St. Mary’s Pipe Organ

St. Mary’s Pipe Organ

Pipe Organ, Christmas 2010
Church Altar and Organ Façade, Christmas 2010

Our new organ is the product of more than three years of vision, planning and hard work, most especially by our former Director of Sacred Music, Mr. David Mathers, our former Pastor, Fr. Don Rooney, our organ consultant Dr. William Hamner, and organ builders Ms. Mary William Baines, Ms. Kathryn Holland, and Mr. Mark Scholtz.  Our parish is especially indebted to all those who provided a clear vision of the beauty that the human arts can give to our worship, and for the tireless giving of their own talents and energy in leading the organ project.  The 3,286 pipes of this marvelous musical instrument along with the renovation of the church is a legacy to many future generations of St. Mary members.

Saint Mary’s three-manual, 49-rank pipe organ is the centerpiece of a substantial renovation of the interior of the church which took place in 2010. This included the demolition and rebuilding of the (liturgical) east end of the church (behind the altar) to make room for the organ, as well as installation of new flooring in the nave to improve acoustics. The instrument resides behind a large casework which functions as the reredos of the altar/sanctuary. Organ chamber construction includes concrete block walls, cement board ceilings, and 2 ¾” thick expression shutters with 45 degree bevels. The action is entirely electric (with pneumatic pouches on larger pipes). This provides low maintenance cost, reliable performance and flexibility in chamber layout, allowing for more efficient use of available space. The console is moveable and can be easily relocated to the front of the worship space for concerts.

Through the guidance of tonal director Dr. William W. Hamner, Jr., the instrument unabashedly exhibits a neo-Romantic/neo-Symphonic tonal palette, yet is equally capable of providing the color and contrapuntal clarity necessary to render even the most stylized of early literature. Moreover, scaling and voicing have been executed with liturgical collaboration fully in mind. In fact, with five manual 8’ diapasons, nine independent reeds and six celestes (each carefully calibrated to bring its own distinct flavor), this three manual organ provides more sonic colors in its 49 ranks than most of its peers, colors which can be seamlessly blended with one another in an endless array of combinations.

The three enclosed divisions include a partially enclosed Great and Pedal. Portions of the Choir and Swell are double-enclosed, utilizing inner shade slide controllers which are located at the forward end of the appropriate expression shoes. Wind pressures range from 5” in the outer choir division and the unenclosed portion of the Great and Pedal, to 7” in the Swell division, to 10” in the enclosed Great division and 18” for the Pontifical Tuba (via its own booster blower). Fourteen vintage ranks, mid-1950’s “Willis” Wicks pipes, were reclaimed from two older organs, reworked, and re-voiced to integrate with the new choruses of the organ.

The organ was first played publicly by David Mathers, Saint Mary’s Director of Sacred Music, during Vespers on November 21, 2010 and the next day, November 22, at a Mass of Dedication, presided over by Most Reverend Paul S. Loverde, Bishop of Arlington, during which the new altar and renovated worship space were liturgically dedicated. An inaugural concert featuring Frederick Teardo, then Associate Organist of Saint Thomas Church, New York, took place June 17, 2011. Other recitalists have included Todd Wilson, Colin Howland, Weston Jennings, Mary Beth Bennet, Russell Weismann and Paul Skevington.

In addition to those acknowledged here, over 250 individuals and families have made dedicated financial gifts in support of the organ project.  Our thanks goes out to them.

Over two -thirds of our fund raising goal for the organ projects has been reached.  We are still in need of contributions and anyone interested is encouraged to contact our parish music office at 540-373-6491.

Donating to the Pipe Organ Program

Although our new pipe organ is completed and installed, you are still welcome to contribute toward our fundraising goal of $950,000.  We’ve already raised over $700,000 due to the kind generosity of so many parishioners and friends of Saint Mary Church, and you can be a part of this amazing legacy that will be passed to future generations of the Church in Fredericksburg.


The organ has over 3200 pipes, ranging in length from 6 inches up to 16 feet, and a fun way to donate is to “Buy-a-Pipe.” Donations to buy a pipe can be as little as $25 and as much as $5000. The bigger the gift, the bigger, and deeper, the pipe!

Special pipes include: the enormous copper façade pipes, several of which are still available for a donation of $5000; the Pontifical Tuba pipes, our most majestic and powerful trumpet stop, the pipes of which are available for donations of $2500 or $1000. The cost of an entire rank (61 or 32 pipes) can also be underwritten for donation levels from $5000 to $20,000.

Everyone who “buys” a pipe will receive a certificate naming exactly which pipe or pipes he or she has funded. You may also request that a pipe certificate name someone to whom the donation is dedicated.  Pipe certificates make excellent gifts for Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, or as a gift in memory of a loved one. You can click on the “Buy-a-Pipe Donation Form” or pick up the form in the back of the church or at the parish office.

All gifts of $2000 or more, will be recorded on a beautiful custom designed memorial display in the church.  If you desire your gift to remain anonymous, your wishes will be happily respected. Gifts may be pledged and fulfilled on an installment basis.

Our Organ Builder

Our organ builder is Confederated Organ Craftsmen of America (COCA), maker of Robert William Wallace Pipe Organs.  The company is composed of three firms representing over 50 years of organ building experience. The members of COCA are proud to be the builders of what has proved to be a thrilling musical instrument – an organ designed to give generations of service and musical excellence to the worship of Saint Mary Church.

Katherine Holland, Mary-William Baines, and K. Patricia Stanley, of KMK Pipe Organ Services of Suffolk, Virginia, are a team of artisans who have been providing high-quality service and maintenance to pipe organs in the Virginia Tidewater area, as well as across the mid-Atlantic region, Florida and the Caribbean for close to 30 years. Their role within the group is as project contractor/administrator and production/installation managers, making certain that all of the necessary parts and equipment for their instruments are ordered, manufactured, delivered, installed, and finished in a timely manner. Additionally, KMK designed the physical layout of our organ.

Charles Gibson, of C. W. Gibson, Inc, Pipe Organ Specialties of Monroe, New Jersey, and his team are responsible for developing layout details with KMK as well as the installation of our instruments. Chuck has vast experience in working with all kinds of organ actions. Having cared for the famous Wanamaker Organ in Philadelphia for many years, he is well acquainted with symphonic/orchestral-style instruments such as we have built at Saint Mary, and their requisite higher wind pressures, actions, and voicing. He is particularly well-versed in E. M. Skinner actions, their maintenance and restoration.

Mark Scholtz, of Scholtz Pipe Organ Tonal Solutions, Inc. is based in Alton, Illinois. Mark handles the tonal design, scaling, voicing, and tonal finishing of COCA instruments in collaboration with Dr. William Hamner. Mark was also the manager of the development and building of our organ’s console. Mark and our consultant William Hamner have collaborated on a number of exceptional pipe organs in recent years.

Our organ consultant is Dr. William Hamner, of Hamner Pipe Organs of Williamsburg, Virginia, formerly Tonal Director at Wicks Organ Co. in Highland Park, Illinois.  Dr. Hamner has guided us in designing the specification of the organ, from decisions about the overall tonal concept to the most minute details of pipe construction.  Bill has also helped us navigate through the complexities of this project in which the design of the organ and the substantial renovation of the church must complement and work with each other. Bill is a gifted organ voicer and tonal finisher and collaborated with Mark Scholtz in the tonal finishing of our organ.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How did the pipe organ project come into being? Why are we doing this? This project was conceived in the summer of 2007 by the Saint Mary 150th Anniversary Committee as a way to provide something worthy and permanent that we could pass on to future generations of Saint Mary members. A real pipe organ is the best way to accompany and support congregational singing, an important part of our worship.
  2. Is money from the weekly collection being used for the new pipe organ? No. Only money donated expressly for the organ is being used to pay for the organ.
  3. What is the difference between a pipe organ and an electronic organ? A pipe organ makes its sounds by blowing air through hand made metal or wooden pipes. Each pipe plays a single note. The air filling the entire body of each pipe resonates with the sound of each note. The size and shape of a pipe affects it tone color (timbre) and pitch (high or low).  The sound of an electronic organ is made by a loudspeaker system playing the pre-recorded and digitized sound of organ pipes.  Imagine the stage of a concert hall with a symphony orchestra playing. Then imagine the same concert hall stage with a CD player, two large amplifiers and 10-20 large loudspeakers.
  4. Will the new organ be much louder than the current electronic organ? No. Actually, our new pipe organ is designed to have many more quiet and warm sounds than our electronic organ. The 3200 pipes of the new organ represent a wide variety of sounds. They are not intended to, and cannot be, played all at once.
  5. How long will our pipe organ last? With maintenance and tunings (less than $3000 a year), the organ will last indefinitely. Organ pipes and wind chests can last for hundreds of years. Our organ will not need to be “re-leathered” every 70 years as some designs require. The digital circuitry that controls the organ is simpler than a PC and can be easily replaced if for example it is damaged in a lightening strike. At least a dozen organs built between 1390 and 1575 are still playing, and functioning organs from the early 1700’s are fairly common throughout Europe.
  6. Where is the organ going to be located? The organ itself, meaning the pipes, the pipe action and the wind supply, will be installed in the room behind the wall of the sanctuary (behind the altar). The console (where the player sits) will be placed in front of the choir platform.
  7. Do pipe organs come in different styles? Yes. Because each pipe organ is designed from the ground up for each individual installation, a great deal of flexibility and variation is possible in the overall “tonal design” of the instrument as well as the fine tuning of each individual pipe. The style of our new organ is known as “romantic/orchestral” which means that it will have many different tone colors and will focus on warmer and more comfortable, even lush, sounds and avoid anything that could be considered shrill.
  8. Does the organ represent a movement toward more traditional” music? The main purpose of the organ is to accompany the congregation’s singing more effectively, whatever the style of music. In addition, the new organ will allow for a broader range of music, both old and new, to be sung by our choirs, as many pieces are written to be accompanied by a pipe organ.  Also, the new organ will also allow for much more pleasant and enjoyable organ preludes and postludes. Our fine piano will also continue to be used just as in the past.
  9. If our old electronic organ was not working properly, why couldn’t it be fixed for less money than purchasing a new one? We have carefully considered this possibility and determined that it is not cost effective to maintain the current organ.  A factor in that decision is that while the basic sound the current organ makes cannot be improved, the new organ will offer a dramatic improvement in sound quality and versatility.
  10.  Will someone actually be able to play the new organ? Anyone who can play our former electronic organ will be able to play the new one. The real question is about attracting and retaining professionally trained and enthusiastic music ministers. A task is made easier when a parish has an excellent organ. Beyond the musical capabilities of the instrument, it says to a potential applicant, “this parish is serious about its worship and its music.”  Further, we as a Church have a responsibility to train the next generation of leaders – musicians included. Young people will be more attracted to learning to play the organ and to excellent church music if parishes have real pipe organs.