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  • Writer's pictureSt. James by-the-Sea

Transforming the sacred space inside St. James

The team from Parsons Pipe Organ Builders spent the last two weeks working tirelessly inside St. James by-the-Sea. From 8:00am until 6:30pm, Monday through Saturday, the fourteen-member group of highly skilled workers transformed the inside of the church from a construction zone into a truly sacred space. Among them were Ric Parsons, president of Parsons Pipe Organ Builders, Peter Geise, technical director, and many skilled pipe makers, craftsmen, and technicians.

The first task after everything was unloaded from the trucks was to install the largest 32’ pedal pipes. These are the wooden pipes of the Contrebasse and the metal pipes (wrapped up like a trombone) of the Bombarde. They are mounted in the back of the north organ chamber, some horizontally and some vertically. Pipes of this size are rare, so it was very special to see them placed into the organ chambers where they will live for many decades, even centuries to come.

The next step was to assemble the organ cases. Made of quarter-sawn white oak and stained to match the rest of St. James’ interior, the cases are the most visible part of the organ. The design copies the columns and finials from the former rood screen, and the engraved sea shells are painted in gold. If you look high up, you can even see the sword of St. James the martyr.

The base of each case weighs over 450 pounds. They were first hoisted up on a special lift, and it took six strong workers to pick them up and slide them onto the wall. The new structural steel brackets were specially designed, engineered, tested, and inspected to make sure the organ would be secure.

The final piece of this phase was the installation of the beautiful polished tin and gold-leafed facade pipes. These speaking pipes were crafted in the Netherlands and specially handled with white gloves to protect them from smudges. They complete the stunning visual appearance of the organ and are lined with copper to ensure they never bend or break.

This completes the first of two phases in the organ installation. The second phase begins after Labor Day when trucks will bring all the components for the Great, Swell, and Choir divisions. We will also receive the beautiful oak and cherry organ console at that time. After that, a process called tonal finishing will last several months where they take each of the 4,551 pipes and individually fit their sound to St. James Church.

We are so grateful to Parsons Pipe Organ Builders for the amazing work they have done and look forward to the completion of the project later this year! Thank you to the staff, parish and community volunteers of St. James by-the-Sea for all their logistical help in making this possible. And we are especially grateful to our family of donors whose generosity has secured our campaign’s success. If you are local to La Jolla, please stop in to see the organ in the coming weeks. You will be amazed!

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