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Organ Maintenance

A maintenance project this past Friday, Nov. 11, called attention to a priceless treasure of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the organ. Though perhaps more easily overlooked than the other artworks adorning the church, the organ, with its 40 stops and 51 ranks, is a crucial and exquisitely crafted element of the church, and particularly of the liturgy.

This Noack organ was custom designed and built for the Shrine Church to produce maximum resonance throughout the entire space, from the nave, side altars, and dome to the main altar, where we encounter Christ in the Eucharist. The wooden chambers that hold the pipes were designed by Duncan Stroik, the Shrine Architect, and carved from African mahogany. The pipes visible to pilgrims are tin, but the organ contains other pipes made of lead and pine, producing a variety of tones. Pipes differ not only in their materials but in their shapes, each of which calls for a different tuning method. The components of the organ, all produced expressly for the Shrine Church, were made in various parts of the country and even the world; for instance, when replacement pipes were needed last year, the pipes were fabricated in Germany.

Here are a few more unique details about the Shrine organ:

  • It is tuned in the Vallotti temperament. Different temperaments produce different frequency effects between notes that hit our ears in a variety of ways.

  • The final tonal finishing was accomplished from the center of the Shrine church, meaning a well-trained musician with a keen ear stood at the center of the church during the organ’s initial installation and listened for imperfections in each pipe, and would then relay the information up to the organ technician, who performed the necessary adjustments, a process which takes weeks to complete.

  • There are 3 bellows beneath the main organ (pictured) and 1 beneath the smaller chair organ (positioned behind the organists back). The bellows are the mechanisms which furnish the pipes with a strong and steady airflow.

This complex instrument requires regular upkeep due to the effects of gravity, temperature, and humidity on the pipes and the mechanical connections between the keyboard and the valves. At least once a year, Noack Organ Co. Inc. provides a heavy maintenance service that takes roughly two days to complete. Light maintenance is also done locally as needed.

The recent maintenance service was the work of David Rooney who flew in from Georgetown, MA. Rooney began working with organs as an organ performance major in college and has worked in organ maintenance for 21 years. He also assisted in the original installation of the Shrine’s organ.

By the meticulous design and conscientious upkeep of the organ, the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe elevates pilgrims’ experience of the liturgy with first-rate sacred music. “The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art” (Sacrosanctum Concilium §112). Maintaining this musical tradition with care and devotion is one more way in which the Shrine offers the pilgrim an encounter with the Lord.