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To Catapult Our Praise

Colin Lynch
May 24, 2018

The Te Deum, an emphatic hymn of praise attributed to St. Ambrose, begins with these words:

We praise thee, O God : We acknowledge thee to be the Lord.

All the earth doth worship thee, the Father everlasting.

To thee all Angels cry aloud : the Heavens, and all the Powers therein.

To thee Cherubim and Seraphim continually do cry,
 Holy, Holy, Holy : Lord God of Hosts;

Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of thy glory.

It seems fitting that the Te Deum is traditionally sung on Trinity Sunday, our feast of title. At Trinity Church, we understand the importance of the worship of God. For us, as it has been for Christians in all times and places, music is one of the ways that we heighten our prayers of praise, whether it be our voices raised in a congregational hymn, the choir chanting a psalm, or the organ sounding a thunderous postlude. As we make music together, we become one with the fellowship of our universal church community, past and present, earthly and celestial.

Therefore, it behooves us to have the best possible worship toolbox of organ and acoustic at our disposal. We want to catapult our praise to the heavens rather than letting it limply flop into the pew cushion in front of us.

Our Trinity forbears showed that they understood the need for a fine pipe organ when they engaged the most significant and innovative American organ builder, Ernest M. Skinner, to build the Nave Organ (at the back of our church), which totals more than 4,000 pipes. Skinner’s instruments are known for their warm, broad tones that envelop a congregation with a fluffy pillow of support for communal song. Of his more than 750 organs, Skinner’s instrument at Trinity Church was considered one of his best. Even Louis Vierne, the famed blind organist of Notre Dame in Paris, was so impressed by Trinity’s organ that he wrote an effusive letter to Skinner, proposing that he build a similar instrument at Notre Dame. 

Sadly, since its installation in 1926, the Nave Organ experienced significant tonal changes as organ building fads swept the country, particularly in the 60’s and 70’s. Modifications were made to louden and harshen the tone, attempting to overcome the poor acoustic created by our pew cushions and carpet. These materials essentially mute the organ and absorb our congregational singing. Surely you have felt, while attempting to join a hymn from your pew, that you are the only one singing. The organ also suffers in this acoustical environment, issuing a sound that seems to beat us down rather than inspire us to sing more heartily.

This Sunday, as we join the company of angels in our loud cries of praise, we bid farewell to the Nave Organ as it begins a year-long process to restore its warm, supportive tone. When the pipework returns in 2019, I’m certain that Trinity’s congregational praise will be reinvigorated, maybe even showing the Cherubim and Seraphim a thing or two! To honor Trinity Sunday and in thanksgiving for our glorious organ , the choirs will sing a setting of the Te Deum by Herbert Howells and the Messe Solonnelle by Louis Vierne, perhaps our instrument’s most significant fan. Come to church this Sunday and join us, along with the Heavens and all the Powers therein, in praise of God!

To learn more about the organ project, click here.


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