In the Loop

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June 19th, 2014

A pipe (organist’s) dream

By In the Loop

Organ760Around here, when we speak of organ donations and new leases on life, we're usually referring to the inner workings of the human body. After all, this is a world-famous medical institution. Next week, however, Mayo Clinic is celebrating the restoration of a different sort of organ -- the pipe organ at the Saint Marys Chapel in Rochester, to be precise. And we are time traveling a bit to bring you the details.

According to the Saint Marys Annals of 1932, Sister Joseph commissioned the building of an organ for the new and expanded Saint Marys Chapel in the midst of the Great Depression. Common folklore is that two sisters who ran a boarding house next to Saint Marys, and who had long been donors to the hospital, provided the funds to purchase the organ. And it wouldn't be just any organ. Sister Joseph consulted with Emil Johan Oberhoffer, founder of the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra (who happened to be a patient at Mayo Clinic), and he provided expert advice on selecting a fine instrument produced by the Aeolian-Skinner Company of Boston, Massachusetts. The organ was installed on Dec. 5, 1932.

A long time has passed since then, and like the rest of us, the organ has seen some wear and tear. A few months ago, generous donations from the Mayo Clinic Department of Chaplain Services, Saint Marys Volunteers, and Gerald and Henrietta Rauenhorst made it possible for the organ to get a facelift. 

No ordinary feat this. Each of the organ's 1,400 pipes had to be tuned, and after a four-month rehabilitation stint at Schantz Organ Company in Ohio, the organ has been safely returned to its home at Saint Marys Chapel. Actually, they came back with some friends -- 488 additional pipes, fashioned in the historic style of the originals, according to Mayo's Jeff Daehn. Those additional pipes will "fill out the total scheme of the organ" and add "a little more color," he says. The result is a "very nice instrument, very well balanced to the room. It can play quietly or make a real statement." And he's more than a little excited about that.

To celebrate the return of this historic artifact and musical piece of art, and to thank the volunteers who made it possible, there will be a narrated concert on Thursday, June 26, at 5 p.m. in the Saint Marys Chapel. Sister Antoine Murphy, one of the first organists, will play original sheet music from the first time it was played 80 years ago. Be there or be flat.

Make a statement yourself by sharing your comments below. And raise the roof by sharing this story with others using the not-so-historic social media tools you'll find atop this page.

Tags: Employee Stories, Jeff Daehn, Organ, Saint Marys Chapel, Sister Antoine Murphy

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