BISMARCK, ND — “They’re up there,” shouted Leslie Matters, pointing to the balcony about 100 feet away inside the beautiful and acoustic-friendly Our Lady of the Annunciation Chapel. That’s where her husband, Justin Matters, and brother-in-law, Mark Matters, were, but hidden from view. Their muffled chatter could be heard, but not distinguished as the two crawled up inside the organ’s swell box, their bodies delicately positioned as to not accidentally bump, bend or break any of the tiny or massive aluminum and wooden organ pipes. Their job was to spend the better part of a day side-by-side these tubes—ranging in size of a pencil to 16 feet tall, cascading from one end of the balcony to the other—doing some minor fine-tuning. To make the process most efficient, every so often, Mark, jammed deep within the clusters of the shiny pipes, would tell his brother, a few feet away, to do something, then Justin would relay that message by shouting between the open box shades to Leslie below, who sat patiently on the stool next to the organ, ready for commands from above. “Turn off the organ,” yelled Justin.

Justin and Mark Matters
next to the organ console with cascading pipes and swell box in background on the balcony

That’s what they do for a living, travel around the country from town to town, to places of worship and prayer, tuning and fixing organs of all sizes. On this day, these three from South Dakota were on campus making sure each of the 1,759 pipes inside this organ would “sing” properly for its upcoming special performance—a concert and blessing ceremony, free and open to the public, Sunday, November 5, 2017, at 1 p.m., in Our Lady of the Annunciation Chapel. The dedication will feature the organ as an accompaniment to the Sisters’ Choir and congregation as well as a solo instrument.

Some would refer to it as a debut concert; others might call it an encore presentation. Both would be correct because the rededication celebrates the massive refurbishment this 54-year-old organ went through recently. This organ was in thousands of pieces just months ago this past summer.

Tom Porter
University of Mary Music Chair

“The original instrument was installed and dedicated in 1963,” said Dr. Tom Porter, chair of the University of Mary Department of Music. “It is a Reuter organ, Opus 1431. During the summer of 2017 the organ was completely dismantled and taken by the Reuter Company, along with the console, to its factory in Kansas. Parts were replaced and cleaned. New chests were constructed to the west of the original instrument to house the additional pipes. There are five additional stops, six additional ranks, and 585 new pipes: that’s 331 more pipes than the original organ, with an additional 254 having been replaced in the renovation of the instrument.”

Like everything else, organs age with time. While organs of this magnitude are built to last, extremes in temperatures, humidity and dryness cause cracks in the flexible leather parts, both in the wind system and the stoppers of the wooden pipes.

According to “Tidings,” the official newsletter of the Sisters of Annunciation Monastery, both Sister Agatha Muggli and Sister Thomas Welder, president emerita at the University of Mary, have enjoyed playing the organ over the years. In fact, there’s a very good chance Sister Thomas became the first to play the organ for daily prayer and as the college’s first choir director.

Sister Thomas Welder

Sister Thomas Welder

“When the Sisters’ singing and the organ music stopped, audible sound reverberated throughout the chapel, resonating in the arched ceiling of Breuer’s architectural wonder,” commented Sister Thomas in “Tidings,” as she referenced the acoustic splendor of Marcel Breuer’s architectural creation that is the Our Lady of the Annunciation Chapel and the organ’s home since 1963. “The recent investment in the Reuter organ speaks to the enduring quality of an instrument that will be here for generations of worshippers. With the enhancements, the organ becomes a premier instrument in our community for congregational singing, solo and choral singing, added instruments, and musical events featuring the organ itself. Its resonant sound reveals a beauty that is God—pure and true.”

That will certainly be the case this Sunday when the Sisters’ Choir, congregation and guests, along with University of Mary adjunct professor of organ, Dr. Beverly Everett, bring the organ back to life in the chapel with their can’t-miss performance to the public that is certain to be a marriage made in Heaven.

Dr. Beverly Everett

“I have been deeply honored to have the opportunity to teach organ at the University of Mary, and part of that journey has been working with our organ committee towards the goal of refurbishing and enhancing the Reuter pipe organ in the chapel,” said Everett, who continues to be an active conductor, composer, performer and director of the Bismarck-Mandan Symphony Orchestra and the Bemidji Symphony Orchestra. “We reached this goal this summer and now come together to worship and celebrate the glorious tones, old and new created by our organ. A special part of Sunday’s dedication will be pairing the organ with other instruments and voices as we collaborate on hymns, Psalms and solo selections. I will play two French pieces representing the symphonic style of organ composition and highlighting the colors and power of the new organ. Those present will both hear and feel the swirling sounds, and experience the renewed capability of our organ to literally bring others to a ‘more profound Alleluia.’”

In addition to Everett and the Sisters’ Choir, performers for the event include Sister Agatha Muggli, organ, and University of Mary music faculty Dr. Russell Ballenger, trombone, Rhonda Gowen, clarinet, Katherine Henjum, soprano, Michael Langer, piano, Dr. Everaldo Martinez, violin, and Tonya Mertz, oboe. The University of Mary Chapel Choir, directed by Rebecca Raber, will lead congregational singing.

Justin Matters crawled out of the swell box from a small square opening as their hours of time with the organ was nearing an end.

“It’s all in a day’s work. This organ looks to be in really nice condition. It’s a nice organ. It’s a very nice building, very nice acoustics. Half the instrument is really the acoustics of the room. And this is a very nice room with reverberation. It’s hard to talk in, but wonderful to listen to music in.”

“Leslie, turn on the organ,” Matters instructed once again from the balcony. And with that, it’s showtime for this refurbished Reuter organ, Opus 1431.