Church of the Assumption - San Leandro
The Parish of Assumption in San Leandro, California, was founded in 1951, due in large part to the significant increase in population in the San Francisco Bay Area after World War II. In February of 1952 ground was broken for the new church and school, and on March 13, 1953 the first services were celebrated in the church, which seats about 800. Presently the parish consists of 1,100 households.
The pipe organ at Church of Assumption was built in 1953 by the M.P. Moeller Company. Since this was well before the reforms of Vatican II, the organ was primarily meant to accompany a small choir and also used for weddings and funerals. The organ began its life with 4 stops (sets of pipes). This was considered an extremely small instrument even then. With the reforms of Vatican II, which called for the full, active and conscious participation of the faithful, the organ was found to be inadequate to support congregational singing.
During the pastorate of the late Msgr. William Mullen, the 2nd pastor of Church of the Assumption, another 6 stops (sets of pipes) were added to the organ. These pipes were cantilevered off of the back wall of the church.
Sometime late in his pastorate, the late Msgr. Michael Lucid, the 3rd pastor of Church of the Assumption, investigated repairing and updating the organ. However, nothing came of his endeavor to do so.
When I arrived as pastor 3½ years ago, the parishioners perceived very quickly that I have a great love of liturgy and music. I was interested in evaluating the condition of the organ. The first thing that I noticed were numerous air leaks in the console and an air leak in the outside conduit that leads from the pipes to the console. (The air is used to move the stop action in the console.) I knew that if these leaks were not fixed, various stops on the organ would cease functioning. Unfortunately this actually happened at the beginning of Holy Week in 2008. I was able to contact a pipe organ firm here in San Leandro to repair one of the leaks. When the organ technicians opened the back of the console, not only did they find other leaks, but they also found that the key contacts were nearing the end of their lifespan. They warned me that one day (sooner rather than later) the organ would become unplayable. In addition to that, I was informed that some of the exposed pipes were beginning to collapse on themselves due to the use of inferior metal. To fix the key contact and air leak problems would require a new console. I asked for an informal quote on the price for this. I was told the cost would be between $40,000-50,000. I also asked how much it would cost to add a few more stops to the organ to give it more versatility and depth. I was told that this would probably cost another $100,000. This would not include repairing the collapsing pipes, which would have to be replaced.
I felt that $150,000 or more was just too much to spend on an organ that was 55 years old and not of the best quality. This solution would not gain us much in the area of versatility. In addition, the maintenance contract on a pipe organ would cost us $1,000 a year.
For over a year, I investigated less expensive alternatives to the above scenario. I have always considered myself an organ purist, that is, only a pipe organ would do! However, modern-day electronic organs have improved in sound so much that they are barely recognizable as such even to the trained ear. In addition, technology is possible so that the pipes may also be connected (interfaced) with the electronic organ should we wish to do that. I felt the gain was that we would be able to get a new console and all of the digital voices to supplement the pipes in the future. I investigated two companies that have lengthy experience in building such electronic instruments: the Allen Organ Company and Rodgers Instruments. After extensive research on my part, I felt that Rodgers would give us the best instrument for the price.
Before I could "sell" a new organ to our parish, I needed to find a new Director of Music who would be able to play both organ and piano. This individual would have to be open to using many different approaches regarding musical tastes to satisfy our congregation. I feel we were extremely fortunate to be able to make part of our Pastoral Staff, Stacy Piontek, who also felt that an organ built by Rodgers Instruments would best satisfy our musical needs.
With Stacy's help, we chose a Custom Trillium Masterpiece 1038 as the best instrument for our church. Stacy worked very closely with our local Rodgers Representative, John Jarvis, and the Rodgers Instruments factory personnel, especially Dan Miller, in designing the best possible instrument for us. As pastor, I couldn't be happier with the results. The organ's voicing is impeccable, and the MIDI voices are wonderful.
The first weekend we were able to use our new Custom Trillium Masterpiece 1038, I'm sure that the congregation expected to hear "traditional organ" tone. As our Director of Music played a prelude on the Gathering Song before the liturgy began, mouths opened and heads turned to see and hear where this glorious music was coming from. Along with traditional organ tone the assembly heard MIDI voices masterfully used to enhance the prelude. At the various liturgies that weekend, the congregations were astounded with what they heard.
Our worship has been enhanced greatly because of our new Rodgers organ. Even that first weekend, it was obvious to us that people were singing much better. I feel that we have been able to have more of a balance in musical styles from traditional hymnody to contemporary liturgical music. Our new Rodgers organ is able to handle any kind of music well; it is perhaps the most versatile instrument I have ever heard. Since the installation of the organ, we have been able to see growth in our Adult Choir and Children's Choir much to the satisfaction of the parishioners. I feel that our parishioners are very proud of our new organ. Their expressions of gratitude continue, and of course that makes me happy as well!
Father Vincent Scott
Pastor, Church of the Assumption