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St. John’s Abbey to train the next generation of organ builders

J-P Mauro - published on 11/18/22

The esteemed company Pasi Organ Builders will soon move its business to St. John's University to teach the profession.

Students of St. John’s University, a part of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, will soon be offered courses in building pipe organs, thanks to world renowned organ builder Martin Pasi. The school, which is already known for its courses in woodworking, has announced that Pasi Organ Builders will soon be housed in a newly planned woodshop facility on campus.

Pipe organs

A report from PBS explains that the arrangement was born when St. John’s Abbey commissioned Pasi Organ Builders to expand its 1961 Holtkamp pipe organ in 2020. During the lengthy installation process, Pasi began to contemplate the future of his craft. Martin Pasi, 70, explained that the majority of organ builders who are still in business are getting on in years, and there are few young people who are pursuing the craft as a career. 

The arrangement seems like a match made in heaven. For Pasi, his presence on the St. John’s University campus allows him to seek interested students to learn his timeless craft, and St. John’s gets to add another uniquely Catholic craft to its long list of offerings. Pasi said: 

“People can come and learn the profession from the ground up. And that will make all the difference. I think somebody has not only the skill with their hands, but also an attitude.”

Passion

The pipe organ expert noted that those who pursue the study of the pipe organ should have a passion for the instrument and for working with their hands. Indeed, a passion is essential to study organ construction, as each organ takes years of dedicated effort to complete. In the case of St. John’s Holtkamp pipe organ, Pasi took two years to complete the project and that was just an expansion of their original organ. Building a brand new organ from scratch can take even longer.

Father Nick Kleespie, OSB, who serves as Chaplain of St. John’s University’s Campus Ministries, beamed about the arrangement. He told PBS: 

“I think organ building and our commitment to music and kind of communal singing, communal music-making is an embrace of what the monastic tradition has offered for many centuries and hopefully is what sustains us going into the future.”

Meanwhile, Father Bob Koopmann, OSB, a former president of St. John’s University who continues to serve as a faculty member and church organist, called the new program “a dream come true!”:

“St. John’s will build magnificent organs that will inspire thousands, train others to build and repair pipe organs, and show the world the value of manual labor working with fine wood. A true monastic endeavor!”

According to a brochure from St. John’s University, the new facility is well on its way to reaching its funding goals of $8 million. Along with minor donations, the project has already secured $1 million from an anonymous party and $2 million from Mr. Robert Weyerhaeuser, a member of the nationally renowned lumber business family. Soon, they say, they will be in striking distance of construction.

Prospective students who are interested in learning the storied Catholic art of pipe organ craftsmanship can learn more at St. John’s University website

Tags:
CatholicCatholic MusicEducationVocations
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