From mediocre to magnificent, pipe organ swells in praise

From mediocre to magnificent, pipe organ swells in praise
James Freeman demonstrates the newly-renovated pipe organ at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church.

Aficionados of pipe organ music will have an opportunity to hear the results of a transformation to the pipe organ at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, which also underwent renovations over the past year.

The organ renovation was one of many projects identified by the parish’s Strategic Planning Committee, which launched a $2 million capital campaign in 2015 to remodel the sanctuary (extensive waterproofing, new pews and kneelers, new carpeting and flooring, painting, sound system, organ upgrades, acoustical improvements, landscaping, etc.), make improvements to the gym (new roof, acoustical improvements, sound system, new restrooms, painting and waterproofing, landscaping) and the school (new façade) and add a new rectory (land acquisition and build of new residence). Avondale resident Bill Schueth, a member of the parish, was in charge of construction, including the organ make-over, which was requested by David Emery, the parish organist.

“David suggested that we confer with James Freeman about the restoration needs of the organ. That in turn revealed that we needed to study the acoustics of the space and also our need to update our sound system,” said Schueth. “James suggested we talk with Scott R. Riedel and Associates as they are consultants that are experts in all three of these aspects that needed improvement.”

Freeman, a pipe organ technician, is well-known in Northeast Florida. When asked which pipe organs he has worked on, Freeman’s response was “It’s easier to ask which ones I haven’t touched…there are maybe two.”

Riedel, whose company is located in Milwaukee, Wis., works primarily with musical acoustics, but “one of the oddest [acoustic] things we’ve ever done was quiet the dog rooms in a shelter so the cats wouldn’t be afraid,” he said.

Renovation of the interior of the church began June 1, 2017. “We moved out of the church the end of May to the gym, which by then was upgraded to be adequate for Mass,” said Schueth, who noted the construction work was done by Paul Barton, owner of Auslyn  Construction and a parish member.

David Emery, St. Matthew’s Catholic Church organist; Bill Schueth, renovation project overseer; Scott Riedel, acoustical design and organ consultant; James Freeman, pipe organ technician, and Robert Rusczyk, church organ consultant

David Emery, St. Matthew’s Catholic Church organist; Bill Schueth, renovation project overseer; Scott Riedel, acoustical design and organ consultant; James Freeman, pipe organ technician, and Robert Rusczyk, church organ consultant

Inside the sanctuary, renovations included moving seating for the contemporary choir from the front up to the balcony and replacing the solid wood balcony railing with an open ironwork railing to enhance the organ’s amplification. The acoustical quality of the sanctuary was reworked to “make it more lively for organ play,” said Schueth.

“This was an older pipe organ which needed some fix-ups and improvements to make it work right; the pipes were re-voiced, some were replaced, new ones added,” said Riedel. “It’s been changed over time so it doesn’t have the builder’s artistic musical stamp on it anymore. Much of the original mechanism got changed out.”

Robert Rusczyk, church organ consultant, has done a number of projects with Freeman and was also put on the project.

The organ, built in 1993, at Wicks Organ Company in Highland, Illinois, originally had 18 ranks (sets) of pipes, 1146 total pipes, said Rusczyk. After the renovation, the organ now has 21 ranks totaling 1317 pipes.

“Nothing was really mechanically wrong,” said Rusczyk. “Part of the project was to tonally revamp the organ to make it more cohesive. The previous sound was functional, but not really descript. The console was completely restored. The interior keyboard, stops, pedal boards, mechanics and electronics are all brand new.”

One of the unique aspects of the sanctuary renovation was the loop hearing system installed in the floor for the hearing impaired or those who have a cochlear implant.

“It pipes the service, the music and the spoken word through the loop to the listening device. As we all get older, we all may need it,” laughed Schueth.

For those desiring to hear the newly refurbished organ, the Jacksonville chapter of the American Guild of Organists (AGO) will present a members recital April 10 at 7 p.m. at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, 1773 Blanding Blvd.


By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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