Pipe organ with historical ties to Iowa gets new life at Cedar Rapids parish
By Katie Mills Giorgio
Special to The Witness
CEDAR RAPIDS — Parishioners will certainly notice the musical improvements to the celebration of the liturgy at St. Matthew Church in Cedar Rapids with the debut of a newly installed pipe organ.
Andrew Kreigh, director of music and liturgy at St. Matthew, said he is very excited to see the ways in which the parish has breathed new life into the pipe organ and how it will in turn breathe new life into the musical worship at each celebration of the Mass. “This pipe organ is really going to create a special environment, acoustically, for people to worship,” he said.
The organ itself has a rich and interesting history. It was first built by Wicks Organ Company of Illinois in 1966. Shortly after, it was installed in First Christian Church in downtown Cedar Rapids where it helped church members there worship for several decades.
Kreigh said when looking into the history of the organ, he was delighted to learn that a founding professor at the University of Iowa’s organ performance program oversaw the building of the organ and played the dedicatory recital on the organ in the late 1960s. Kreigh is currently a masters of organ performance candidate at the University of Iowa, so seeing this project come together has been particularly exciting as Kreigh will now play that very organ which has historic ties to the University of Iowa.
During the devastating flood of 2008 in Cedar Rapids, First Christian Church was inundated with flood waters. Luckily the organ, which sat upstairs in the choir loft, was spared. Unfortunately, the church did not rebuild post-flood, and in 2010 there was an auction to send the organ to another church that might be able to make use of it. The organ was disassembled and shipped to Kansas City to be installed in a Catholic church there. While the organ and all its parts made the trip five hours south, it ended up sitting in storage for nearly 10 years instead of being played.
When Kreigh arrived at St. Matthew Parish a couple of years ago, he realized some upgrades to the sound system and the instruments used for celebrating the liturgy would enhance the worship experience. “Certain keys wouldn’t work on the electric organ we had,” he said. “I felt our parish deserved an investment in our music and sound.”
After talking with the pastor, Father Steve Garner, a committee was formed to determine the best way forward. During that process, a parishioner told Kreigh about a pipe organ sitting in storage in Kansas City. “I drove with a classmate to Kansas City to look at the organ and take a bunch of pictures so we — with the help of specialists — could figure out if we could reassemble the organ,” said Kreigh. “We got the original drawings and specifications from Wicks Organ Company. And then we found out the organ was originally from a church just a few blocks from St. Matthew. It was just amazing.”
Father Garner agreed the organ’s historical ties to the Cedar Rapids area add something extra meaningful to this organ project.
With a very short and very successful fundraising campaign, the organ was acquired and the process began to get the organ back to Cedar Rapids and to reassemble it in the St. Matthew choir loft. What is truly impressive, Kreigh said, is that all pieces needed to make the organ complete and function again were there. “Literally everything was there to reassemble the organ,” he said. “There was not a single missing pipe, and this organ has just around 2,000 pipes. All the framework was there. All the wind lines that carry air from the blower to the pipes were there. It was kind of amazing.”
The assembly began in August of last year, and the organ was finally ready to be played at the end of March. Kreigh first played the organ for the celebration of Palm Sunday Masses. “The procession on Palm Sunday is super festive as we reenact Jesus processing into Jerusalem,” he said. “To reflect that, I did a fanfare of trumpets and then worked into the hymn. As soon as the trumpets started playing parishioners turned around to take in the new organ. It’s exciting that people are already noticing after one weekend celebration.”
Kreigh is excited about the diversity the organ will bring to the musical presentations at St. Matthew. “The beauty is that it can be very grand and festive but it can also be so gentle and soft, so at moments like Communion when people are praying and meditating or before Mass you can really better set the mood and the environment for praying and worshiping,” he said. “The organ is like a one-man orchestra because organs have all sorts of sounds — string sounds, flute and trumpet stops. I am excited about introducing our parish to all the pipe organ can do. The sound quality is so rich and the room is as much a part of the instrument. There is so much more to the sound with a real pipe organ.”
Parishioners will enjoy the introduction of prelude and postlude music to the St. Matthew environment, which can be another way to help make the parish’s celebrations unique in the Cedar Rapids area. “Playing the organ before and after Mass will connect our parish with a whole body of sacred music written for solo organ without singing,” said Kreigh. “I think this is a way to get our parishioners engaged in the music and ready to worship. They will hear a whole other part of the music of the church that we haven’t heard at St. Matthew.”
“I am a big fan of mixing in a little bit of everything all the time,” Kreigh added. “The piano will still be heard, and the organ will definitely be heard. We will play hymns and also lots of instrumental music. This organ will make our celebration special. We like to stay true to the liturgical traditions of the Catholic Church. You want to honor history, but I also like to remember that the hymns written in the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s and 1900s were at one point in the present. And so I firmly believe, in our parish setting that is so diverse and has a wide age range, that you do have to keep in mind the present and future and incorporate music that reflects that. We are special in that way, in that we try to incorporate music suited for piano and organ.”
He is excited to see the reactions of the youngest parishioners. “The elementary school students are fascinated by the organ. They really see the big picture of St. Matthew Parish because they embrace those contemporary songs, but they are also interested in watching the organ being played,” he said. “I see a lot of organ projects going on in other places, and it’s cool to see St. Matthew be part of that resurgence, too.”
Father Garner is also excited about all the ways the organ will add to the praiseful and prayerful atmosphere at St. Matthew and is tremendously grateful for all the work and support that went into making the project happen. “We can all be proud of the fundraising efforts and the contributions of so many to ensure quality sound and music for the present and future generations of parishioners and guests to St. Matthew Parish,” said Father Garner. “We at St. Matthew are truly grateful to all who have assisted with this project. We are blessed as a parish for our parishioners first and foremost, and with this added asset I believe we will be blessed even more. To have an organ of such great quality is a blessing and will certainly enhance our weekend liturgies — especially as we enter the Easter Season.”
Mills Giorgio is a member of St. Matthew Parish in Cedar Rapids.
Andrew Kreigh, director of music and liturgy at St. Matthew Parish in Cedar Rapids, sits in front of the keyboard of the pipe organ built by the Wicks Organ Company of Illinois in 1966. (Contributed photo)