The chapel organ was ded­i­cated on April 15.

The Mary Waterman Memorial Organ in Christ Chapel was ded­i­cated Thursday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m. with a cer­emony and recital by an expert guest organist.

“It’s important to have a ded­i­cation because of the sacred nature of the music that gets played on it,” said Jim Holleman, music department chair and director of the choirs and orchestra. “There’s going to be a blessing, and it’s just a chance to cel­e­brate that we did some­thing really special here.”

The vis­iting organist, Nathan Laube, is part of the organ faculty at Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Darstel­lende Kunst in Stuttgart, Germany, and an inter­na­tional con­sultant in organ studies at the Royal Birm­ingham Con­ser­va­toire in England. 

According to a review of one of his con­certs in the Dallas Morning News, Laube is “uni­ver­sally acclaimed as one of the most bril­liant organists on the concert circuit, with an ency­clo­pedic knowledge of dif­ferent organ-building tra­di­tions and per­for­mance practices.” 

Pre­ceding the recital, Hillsdale College Pres­ident Larry Arnn and Chaplain Adam Rick will make remarks. 

The organ, which is an integral part of Christ Chapel’s design, was con­structed by Paul Fritts & Company Organ Builders, LLC in col­lab­o­ration with the chapel’s article. Fritts built several other organs in the Midwest, including the one at Notre Dame University’s basilica and Oberlin College’s con­ser­vatory of music. 

“This was a custom built instrument, designed for Christ Chapel for the space and for the spe­cific way we use it,” Holleman said. “It’s a million-dollar instrument, so it’s just very unique. It’s not every school in the country that puts in an organ like this, or even churches just because of the sheer cost, and it’s getting to be a little bit of a dying art. A lot of schools have dropped their organ pro­grams, where we’re building one.” 

The organ was installed before the chapel was com­pleted and ded­i­cated in November 2019. There were plans to have a special ded­i­cation for the organ last spring, but it was delayed due to the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, Holleman said. This will be the instrument’s first solo per­for­mance, though it has already been used in the reli­gious ser­vices and orchestra and choir per­for­mances in the Chapel.

Having a special recital by an expert musician for an organ’s first per­for­mance is a tra­dition that goes back to the 17th century, said Assistant Pro­fessor of Music and Organist Derek Stauff. The great com­poser Johann Sebastian Bach was often asked to be the first to perform on new organs and give feedback on the instrument. Laube has per­formed inau­gural con­certs on several Paul Fritts organs.

“It’s a very common standard that a new instal­lation of an organ will have an organ recital,” Stauff said. “That chapel ded­i­cation fea­tured a lot of dif­ferent things and it was for the entire building. The organ was ready for that, though there was a little bit of tweaking that they’ve done since then, but nothing the average person would notice. It makes sense that there would be an event here on campus to ded­icate it with an official recital.”

This organ was designed to fit Hillsdale’s exact needs, which required the instrument to be able to both accompany choir and orchestra, as well as suited to solo works. It has manual stops, which control the air flow to dif­ferent sets of pipes, but also a com­puter system that can elec­tron­i­cally control the changes. 

The com­bi­nation of manual and electric makes the instrument’s func­tion­ality failsafe, though Stauff said he tends to perform with the electric control since manual would require mul­tiple people to operate it during a performance.

“There are things that are very modern to it, and that gives us the best of both worlds,” Stauff said. “In terms of the actual sound of the instrument, it tends to be rooted in German instru­ments of the late 17th and early 18th century. These kinds of stops tend to be ver­satile and able to accom­modate a lot of repertoire.” 

The organ’s design was also designed to com­plement the acoustics of Christ Chapel. Junior Clare Kearns, who studies organ per­for­mance, said that the acoustics are almost too good.

“It’s a huge blessing and a ton of fun to play, espe­cially because the acoustics in the room are really spec­tacular,” she said. “It makes every­thing you play sound better, so it isn’t always great for prac­ticing because it covers over some of my mistakes.”

Stauff credits the organ’s builders, Paul Fritts & Co., for the bril­liant acoustics.

“It’s the space in which it’s in that really makes the instrument work, but I think this builder would make any­thing sound well,” Stauff said. “He and his crew have proven them­selves over the years to know how to make an instrument fit a par­ticular space.”

Though the ded­i­cation will be the latest in a cen­turies-old tra­dition, Holleman stressed how special this oppor­tunity is.

“I would just encourage stu­dents to come because this is a very unique oppor­tunity,” he said. “There are very few oppor­tu­nities like this to hear a per­former of this level, playing an instrument of this mag­nitude in a space this magnificent.”

But if stu­dents and staff can’t make the ded­i­cation tonight, there may be another chance in the future. Another chapel organ, which will be larger and live in the back loft, will be installed in 2022 or 2023.