“Hazel” back at Christ Cathedral – ORANGE COUNTY TRIBUNE
By Deepa Bharat/Associated press
GARDEN (AP) — There are few pipe organs in the world that have a nickname, a female pronoun, and a fan page on Facebook.
The Hazel Wright organ – simply “Hazel”, to her admirers – was removed piece by piece in 2013 from the glittering sanctuary of Christ Cathedral in Orange County, Southern California, and shipped to Italy for repair . At the time, the fifth largest pipe organ in the world was suffering from an insect infestation. Its pipes have been melted down, its trumpets corroded.
Nearly a decade and $3 million later, Hazel is back in the completely renovated sanctuary, and the celestial chords of her pipes once again echo through the vaulted nave of the iconic church.
“It was amazing to see people’s reactions to this powerful instrument,” said David La’O Ball, Juilliard-trained organist and head of music ministry at Christ Cathedral, where Hazel was first performed. times this month at a Mass on World Marriage Day. “Their eyes widened and they turned their heads from side to side to see where those sounds were coming from. You can really feel its visceral power with every note.
The organ “is huge, but also very intimate,” Ball said.
Named in honor of its original benefactor, the Hazel Wright organ was heard by millions around the world during the heyday of what was then known as Crystal Cathedral, founded by the televangelist, Rev. Robert H. Schuller, who hosted the weekly Christian television program, ‘Hour of Power. Garden Grove Church is a local landmark and tourist attraction, with its majestic spire visible from some of the highways that crisscross the county.
After Crystal Cathedral Ministries filed for bankruptcy, the organ was acquired along with the building in 2011 by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, which then launched a $72 million renovation of the sanctuary which was completed in 2019. .
Reviving the organ was a top priority, regardless of the cost, said the Right Reverend Christopher Smith, Rector of Christ Cathedral. Although $3 million might seem like a steep price, he said it would cost five times or more for an all-new organ of comparable range.
“It’s an iconic instrument with a tremendous history and heritage,” Smith said. “It also represents an ancient craft, and we thought it was important to bring it into the 21st century. For me, the pipe organ is like our church where so many diverse people come together in harmony, just like so many of various sounds in an organ converge to make this beautiful music.
The organ was made in the late 1970s under the supervision of master organist Virgil Fox and dedicated in 1982. The Fratelli Ruffatti _ or the Ruffatti Brothers _ a multi-generational society of specialists in Padua, Italy, grafted an Aeolian organ -Skinner bought in New York. Philharmonic Hall with the one made by Fratelli Ruffatti in 1977, to create the Hazel Wright organ.
His rehabilitation was difficult.
It returned to the Ruffatti factory in Padova in 2013 at the time of repairs. After extensive work, the pieces were returned to Orange County where they remained in a temperature-controlled storage facility for four years while the cathedral was renovated. Then in late 2019, Piero Ruffatti, who originally built Hazel, returned for relocation.
But that was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, which early on hit Italy as hard as any other country. Ruffatti halted work on the project and took the last flight from Los Angeles on March 17, 2020 to return home. He finally returned in November 2021 after the easing of travel restrictions and finished the job at the end of January.
“It was an incredible experience to build this organ not once but twice,” said Ruffatti, speaking from Italy. “I’ve never done anything like this before.”
The organ originally had 270 rows, or sets of pipes, ranging in length from 4 inches to 32 feet; five keyboards; and the world’s largest draw button console to control sound.
In its current version, it has some 17,000 pipes in 293 rows and, according to Ball, is the largest pipe organ in a Roman Catholic cathedral in the Western Hemisphere.
Ruffatti said that due to the renovation of the sanctuary, the acoustic environment of the organ is better than ever.
“It helps blend the sound and there’s more reverb than before,” Ruffatti said. “This organ is capable of producing so many different sounds. It can take even the most accomplished organist several months to understand all the possibilities.
Frederick Swann, who played the organ almost every Sunday at the Crystal Cathedral from 1982 to 1998, served as a consultant on the project and agreed that it sounds better in the renovated building.
Swann, 90, recalled one of his most memorable experiences – playing the organ with a tiger cub sitting on the console, one of the live animals featured in the famous ‘Christmas Glory’ show of the Crystal Cathedral. He is delighted to see Hazel alive and well.
“This organ is special. Due to its size, it has so much more color and range than a regular church organ. It can range from a whisper to an “Oh my God!” Swann said. “It’s one of the best-known instruments in the world, and I’m relieved and thrilled to see it back in action.”
But fine-tuning the delicate instrument remains an ongoing process that won’t happen for a few months, said Kevin Cartwright, president of Los Angeles-based Rosales Organ Builders, which has been contracted to service the instrument at a cost. for the diocese of approximately $75,000 per year. This forces him to climb ladders several stories high.
“The organ must be tuned for the building,” Cartwright said. “Each pipe must be adjusted individually.”
Hazel has had her own Facebook page since 2009: The Hazel Wright Organ Society, which today has just over 2,400 members.
“Being an inanimate object and having that kind of tracking is amazing, especially for an archaic instrument like the pipe organ,” said Trisha Longo of Dickson City, Pennsylvania, one of the page’s founders and an ardent fan. . “It has a mystical appeal.”
Another founder, Matt Morrison, a California teacher and organist who sang in the “Hour of Power” choir as a teenager, said “the worship of God is timeless and church music transcends millennia. “.
“Hazel can be used for liturgy, just like she can accompany a rock band. The organ is so versatile,” Morrison said. “Really, it’s bigger than any genre of music.”