By Gianna Bonello
St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville is alive with the sound of music thanks to the expansion of its pipe organ, and the public is invited to help celebrate its new sound.
An organ blessing and recital will take place Saturday, Sept. 18 and Sunday, Sept. 19 at the Abbey Church to officially present the organ, now called the Holtkamp-Pasi pipe organ.
The weekend kicks off at 7 p.m. Sept. 18 at the church with the solemn blessing of the Holtkamp-Pasi. It continues Sunday, Sept. 19 with a presentation of the organ at 2 p.m. and recital featuring four College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University alumni at 3 p.m.
“Anybody is invited — we’ve got 2,000 seats,” said Benedictine Father Robert Koopmann, professor of music and president emeritus of St. John’s University.
Benedictine Abbot John Klassen will preside at the blessing of the organ Saturday night.
After the blessing, organ builder Martin Pasi, who was in charge of the organ’s expansion, will officially hand over the Holtkamp-Pasi to Abbot Klassen. An evening of prayer, song, and organ performances will follow.
Included in the evening program is the premiere of the newly commissioned hymn text “Never Silent in Your Praises,” written by Benedictine Sister Delores Dufner, of St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph. It will be sung to the newly commissioned hymn tune of “St. John’s Abbey” by composer Sally Ann Morris.
Father Koopmann will introduce visitors to the new sound of the Holtkamp-Pasi organ with the premiere of another newly commissioned piece, “Three Intermezzi for Organ,” written by Pulitzer Prize winner William Bolcom.
Students also will take part in the program, with the CSB/SJU choirs in attendance and some students reading a Psalm.
“We should fill the church with the sound of both organ and singing,” Father Koopmann said.
Saturday’s evening program is estimated to last about an hour.
The celebration continues Sunday afternoon starting at 2 p.m. with Michael Barone, founder of the weekly radio show “Pipedreams,” and Father Koopmann giving a showing and explanation of the organ. Starting at 3 p.m. there will be an organ recital featuring CSB/SJU alumni Anne Phillips, Jonathan Gregoire, Lee Treml, and Benedictine Brother Jacob Berns.
“They’re wonderful players,” Father Koopmann remarked.
The Holtkamp-Pasi pipe organ is an expansion of the original Holtkamp organ that was built in 1961 at the abbey. While Father Koopmann says the Holtkamp organ was ideal for everyday use, it didn’t fill the large space in the church.
“We have events where we have 2,000 people in the church,” Father Koopmann said.
He thus formed a committee to revamp the organ. Father Koopmann worked with Martin Pasi, who Koopmann described as the best organ designer in the country, to add on to the Holtkamp organ. The result, the Holtkamp-Pasi, doubled the number of pipes of the original organ, Father Koopmann said.
“It’s a gorgeous sound. We’re calling it Holtkamp-Pasi because it’s both of them, but it’s seamless… it blends perfectly with what we had,” Father Koopmann said.
Saturday and Sunday’s events are free and open to the public. The Abbey is asking that masks be worn indoors. More information about the program can be found on the St. John’s Abbey website at https://saintjohnsabbey.org/concerts.