New life in old pipes

| Catherine Deeds | July 27, 2017 | 0 Comments

Organ restorer Timothy Patterson builds parts for organs he restores in his St. Paul shop. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Restorer hails the organ’s ability to affect human emotion

Timothy Patterson still recalls his first Communion, more than 50 years ago, guided by grand pipe organ music at Ascension in Minneapolis. The resonant sound was an important part of his spiritual experience at the time. Combined with his natural curiosity about how things work, it eventually led him into the unique world of historic pipe organ building and restoration.

Patterson, 62, developed an interest in playing the organ while in sixth grade at St. Anthony of Padua school in Minneapolis. After attending DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, he discovered and fell in love with the Wicks Company organ in Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis. Later, he became the volunteer organist at the parish from 1972 to 1982.

His passion and appreciation for organ music continued, and he devoted his life to learning about the fragile instrument. He became a master pipe builder and restoration expert on historic pipe organs in several local Catholic churches, including Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in St. Paul, as well as other churches in the Midwest. He spent 13 years in France in the mid-1990s and worked on some organs that were 400 years old.

In Europe, Patterson said, he learned the “true beauty of sound.”

“Music has been known to affect humans and animals; to soothe, calm the nerves and excite,” he said. “Whether you have no idea what is affecting you, or even if you understand it, we are all moved by music. The organ enhances this experience.”

Patterson turned his passion into his business, Associated Organbuilders in St. Paul, which he opened in 1975. He earned a degree in computer science and industrial education in 1992, because most projects he does now include adding full computer software systems and electronics to enhance and update a pipe organ’s capabilities.
Though he prefers the original organ sound, Patterson said that merging electronic instruments with the organ helps expand the “valuable asset” parishes have. Organ pipes may also be added, but it is expensive.

Patterson is working on a large project at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in St. Paul to add 132 individual speakers behind the pipes he built. It will create a huge variety of beautiful ancient and modern sounds more effectively, he said.

Associated Organbuilders client Chris Ganza is the organist and director of sacred music ministry at Our Lady of Lourdes. He has known Patterson for years and calls him a “genius” and “fantastic” to work with because of his in-depth knowledge of the parish’s organ, which Patterson still helps maintain.

Like Patterson, Ganza also loves “everything” about playing the pipe organ and recognizes the powerful way sacred music inspires the faithful at Mass and other ceremonies. The beautiful music shows us the “foretaste of the heavenly banquet,” he said.

Like human beings, the organ is a wind instrument “so it’s particularly adept at leading the congregation in singing and inspiring the mind, heart and soul,”
he added.

Ganza noted that the Second Vatican Council document “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” specifically praises the pipe organ: “In the Latin Church, pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things.”

Patterson appreciates this, too.

“Drums and trumpets send men to war. Strings, violins and flutes relax people. The organ is all those things and has a multitude of sounds,” he said. “The organist has a way to express their emotions or the emotions they want people to feel, and helps guide the people to realize that.”

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Category: Featured, From Age to Age