New organ at St. Philip the Apostle designed to ‘lift up our hearts to God’
FLOWER MOUND — Easter services at St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church in Flower Mound were extra special this year as parishioners enjoyed beautiful, uplifting music from their new pipe organ.
“I think it supports congregational singing like nothing else,” said Father Raymond McDaniel, St. Philip’s pastor. “The best instrument for singing God’s praise is the human voice, and second is the organ.”
Fr. McDaniel said that the Second Vatican Council stated that music is not just an extra component, but an integral part of worship, and that the organ is the best instrument to accompany singing because it works in a way similar to the human voice.
Both human singing and organs use the flow of air to produce music. Combining the two creates a worshipful experience.
“It powerfully lifts up our hearts to God and our minds to higher things,” Fr. McDaniel said.
Katie Schmitz, director of music and organist, said the organ has been a part of the Church since the 10th or 11th century, adding beauty to worship.
Schmitz said, “We can’t ignore that aspect. Beauty is important in liturgy.”
Having beautiful music from the organ gives us “a glimpse of that heavenly beauty, lifting us up and uniting ourselves to Him,” she said.
From design to installation
Fr. McDaniel said that the church building, which was dedicated Feb. 22, 2022, was designed and built with the large pipe organ — and its 2,313 pipes — in mind, especially the choir loft.
“Organs like to sing down in a room,” Fr. McDaniel said.
During the design process for the sanctuary, Fr. McDaniel and the previous organist Andrew Kenney conducted a multiyear search, visiting with a number of organ builders from the U.S., Canada, and France, even going on several site visits to hear organs. The winning company was Casavant Frères from Quebec.
Schmitz joined St. Philip’s staff in 2020 and had the opportunity to review Casavant’s proposal, share some ideas, and learn the reasons behind their design decisions.
“It was an organist’s dream,” Schmitz said.
Schmitz started playing the organ at age 12, taking lessons from the organist at her home parish, St. Theresa in Sugar Land. At Trinity University in San Antonio, she studied organ performance and realized she wanted to work in sacred music. She earned a master’s in sacred music at Notre Dame and a doctorate in church music at the University of Kansas.
Getting to see the design, installation, and voicing of the instrument in depth was “incredible” for her as an organist, she said.
Schmitz got to visit the Casavant studio near Montreal and see a portion of the organ assembled there.
The organ was then disassembled and packed onto a truck to make the long trip south at the end of January during the big winter ice storm. The truck was slightly delayed, and the flights of the installation team were delayed even more, Schmitz said.
When everything was unloaded from the truck, pipes and various organ components covered the pews, the aisles, and the narthex. Builders erected scaffolding and rigged up a pulley system to lift materials from the church floor to the choir loft.
First came the framework and the winding components, then the pipes. Some of the pipes are wooden while others are metal. The construction team installed most of the pipes for the organ but left out strategic pipes so the voicing team members could do their work.
The voicing team plays each note of the organ multiple times, adjusting pipes individually to achieve the best tone. They install the last of the pipes as they finish the voicing phase.
Ready for Easter
St. Philip signed off on the organ on March 24, and Schmitz practiced with it and played it for portions of the weekend Mass, but the real unveiling was Easter Sunday.
Schmitz needed to experiment with settings for using the organ with the cantor and with the congregation.
The instrument currently has shades on it, like Venetian blinds, to keep it from being too loud for the space.
The parish is completing Phase 1 of the building project, but has a Phase 2 planned to enlarge the sanctuary and make a few adjustments to the organ to accommodate the larger space.
For now, the organ is without a wooden case around the working parts, so Schmitz plans to offer tours after Easter so people can see how the massive instrument operates.
During the long process, Sarah Fritcher, St. Philip director of communications, kept parishioners informed on the organ, with plenty of social media posts, even livestreaming the installation, Schmitz said.
On the church website, Fritcher compared the preparation of the new organ to the faithful preparing themselves during Lent.
Fr. McDaniel said that parishioners of all ages have been enthusiastic and enthralled with the process.
A few weeks ago, Fr. McDaniel was stopped in the hallway by a teenager who was very interested in the organ installation because he played music in school.
From Easter and beyond, the parish will enjoy the organ’s music that helps them “contemplate God and heavenly things,” Fr. McDaniel said.