New organ will highlight this year’s Festival of Lessons & Carols Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by By Dick Jones, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Dec. 07, 2017 -- 12:00 AM
diocesan choir gorman
At the Advent/Christmas party sponsored by the Apostolate for Persons with Disabilities are, from left: Katie Gorman, one of the newest members of the Madison Diocesan Choir; her father, Dr. Patrick Gorman, director of the choir for over 25 years; and Pat Paska, a member of the choir since its beginning nearly 45 years ago. (Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

MADISON -- Much as O Come All Ye Faithful is a favorite known by all since childhood, the opening hymn of Lessons & Carols will become a glorious new sound Sunday, Dec. 17.

That’s when Dr. Patrick Gorman directs the Madison Diocesan Choir and all present, accompanied by a classic pipe organ described as magical, restored, and installed in the Holy Name Heights chapel.

Seeking an organ

“I have literally been working on this since I arrived in Madison,” said Gorman, now in his 26th year as director. “We put together so many different proposals, and it’s always been, ‘We can’t afford it! We can’t afford it.’

“New pipe organs are extraordinarily expensive. Then we started to look at organs that have come out of churches.”

With the help of Bruce Case of Case Pipe Organ Company in Verona, an exceptional pipe organ was found in Kenosha at the First Congregational Church that closed in 2013.

Though silent for years, the organ was in surprisingly good condition. The new owners, an evangelical congregation, had no use for it and agreed to sell it.

Rolls Royce of organs

Thanks to a generous gift from the estate of the late Msgr. Delbert Schmelzer, the Diocese of Madison was able to buy and restore the pipe organ, built by the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company in Boston nearly 70 years ago.

According to Case, it rivals the commanding Klais organ in the Madison Overture Center, and in some respects is superior.

“It’s pretty much the Rolls Royce of organs, as good as you can get,” Case said. “This was the most desirable pipe organ that you could buy back in the ’30s or ’40s, but you probably couldn’t afford it unless you were a well-to-do church.

“You don’t find Aeolian-Skinners in little country churches. You find them in well-financed, big city churches, in industrial areas, Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, and certainly Chicago.”

Case and his team spent months restoring the organ at the firm’s Verona location. In October, they began the job of removing an old, unreliable electric organ and installing the Skinner pipe organ. As work progressed, Case would play the pipe organ for Gorman.

“It’s fabulous in that room,” Gorman said. “This organ has magic,” Case said.

If you have never attended the choir’s Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols, this is one to experience. If you can, you will want to return to the chapel for this Advent service, a choir tradition for more than 30 years.

The service at Holy Name Heights, the former Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center, begins at 4 p.m. Admission is free, although guests are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item as a donation to the Catholic Multicultural Center food pantry.

Celebration of 25 years

For Gorman, success at long last in finding a pipe organ for the chapel added to a year of anniversary celebrations, his 25 years as choir director, and more importantly, his 25th wedding anniversary. He was offered the job of director the day before he and Denise Boychuk were married.

It was a year of celebration, and yet sad news. Gorman was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. He underwent surgery last summer, followed by two months of recovery. Monitoring and treatment continue.

This is a story in itself, but first, more about Lessons & Carols and what’s so magical about the newly restored organ with 16 stops and nearly 1,200 pipes.

“Aeolian-Skinners are very orchestral,” Gorman said. “They have very realistic stops that sound like a little string orchestra, or a flute, or clarinet. Very mellow.”

In its heyday, the Boston firm designed and built the organs for liturgical services and choir accompaniment, grand instruments found primarily in famous churches and concert halls.

“It’s a great new addition to Madison, because it’s a type and sound of organ that is somewhat different than anything we have here,” Case said.

The Overture Center’s German-built Klais organ is bigger, said Case, who has worked on the concert hall’s signature instrument. “But in many ways, this organ has kind of a richer sound, more romantic. The Skinner at Holy Name would be a very great liturgical organ, very good for service playing and choir accompaniment.”

Accompanist tries it out

Following the recent Knights of Columbus Memorial Mass in the chapel, Glenn Schuster, Diocesan Choir assistant director and accompanist, took a turn at the organ console.

“It’s perfect for our liturgies as an accompaniment instrument,” Schuster said. “It has lots of color within the various stops and will work well for the Diocesan Choir concerts and services.”

Before a note is played at Lessons & Carols, Bishop Robert C. Morlino will bless the organ in the loft. Then Schuster will begin playing O Come All Ye Faithful while the choir, readers, and Bishop Morlino process into the chapel. Once all take their places, Gorman will direct the choir and congregation in singing the hymn.

“It seems a fitting way to start with the new organ,” Gorman said. “But I picked a number of pieces specifically for the organ.”

They include Midwinter by Bob Chilcott, What Sweeter Music by John Rutter, plus two selections from the 100 Carols for Choirs book arranged by David Willcocks and Rutter, Ding Dong! Merrily on High and Birthday Carol.

“Midwinter is kind of a familiar text with a different melody, but it’s got very rich accompaniment and nice choral parts,” Gorman said. “And What Sweeter Music is a piece that’s conceived with orchestra and a lot of strings, so I thought that would sound very good on this organ.”

A new piece for the choir this year is a Patrick Leibergen arrangement of Ave Maria. “It’s a very pretty lyric piece that I thought would sound real nice with the organ as well,” Gorman said.

For Ave Maria, alto Lou Ann Wagner will also accompany the choir on flute.

Respite in holiday season

Over the years, the Lessons & Carols service has become increasingly popular, as Gorman describes it, more prayer service than Christmas concert and a welcome respite in the busy holiday season.

“There’s some Christmas music to it, but is kind of nice to hear the whole story of salvation and the birth of Christ, and then to hear music, little homilies after each piece,” he said. “I always think that it’s just like a moment to catch your breath and really refocus on what Christmas is all about, get away from buying presents, the parties, and all the stress that goes with it.”

On a personal note, what makes the service especially pleasing this year is a new member, Gorman’s daughter, Katie. At Lessons & Carols a year ago, Katie, sister Sarah, and others in the Cardinal Cantors of St. Maria Goretti Catholic School were special musical guests. Katie joined tenor Steve Harrison in a Gesu Bambino duet. Now 14 and a freshman at Edgewood High School, Katie has quickly become a full-fledged choir member.

Member since beginning

Soprano Pat Paska, a choir member since its beginning nearly 45 years ago, recalls the final rehearsal before Lessons & Carols a year ago when Katie sang Gesu Bambino with her dad.

“It was a very touching moment,” Paska said. “I was so impressed with Katie. At such a young age, she nailed it. Both Pat and Denise are blessed with beautiful voices and Katie is, too. She’s a delightful young lady and it’s been fun to sit next to her at rehearsals.”

Gorman said Katie has felt right at home, sitting between Pat Paska and Diane Kramer, another longtime soprano. “She loves it,” Gorman said. And so far no complaints about the director. “Not yet,” he said with a laugh. “Not that I know of.”

Paska was instrumental in hiring Gorman, and she, Kramer, and other members are glad he has remained director all these years. In 1992, as choir president, Paska sent a letter to Robert Fountain, director of choral conducting in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. The choir needed a director, and she sought his help. He recommended Gorman, a doctoral student from Ohio, a College of Wooster graduate with a master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame.

“We knew right away that we had the right guy for the job,” she said. “He was so qualified, we were concerned in the early years that he would move on to greener pastures. Twenty-five years later, I’m so happy that he and Denise have made Madison their home and that he’s still committed to his position and us.”

Praise for the director

Kramer and her husband Tom, a choir member and immediate past president, held a surprise anniversary party for Gorman last summer. Diane has sung with the choir for 35 years, and like other members, speaks highly of Gorman, especially when encouraging others to join the choir.

“Pat is such a great choir director,” Kramer said. “Always well prepared, hardworking, enthusiastic, gives very clear directions. He’s exceedingly patient and kind. Most importantly, he teaches us how to sing from the heart.”

Like family, members pray together, certainly in song, but also in words. At the end of every rehearsal, members request prayers for family, friends, or others in need, the injured, ill, unemployed, or those grieving the loss of a loved one. They also offer prayers in thanksgiving for blessings received. Following a Scripture reading, all join hands and sing The Blessing of Aaron.

Gorman had considered other positions, but he can’t imagine leaving the choir now. The realization occurred to him well before he learned he had cancer, but the diagnosis last year reinforced it. “There’s something about this group that’s different from any choir I’ve ever directed in that their hearts are in the right place.”

That Gorman has a dual appointment also was a factor. He is director of the diocesan Office of Worship, an appointment made in 1995 by then Bishop William H. Bullock.

Faith has sustained him

Family, choir, community, and most important, his faith have sustained Gorman since he learned he had carcinoid cancer, a rare, slow-growing form of the disease, but incurable nonetheless. Doctors removed the tumor from his abdomen, only to find it spread to his liver.

“The only way it can be cured is with a liver transplant, so that most likely will happen in the next year or so,” he said.

“We have fabulous medical care, and I’ve got so many people praying for me. My family, Denise and the girls here, and my dad, who’s 92, he’s been leading the prayers for all my family back in Ohio. My mom’s praying I’m sure in heaven. The bishop has been exceptionally supportive, as is everybody at work. It’s just unbelievable. I just couldn’t ask for more.”

Ever upbeat, Gorman said that in a way, it’s a gift. “It’s given me a chance to focus on what’s important in life,” he said. “It’s really turned my mind a lot more to my family.”

And to hear Gorman, it’s led to deeper faith and greater trust in God. “I’ve been telling people to trust God all my life -- that’s been my job,” he said. “And now I have to live it, to do as I say, and I’ve found that it’s easier than I thought, mostly because I’m fortunate that that’s my job. So I’ve been able to develop a deeper faith on the job, literally.”

Added Gorman, “I just trust that whatever happens, it’s ok with God, and if he calls me home, he’s going to take care of people here, and if he chooses to leave me here, that’s great, too. I do tell him that I’m still needed here a little bit longer, so if you could, Lord, spare me for a while.”

Please support our advertisers: