and the windchests dictated absolute precision in the making of the tracker action. The longest linkage run is 33 feet and yet the average weight of the key—when the chests are under pressure—is only 120 grams. The action is not the least sluggish thanks to the employment of a pressure rail on the back of each keyboard with springs that remove some of the key weight. Each division has its own floating rail allowing for climatic changes of the wood of the trackers, which are made of red cedar. The squares are fashioned out of aluminum as are the rollers and roller arms. On the longest rollers, needle bearings were utilized to support the weight of each roller.
The keys are made of tight-grained pine covered with black African wood (grenadilla) for the naturals, and bone-on-maple for the sharps. The cheeks of the keyboards are white oak with ebony inlays. All windchests are of slider and tone-channel construction. Two old windchests (Positif and Récit) have been completely taken apart and restored to mint condition. In both, the pallets used are of a so-called “relief” type: in essence, each pallet consists of two pieces, one of which is being pulled down first thus releasing the pressure and breaking the initial resistance. After cleaning, releathering and complete re-regulating of all the parts, they work flawlessly. New windchests are made out of select yellow pine and have single pallets in all but the lowest octaves. In the bass, we installed two pallets per tone channel, but with sequential opening, which causes the touch to be the same as the rest of the keys. Pedal pipes are split diatonically and stand on either side of the case. The open 16¢ flute stands on its own two chests (C side and C# side). The remaining pedal pipes received two new windchests with space for both the old and the new ranks.
The stop action is state-of-the-art electric. The stop plates, made of grenadilla, hide behind them contactless switches. The system offers full convenience of 1,280 memory levels for even the most demanding performer. Half of the levels are lock-protected. The layout of thumb and toe pistons is very simple and offers some necessary redundancy. Couplers can be operated either by thumb pistons or toe studs. Also, the navigation through the system’s memory levels can be done either by hand, by foot or on the side by an assistant. There is one expression pedal for the Récit and a Crescendo pedal. The Crescendo, in order to work, first must be activated by a toe stud. It is fully programmable and has a digital level display from 0 through 30. A similar kind of digital level display is in place for the expression pedal of the Récit. The shutters are operated by a 30-stage, digitally controlled electric motor.
The organ utilizes a three-phase 1.5 hp electric blower with slow RPM. There are two reservoir bellows—one old one and one new— providing ample air supply to the whole instrument. There are three tremolos, one for each manual. Two of them have electronically adjustable speed of undulation right at the console.
Any organ is only as good as it sounds. Therefore, even though we spared neither time nor money on mechanical details, the most important element remained the voicing. All of the old ranks received some sort of voicing re-vamp. They had all previously been voiced down for a much smaller building. We made them more free speaking, definitely less obstructed at the toe. All of the old ranks were heavily nicked, which made things difficult at times. The new ranks were voiced with a little bit of chiff, just enough to make their speech more pronounced in the large acoustics of St. Joseph’s Church. The old reeds needed to be re-tongued in order to gain a larger sound. The Trumpet 8¢, especially, required more brilliance and volume in order to balance well with the rest of the Grand Orgue. The organ is tuned to a Tartini-Vallotti temperament, which gives it a pleasant color and tonal personality. The instrument has much to offer in terms of variety of sound colors as well as the dynamics and individual stop character.
From an organbuilder’s perspective, taking a vintage 1896 organ and bringing it up to present day expectations, and having an organ that could be used for church services as well as concert performances has been a personally demanding and ingratiating experience. In organ building, the idea is always to be creative while retaining the original elements and merging them with new technologies. It is rewarding beyond words when an artist sits down at the console and you begin to see the smiles of pleasure. It means you have accomplished your goal of creating the finest organ from available sources. Lewtak Pipe Organ Builders wishes to extend our sincere thanks to all volunteers who gave their time and energy to this most worthy project. We also thank the parishioners of St. Joseph’s Church of Camillus, New York, for their continuing understanding, patience and support.
The following craftsmen took part in the construction of the organ for St. Joseph’s Church in Camillus, New York:
Tomasz Lewtak – mechanical design, pipe scaling, voicing, woodworking
Pawel Lewtak – façade design, woodworking, traction
Gerry DeMoors – electronics, carillon, general construction
Kevin Reedy – general construction
Rita Ostrom – general construction and help with things that nobody else wanted to do
John Fergusson – woodworking.
LEWTAK Pipe Organ Builders wishes to extend our sincere thanks to all volunteers who gave their time and energy to this most worthy project. We also thank the parishioners of St. Joseph’s Church of Camillus, New York, for their continuing understanding, patience and support.
Lewtak Opus 1
St. Joseph’s Church “On the Hill”
Camillus, New York
8′ Grand Principal
8′ Flûte à Cheminée
4′ Flûte à Fuseau
III Cornet Harmonique
8′ Viole de Gambe
8′ Flûte Harmonique
8′ Voix Cèleste
4′ Flûte Harmonique
8′ Cor Anglais
16′ Flûte Basse
4′ Cor de Nuit
Mechanical key action
Electric stop action
Electronic register presets, 1280 memory levels
Wind pressure: 90 mm Positif, Récit & Pédale; 82 mm Grand Orgue
Couplers: III-I, II-I, III-II, III-P, II-P, I-P
Tuning A34=438 Hz at 18ºC