The pipe organ is a musical wonder, “breathing” grandeur into every note. The great cathedrals of the world are known for their pipe organs, and some of the finest liturgical music was composed for them. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, in downtown Kansas City, which houses a Rufatti pipe organ selected, built and installed during the 2003 renovation project, is hosting a French Organ Music Festival Aug. 25.
Co-sponsored by Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, the central parish of the Episcopal Diocese of West Missouri, and the Kansas City chapter of the American Guild of Organists, the music festival will feature 10 musicians, seven organists, a hurdy-gurdy, an organetto and a bass baritone vocalist. The Cathedral Schola Quartet and the men’s chant choir will accompany several of the pieces. The selections will be French organ compositions of the last three centuries, and provide a new way to experience the pipe organ outside of the liturgy.
The festival, 1 – 5 p.m., Aug. 25, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 416 W. 12th Street, Kansas City, is presented at no charge. Free will offerings will be accepted.
Mario Pearson, PhD., director of music and liturgy at the Cathedral, “a thinking-outside-the-box type of person, always thinking of new paradigms and how to use music as a tool for evangelization,” came up with the idea for the organ festival a year ago while enjoying the annual Bachathon held at Grace and Holy Trinity. “I envisioned a French organ festival as a sister event to the Bachathon in May, the beginning of summer. This festival is at the end of the summer. We are fortunate to have two cathedrals in the heart of Kansas City with instruments and acoustics well suited to the music of Bach and French organ compositions.
“I pitched the idea to Mercy Sister Claudette Schiratti, here at the cathedral, and to John Shaefer, my counterpart at Grace and Holy Trinity. They both liked the idea and encouraged me, and here we are, a year later, getting ready for the inaugural event.”
Sister Claudette, an active member of the American Guild of Organists, past Dean of the Kansas City Chapter of the AGO, holds a Masters Degree in Piano Performance from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and a Masters of Sacred Music with concentration in organ from the University if Kansas. The former Director of Music for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, now retired, she performs, teaches, accompanies, mentors other organists and substitutes as organist in both Catholic and non-Catholic churches. She will open the festival with Jean-Adam Guilain’s Suite du Premier Ton pour La Magnificat, with the Cathedral men’s chant choir. She will also offer Jehan Alain’s Variations sur un theme de Clement Jannequin, with the Schola Quartet performing the Anonymous Air. Sister Claudette will conclude with Jean Guillou’s Toccata.
“We have a unique organ here at the Cathedral,” Pearson said. “It is a 51 rank instrument built in Padua, Italy, by the Ruffatti brothers. Piero & Francesco Ruffatti created a fine instrument for our worship space which is enhanced by the buoyant acoustics of the Cathedral.”
The organ features many fine stops, he continued, including a specialty stop called the Tromba Pontificale or Pontifical Trumpets, which can be seen as well as heard as they flank the rose window on the south wall.
The organ, in addition to the 51 ranks of pipes, is able to expand to more than 400 ranks through digital and midi technology capabilities that “work in concert” with the pipes, and yes, pun intended.
“Tone color is the most interesting part of the organ,” Pearson said. “It is a unique sound, and captures the composer’s imagination so beautifully. This festival will give organ music lovers the opportunity to experience interesting, talented performers of works by great French composers.”
The organ is one of the oldest musical instruments in existence, dating back to the ninth century, and written organ repertoire spans a time period almost as long as that of written music.
The music festival will use multi-media for the performances. A PowerPoint presentation, including performance notes, pictures and biographies of the composers, can be viewed for each performance. Pearson also plans a live feed from the organ console in the balcony so the audience can see and experience the organist’s performance. Each organist is expected to play about 30 minutes. The organetto and the hurdy-gurdy will be played about 15 minutes each.
“There will also be a French Café in the chapel, offering delicious treats,” Pearson said, “so you can eat while listening to the music.”
The other performers include John Deahl, organist for Barry Christian Church, North Kansas City, Mary Bronaugh Davis, Dean of the KCAGO, and Thomas Zachacz, parish musician for Redeemer Lutheran Church, Olathe, Kan. Rebecca Bell plays the organetto, a button accordion, and Bill Banks the hurdy-gurdy. The final performances will be Paul Erickson, organist and Director of Arts ministry, Parkville Presbyterian Church, Ronald Krebs, organist at First United Methodist Church and Vice President of Reuter Organ Company, both in Lawrence, Kan., with Douglas Lawrence, bass baritone who sang in Hollywood studios, has vocally accompanied major orchestras conducted by Berstein, Mehta, Rilling, Ormandy, and others; and now leads Trinity Episcopal Choir in Lawrence. Also, Dr. Jan Kraybill, principal organist at Community of Christ International Headquarters, Independence and organ conservator at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts will perform. Selections include symphonies, suites, music with religious themes, traditional and folk music.
“I think this will be a great festival,” Pearson said. “There will be several ways to enjoy the performances: reading the PowerPoint, watching the live feed from the organ console, or just sitting back in the pew, closing your eyes and letting the music breathe into you. That’s what a pipe organ is, the air going into the pipes is like breath going into a person, it’s life.”
Like the organ, which continues to evolve, Pearson hopes the festival will develop into an end of summer event that will attract organ music enthusiasts, and generate new ones.