Newly-refurbished pipe organ installed at St. Mary’s Cathedral

By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff

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FALL RIVER, Mass. — There’s a sense of pride in Frank Peragallo’s voice as he talks about the meticulous effort that’s gone into repurposing the vintage Hook & Hastings pipe organ from the former Sacred Heart Church for use in the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption.

“We took it down and we brought some pieces directly back here to the cathedral and we brought some pieces back to our factory (in New Jersey) to get washed, cleaned and updated,” Peragallo recently told The Anchor. “Today we’re back here with everything and we’re installing (all the parts) in these gorgeous chambers.”

The “chambers” Peragallo mentioned are ornate, hand-carved oak cabinets flanking either side of the cathedral’s elevated choir loft where all of the organ pipes will be reinstalled. The chambers originally housed pipes from the cathedral’s now-defunct Kilgen pipe organ, including a series of outer “façade” pipes.

Façade pipes are dummies — they don’t speak, there’s no sound coming from them, they are strictly for show,” Peragallo said. “So all the pipes you see on the outside are non-speaking pipes; all the pipes that make sound are located behind them.”

In recent years, Peragallo said the cathedral had been using an electronic organ and there were speakers located behind the pipes to produce the sound that emanated from it.

“I don’t know if anyone realized that or not,” he said.

Standing amidst a sea of newly-cleaned pipes — all lined up along the top of the pews and wrapped in protective paper — that will soon be filling the nave with music, Peragallo explained how the renovation project began six months ago with the removal of the organ from Sacred Heart Church in January.

“We spent a couple of months working in the shop with the pipes — cleaning them and fabricating the console,” he said. “We also had to redo some of the bellows which have leather hinges on them to hold the air (inside).”

This is the realization of a years-long dream project for the parishioners of St. Mary’s Cathedral, according to music director Madeleine Grace.

“In recent years the cathedral parish has become home to four former parishes, two of which — the former St. Louis and Sacred Heart churches — had recently-rebuilt pipe organs,” Grace wrote on the cathedral website. “The St. Louis instrument, built by Charles Chadwick and rebuilt by Paul DeLisle, was placed in storage with the hope of using it as the basis for a larger instrument if enough funds were raised.”

When the decision was made to close Sacred Heart Parish at the end of last year, Grace said they knew its 1883 Hook & Hastings pipe organ would fit the bill.

Since the Peragallo Organ Company had refurbished and maintained that organ for years, they were asked to submit a proposal to relocate the instrument — cobbling it together with parts from the cathedral’s previous organ and the former St. Louis model to construct a new, Frankenstein-like creation.

“They’ve been working on this project for years and I know Madeleine has been looking to buy parts and old organs and they were always trying to move forward to get a pipe organ back in here, but it never came together for financial reasons,” Peragallo said. “So when Sacred Heart closed we thought we could use it. It’s not brand new, per se, but it was a tremendous opportunity.”

While a new pipe organ could cost upwards of $1 million, this project is estimated to cost just under $180,000 — and the parish has already raised more than $93,000 towards that expense as of May 1, according to Grace.

For Peragallo, the real challenge began when it was time to reassemble and install the organ inside St. Mary’s Cathedral last week.

“At Sacred Heart Church all of the (pipework) was in the middle of the church and it was wide open in the balcony,” Peragallo said. “At this location, we had to shuffle everything around. We have two chambers (on either side) of the choir loft, and another chamber on the swell, which is on the left. The swell chamber is the upper keyboard on the console, and that used to be located in the back at Sacred Heart. Now we’ve moved it to the side.”

In addition to the battery of metal pipes that range in length and girth according to the sounds they produce, there is also an array of box-like enclosures connected to the organ pedals that Peragallo explained will produce the “deep sounds that are going to shake this place.”

“They used to be located on opposite sides, now they’re all on the left chamber and the middle keyboard is on the right: that’s where the great pipes are located,” he said. “Those are the most important pipes for congregational singing. So we basically had to redesign the entire instrument to fit into this space. It was a little bit tricky getting everything back in here, but that’s the fun part of this job.”

Peragallo noted that his company also had to build an entirely new three-keyboard console for the hybrid organ made of oak wood to match the interior of St. Mary’s Cathedral.

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“The console at Sacred Heart was just two manual keyboards and was cherry wood, so this is oak and it matches the woodwork in here better,” he said. “Especially with the console being at the front of the cathedral, we wanted to make sure it made a nice presentation.”

The new solid state, digital console will also be mounted atop a moveable platform on wheels so it can be easily relocated anywhere on the main floor of the nave — such as front and center for concerts — as needed.

“It’s funny, because the old Hook & Hastings Organ from Sacred Heart was what they called mechanical action — the keys were actually connected to pipe valves, so you had a wooden stick that went across and when you pressed the key, it would connect over and open a valve,” Peragallo said. “Back in the early 1990s, I think, the organist wanted to direct the choir so we made an electric console (for Sacred Heart Church). Now this one is even further away — it’s all the way downstairs at the front of the cathedral.

“Basically, there’s a computer inside the console and a computer upstairs in the (choir loft) and it just sends the signals back and forth. So there are only eight wires running from here to upstairs. Once the signal gets upstairs, it gets decoded and sent out to the pipes and opens the valves accordingly.”

While some purists may balk at the use of computerized “digital” means to reproduce a classic pipe organ sound, Peragallo said it’s the combination of new and old technology that provides greater versatility in the instrument.

“Different aspects of the console can provide pistons with memory levels, which is great for the organist,” he said. “Especially here in the cathedral, where you have visiting organists and they can have their own pistons set up without disturbing the settings of the regular organist. There are a lot of big programs here, so you really need that versatility.”

Peragallo said his eight-man crew will continue doing “all the physical work this week,” including installation of all the pipes and running wires to the console. Then they’ll have to do what is known as “tonal finishing,” where the instrument is fine-tuned over a two-week period.

“That’s just a couple of guys,” he said. “One sits at the console and the other stays upstairs to make adjustments to the pipes. That process is a little more painstaking, but it’s also fun to hear the instrument inside this space for the first time.”

“Each organ is designed to work with the acoustical properties of its environment,” Grace agreed. “Once the pipes are installed, they are voiced to be balanced with each other and to work as an ensemble. This is painstaking work and requires time and the trained ear of an experienced organ builder who is an artist in his own right. When one has an understanding of the complexity of the instrument with its many components, it becomes clear why the pipe organ is a costly instrument.”

With work expected to be completed within the month, Grace said a Dedication Recital for the new pipe organ has already been scheduled for July 26 at 4 p.m. Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., will bless the organ at that time and lead everyone in prayer assisted by Father John C. Ozug, cathedral rector.

Former cathedral organist David Carrier, a native of Tiverton, R.I., will then present a recital that will illustrate the tonal qualities of the newly-installed instrument in a variety of musical styles. The cathedral and diocesan choir will also sing a brief choral work under the direction of Grace, accompanied by the organ.

“There may be some people who have never heard a pipe organ inside the cathedral,” Peragallo said. “But the Sacred Heart organ is going to be alive and well again over here.”

For more information, visit the parish website at www.cathedralfallriver.com.

© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts