Pipe organ completes cathedral’s $4.7M restoration

Jeff Schrier

Saginaw — The final piece of the $4.7 million restoration of the Cathedral of Mary of the Assumption in Saginaw is now in place, a majestic pipe organ to fill the church with music.

The Cathedral purchased the 87-year-old pipe organ from St. Joseph’s Church in Bay City and hired Otsego-based Lauck Pipe Organ Co. to restore and install it.

James Lauck places small pipes inside the pipe organ at the Cathedral. Lauck and his crew refurbished a pipe organ the cathedral purchased from St. Joseph’s Church in Bay City and installed it in the balcony.

James Lauck and his crew hauled in the heavy frame and pipes and assembled them like a puzzle on the balcony overlooking the renovated cathedral.

The pipe organ, originally built by the Kilgen Pipe Organ Co. of St. Louis, Missouri, was installed at St. Joseph’s in 1930. It went through two major renovations, the first in 1984 and again in 2002.

The Lauck Pipe Organ Co. added three ranks of pipes from the Saginaw Cathedral’s old pipe organ to the original Kilgen organ, built new parts to accommodate the extra pipes, constructed a new console and upgraded the electronics.

The controls on the organ are all electronic but the sound is made by air passing through its pipes when played by the organist.

Craig Manor of Otsego-based Lauck Pipe Organ Co. dusts off large wooden pipes before hoisting them to the balcony for installation into a pipe organ at the Cathedral of Mary of the Assumption in Saginaw.

The restored pipe organ has 30 ranks of pipes, approximately 1,800 total, varying from the size of a writing pen to 16 feet tall and weighing almost 200 pounds. It has two consoles, each with three keyboards and a pedal board.

Lauck has been building pipe organs for 43 years.

“I like (building pipe organs) because it involves woodwork, electronics, mechanical engineering, architecture, physics of sound and music. You don’t have time to get bored because you’re on to the next thing,” he said.

Once he and his crew finish assembling the frame of the pipe organ, the pipes and all of the parts that make it work, Lauck has to tune each pipe individually by lengthening or shortening them. Big pipes may be adjusted several inches while small ones might be adjusted a fraction of an inch.

“I jokingly tell people they need two years of ballet or classical dance to work on these things,” Lauck said, referring to the tight spaces he occupies while installing pipes and tuning them.

Bob Dykstra, right, and Dan Staley of Lauck Pipe Organ Co. carry a large wooden pipe. The tallest pipe on the organ is 16 feet and weighs about 200 pounds. The organ has approximately 1,800 pipes.

Once the pipe organ is tuned, it undergoes tonal finishing to make sure that its sound is majestic and appropriate for the size of the building. Lauck said, “It should be slightly overwhelming.”

Bob Gubody, the parish sacristan, kept an eye on the progress of the pipe organ, stopping by often to watch Lauck and his crew build it. According to Gubody, “The organ is a treasure.”