The Organ of St Ignatius Church
By Stephen McDonald
(This article originally appeared in 'Christian Traveller' our parish magazine)
The pipe organ was built in 1897 in memory of Fr. Joseph Peters, a German Jesuit who spent 21 years based at Norwood. J.E. Dodd, the first local organ builder, made the instrument in the English style of the time. Located in the choir loft, the organ was restored by Leith Jacobs in 1988-89.
Our organ is a good example of a compact organ well suited to a medium sized church, especially with wooden floors and reflective roof to enhance the acoustics. Although it would have been adequate for the church prior to extensions, today it suffers both from lack of size and its location. The carpet and acoustic tiling*, plus extensions to the loft, all act to limit the sound (and discourage congregational singing), leading to the present situation when it is used irregularly on Sundays. It is, however, often used for weddings and funerals.
Like most small organs it has tracker action. All keys, pedals and stops are connected by rods and levers to the leather valves at the bases of the pipes. It is these elements that require regular maintenance and periodic refurbishment. There are two keyboards (controlling the great and swell organs) and the pedals, and 12 different stops or sets of pipes. The pipes are supplied with air from an electric blower. The type of sound made depends on the length and shape of the pipe, the type of metal or wood, and whether it has a flue (similar to a recorder base) or reed. The swell organ is enclosed within a box with louver shutters which can be opened with a foot pedal, altering the volume of this part of the organ.
In the longer term we would like to see the pipe organ used more in worship. The sound it makes is much more pleasant than the electronic organ. Several proposals have been put forward over the years regarding moving (to the site of the piano/electronic organ) or altering the organ itself, but none have come to fruition.
The role of music in worship has changed greatly since the organ was built. It now has to be suitable for congregational singing, as well supporting a choir in more specialised work.
It remains a versatile and valuable instrument. To buy a similar instrument new would cost upwards of $100,000.
The range of music sung at St. Ignatius is chosen as a selection of various styles, with some restrictions because of copyright charges. Overall, however, we sing a large amount of recently written music, including that of Chris Willcock (a Jesuit composer based in Melbourne). This is true of most local parishes. There has been a rapid evolution and growth in quality and style of Catholic sacred music over the past 30 years, with use of a range of instruments. In particular much of the music is specifically written for the piano. Some mourn the loss of the centuries old tradition of (mostly Latin) motets and chants, however we lack the choral resources at present to present these on a regular basis.
* (The acoustic tiling has since been removed. Webmaster)