Mar 052009
Authors: Stephen Lin

Editor’s note: Check below to see a video of a performance using the organ.

Afternoon sunlight peeked through the open windows of the recital hall, glinting off the rising tiers of polished silver pipes as Joel Bacon stepped up to the world-famous Casavant Organ in the University Center for the Arts.

Bacon dexterously moved his hands and feet in precise, coordinated motions to coax powerful melodies and uplifting tones from the organ for a rapt audience.

Robert N. Cavarra, a former music professor who died last year, commissioned the Casavant Fr/res organ in April 1968 after several years of research, and became the first person to bring an instrument of its kind to a university in the U.S.

The organ was finished on July 1 of that year. It was built according to models from 17th and 18th century organs.

And even now, the instrument still has a strong following.

Hundreds of people attended the Casavant Organ Debut Festival Sunday, Feb. 22, and listened to the majestic music coming from Bacon’s fingers behind the ornate woodwork for the first time since the organ was moved to the University Center for the Arts.

Bacon, a steward and Sheron Golden Chair in organ and liturgical studies, transformed the room with sweeping grand music, becoming a one-man orchestra.

Afterwards Bacon expressed his delight with the intricate instrument, saying, “it is a privilege to play. It’s good to have the organ back.”

The Casavant organ previously resided in the Music Building, but was relocated to the UCA Organ Recital Hall in spring 2008 because classes and lessons in the Department of Music, Theatre, and Dance had moved to the UCA.

Over the summer, workers from Parson’s Organ Builders spent 3,000 hours reassembling, refurbishing, and retuning the organ.

Ting Ting Chan, a junior organ performance and music therapy major, played the organ in both buildings and could tell the difference between the old space and the new one. She said the new room rebounds, allowing for the echo of the organ to be heard, adding, “it’s better, I like it.”

Chan started taking lessons with the Casavant organ when she started at CSU learning from Bacon, whom she called “a genius.”

She recognized how difficult it is to master an instrument that requires a lot of coordination but said, “you just have to feel it,” adding that the lifespan of these organs is “indefinite as long as they are well-maintained.”

A testament to craftsmanship, the organ has 2,096 pipes that range in size from as large as a football lineman’s leg to as small as a pinky finger. These complex pieces that decorate the massive instrument combine to create awe-inspiring combinations of music.

The massive organ, which encompasses the entire north wall of the hall, also has a 56-note keyboard, a 32-note pedal board, and 34 stops.

Staff writer Stephen Lin can be reached at

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