Alan and Sally Sefton’s gift allows the instrument to ‘produce the entire canon of organ repertoire’
By Dan McWilliams
The end of his violin lessons as a youth did not stop Alan Sefton’s love of music, and the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus community is glad of that.
A gift from Alan and Sally Sefton is allowing the cathedral to complete the installation of its organ that was left about 40 percent complete when the mother church of the Diocese of Knoxville was dedicated in 2018. With the completion of the pipe organ manufactured by Casavant Frères of Quebec, Canada, “the organist will have the opportunity to control an instrument capable of producing the entire canon of organ repertoire, ancient to modern,” said Glenn Kahler, the cathedral’s director of music and liturgy.
The cathedral was closed after Sunday Masses through 11 a.m. Saturdays from Jan. 16 to Feb. 9 to allow the organ work to proceed.
Mr. and Mrs. Sefton, cathedral parishioners and natives of Great Britain who joined the Church in East Tennessee, were the first people in the Diocese of Knoxville to be inducted into the Order of St. Gregory the Great in 2019. They are also members as Knight and Dame Commanders in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
The Seftons’ love of music at the cathedral evolved from their support of the University of Tennessee music department.
“My interest in music goes back to my high school days, and one of my early regrets was ceasing violin lessons when so young,” Mr. Sefton said. “I was originally involved in the concept of holding concerts in the cathedral as soon as we decided to construct a new cathedral. As we had been long-term supporters of the UT School of Music, now elevated to the College of Music, I put together some eminent music professionals to form a committee to further the concept of holding ‘Cathedral Concerts’ in the new cathedral when completed.
“I received great support from the head of the then-UT School of Music, the director of the Knoxville Symphony, a local music-loving medical doctor, a top lawyer in Knoxville, and two professors from the School of Music; only the lawyer was Catholic! The original concept was that it would be a great evangelizing opportunity to get members of the community into a new cathedral, exposing them a little to our form of worship, and to join with them in the love of music. This was the embryonic idea that we conceived a number of years ago. Bishop [Richard F.] Stika embraced the idea and thankfully appointed Glenn Kahler as the music director. At this point the original committee was disbanded, but I give thanks to those initial members who helped us guide this to the point where he agreed it needed full-time leadership.
“It was this initial involvement that led Sally and me to continue to financially support the music ministry. As far as our involvement in the organ is concerned, I was amazed that with such a short time before the cathedral dedication Mass, Father David Boettner and Glenn Kahler ordered and had installed the first part of the Casavant Frères organ just in time for this important occasion.”
Cathedral rector Father Boettner gave thanks to the Seftons for their support of the organ’s completion.
“In building the cathedral, we always had beauty as one of our guiding principles because we really believe that beauty evangelizes. And beauty is not only what you see with your eyes but also what you hear with your ears,” Father Boettner said. “I’m very grateful to Alan and Sally Sefton and their family for this generous gift. Without their help, we would have never even imagined taking on the completion of the organ. Their gift is going to bring beauty into our cathedral. It will again give us the opportunity to reach out and welcome members of the community of East Tennessee, not just parishioners, but Catholic and non-Catholic people throughout East Tennessee through our Concert Series and worship and liturgies. This new completion of the organ is going to enhance the way we pray together and give us an opportunity to touch a lot of lives.
“Their gift enables us to complete the organ without adding any burden on the parish. The completion of the organ was a little over $1.2 million. Then there also was some preparatory work that needed to be done, and they also covered the cost of that, so it was a very generous gift.”
Award-winning cathedral organist Byong Suk Moon, who has performed internationally, will play the newly completed instrument at Sacred Heart.
“In business I tried to make our products the best they could possibly be, and in that regard I am possibly somewhat of a perfectionist. It troubled me that we did not have a complete instrument; it troubled me more that we had a superb organist in Dr. Moon,” Mr. Sefton said. “We needed to give him the best we could afford. This became our driving force to complete the Casavant Frères organ. This is Sally’s and my gift to the cathedral, which will, hopefully, like many organs in Europe, still be heard 200 years from now.”
Mr. Moon said he is “so glad that the cathedral finally has an organ worthy of its name value. Perhaps I am the one who has been most pleased in waiting for the organ to be completed. I am very excited when I imagine playing a new organ.”
Laying the groundwork
Mary Mac Wilson, chief operating officer at the cathedral, also expressed her gratitude to “the generosity of the Sefton family” that will allow Sacred Heart “to complete the building of the second half of our beautiful pipe organ,” she said.
Hickory Construction of Alcoa laid the groundwork for the completion of the organ.
“In the fall of 2023, Hickory Construction began preparing the choir loft to receive the completion of the pipe organ,” Mrs. Wilson said. “Hickory Construction was responsible for the on-site organ preparation, including electric work, cutting molding and railing, relocating the ramp, and removing light fixtures. Stage two of this magnificent project . . .will provide all the resources of tonal architecture to support the singing of a large congregation as well as a masterful instrument to glorify God and support the liturgy of music for worship. We are extremely grateful for the generosity of the Sefton family. Their beautiful gift has fully funded the completion of the project without any additional expense to the cathedral. Without the Sefton family, this would not have been possible.”
Daily Mass-goers have attended 8:05 a.m. liturgies in the Sacred Heart Cathedral School cafeteria and noon Masses in the cathedral’s Shea Room in its office building. Confessions on Wednesdays and Saturdays have taken place at the school.
“Our community has been very receptive to accommodating the changes to daily Mass in order for the work to be completed,” Mrs. Wilson said. “Our parish staff has worked very hard to ensure that we have proper signage and special greeters to ensure all can find their way. We appreciate the enthusiasm to promote the completion of the organ.”
Casavant Frères, founded in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, in 1879, has manufactured and installed organs around North America and across the world for its nearly century and a half of existence.
“We have been honored to continue to work with Casavant Frères in Canada, who completed our main organ prior to the completion of the cathedral in 2018,” Mrs. Wilson said. “The Casavant team of craftspeople, designers, and managers make in-house virtually all the parts of the organ including the pipes, consoles, and keyboards. They have an esteemed reputation and have been responsible for the organs in the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.; the Northern Cathedral in Beijing, China; Saemoonan Presbyterian Church in Seoul, South Korea; the Church of St. Louis, King of France, in St. Paul, Minn.; and St. Michael’s Cathedral-Basilica in Toronto, Canada.”
Visiting the ‘organ works’
The Seftons, Mr. Kahler, Bishop Stika, Father Boettner, and others traveled to Casavant Frères in April of last year. Casavant vice president Simon Couture assisted the group on its visit.
“Their operation covered many tens of thousands of square feet in a very old building; in fact, it was a huge area” Mr. Sefton said. “Over the years, they have reduced some of the items they used to make such as furniture. My initial impression as we walked through the door was that the factory was out of the 1900s. Some of the special tools that they were using were again most likely produced by the father of a father who worked there many, many years ago. They look well-worn but obviously still did a great service.
“We saw a number of different processes that they do to make the instrument. It all made much more sense when we saw the individual component’s final purpose. One of the first procedures we saw was a long table, which must have been 80 or so feet long, covered in what I could only term as baby powder. At the head of the table was a big cast-iron crucible, where molten metal was at a very elevated temperature, and at a certain point we saw this crucible turn up and pour all the molten metal down the 80-foot-long table. We found this formed a sheet of metal with unique markings and was very, very thin. When cooled, the sheet was rolled up and sent to storage. We later found out that this formed the tin alloy sheet that the pipes are formed from, and even the markings on the pipes came from that initial process. We also learned that the ratio of tin to other metals very much influenced the resulting tone of the pipes—this is why they justified making the sheet material themselves.”
Later in the “organ works” tour, Mr. Sefton said the group saw the pipes being tuned and voiced.
“It is interesting that when we came to where the keyboard was being made, ivory obviously is no longer used, so the tops of the white keys are made from bone,” he said. “When we ventured toward the area where the final assembly of organs was taking place prior to final tuning and dispatch, we saw a very large, completed instrument that was scheduled to be shipped to be installed in ‘The Great Hall of The People’ in Beijing, China.”
On the same day as the visit to Casavant Frères, the group toured the St. Joseph Oratory, which was founded in 1874 and where St. André Bessette resided for some 63 years until his death in 1937.
“As Saint-Hyacinthe was so near Montreal, on our way to the airport we had time for a real treat as we were able to visit Montreal Cathedral,” Mr. Sefton said. “We were met by the organist, Pierre Grandmaison, and traveled a huge number of stairs into the choir loft of the cathedral. It was here our very own organist, Dr. Moon, without a sheet of music in front of him, gave us an amazing rendition of Bach’s ‘Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.’ The entire cathedral was filled with this wonderful classic.
“We arrived back at McGhee Tyson Airport later that evening with a much better understanding and respect for what goes into these magnificent instruments to play music for the glory of God.”
‘Like having a 30-voice choir’
Father Boettner said the original installation phase of the cathedral’s organ left it about two-fifths complete. While the first phase of the organ seemed to an untrained ear to have a powerful sound, the completed instrument will allow the player to do much more.
“It’s a wider instrumentation, so you’ll have more sounds available for the organist. It’ll be more complete,” Father Boettner said. “The pipe organ itself is like a choir, so if you wanted a metaphor—the first phase of the organ was kind of like having a 10-voice choir. The second phase is going to be like having a 30-voice choir.”
On a recent weekday afternoon, Casavant Frères workers Raphael Ashby, Martin Côté, Étienne Bernier, and Marco Laferrière were working on the organ installation in the cathedral’s choir loft.
Mr. Ashby is new to the company.
“I don’t have much to compare with, but it’s a fun project for sure,” he said.
His group will work on the installation for about a month, Mr. Ashby said.
“At least four weeks, and then there’s another team that comes in to finish the harmonization of the instrument after us. We’re there to put everything together, and then they’re going to come in and fix up the different pipe sounds and make everything equal,” he said.
When he was interviewed, Mr. Ashby said to that point “we’ve put together all of the pedal section in the back, and then we’re going to get going on the second side, which contains the stops of the third manual, the third keyboard of the organ.”
Mr. Kahler said the cathedral’s pipe organ is model Casavant Opus 3927. Stage one of its installation included an unenclosed Great Division with 14 stops, 19 ranks, and 1,135 pipes, and an expressive Choir Division with 17 stops, 12 ranks, and 720 pipes, as well as a three-manual console located in the choir loft.
“Stage two, which is currently being installed, includes the addition of the Swell Division with 20 stops, 19 ranks, and 1,104 pipes; the Pedal Division with 20 stops, eight ranks, and 322 pipes; as well as an identical movable second console located in the sanctuary to support the liturgy as well as organ performance in concerts and events,” Mr. Kahler said. “The cathedral pipe organ, once completed, will feature a total of 71 stops and over 58 ranks with 3,281 individual pipes.”
Mr. Moon, the cathedral organist, compared the added stops to having a larger orchestra at his hands.
“That means I am going to have a lot more choices I want to express through playing than before,” he said. “I couldn’t play any big organ concerts because the current organ has just a small capacity. For the liturgy, I will have more opportunity to make various sounds that can create a more varied atmosphere and mood for the congregation.
“The cathedral congregation never has experienced the authentic big pipe organ. The cathedral has used a digital organ for nearly 50 years and has been using the small pipe organ of today for five years. Once the organ is completed, the congregation will finally see what role the organ plays in liturgy and how rich the organ can make the entire liturgy.”
An entire ‘orchestra’
Mr. Kahler explained the organ terms.
“One can think of a large organ in essence as an entire ‘orchestra’ capable of being played by a single highly skilled musician,” he said. “Some general terminology may help when discussing a pipe organ: a stop is like a specific group of instruments in that orchestra, and a rank is a collection of pipes that make up that stop. The organist plays the instrument from the console, which features a set of keyboards, called manuals, stacked one on top of the other, where each manual corresponds to a specific division or major section of the organ controlling the stops, for example Great, Choir, Swell, or Pedal. In addition to the top three manuals played with the hands, the organist also plays a fourth manual with his feet, called the pedalboard.”
The first stage of the organ did well for what it was made for, Mr. Kahler said.
“Stage one was skillfully designed to support the liturgy as best as possible given the funding limitations at the time,” he said. “While the first half of the pipe organ has performed that task admirably over the last five years, it has done so with inherent limitation to the range of repertoire that was possible, as well as a lack of expressivity, color, depth, and breadth of sound that stage two offers.”
The cathedral organ is tailored to suit liturgical music, as opposed to another model such as the “Mighty Wurlitzer” at the Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville, which has percussion instruments among its ranks and is geared more toward modern variety shows, Mr. Kahler said.
“The cathedral pipe organ is designed most of all to support large cathedral-quality liturgies and ceremonies, and each of the 71 stops over 58 ranks—none of which are percussion instruments, naturally—is intentionally voiced as a liturgical instrument befitting the solemnity of the worship space. Secondarily, this organ is a concert-capable three-manual instrument and features a second identical console that resides in the sanctuary, which undoubtedly will be greatly appealing to other liturgical or concert organists.”
The additional pipes of the completed cathedral organ will not provide more volume “but will provide for greater depth and range of sound and combinations of sounds,” Mr. Kahler said. “Stage one of the cathedral pipe organ was ‘voiced,’ the process by which the organ builder changes the aural characteristics of the sound produced by a pipe or pipes based on the laws of physics and construction material of which they are made, at a particular volume level to fill the cathedral worship space. Following the installation of stage two, both stage one and stage two will be re-voiced together so the completed pipe instrument produces a well-blended and balanced sound amplitude.”
The organ’s completion will help the cathedral’s music ministry in three major ways, Mr. Kahler said.
“The first and most important benefit of a completed pipe organ is its use in the liturgy,” he said. “It is tremendously helpful to have available the entire canon of organ repertoire for use. Moreover, with the added expressiveness, depth, color, and breadth of sounds and combinations of sounds, the organist can change the sound character and style to better connect the music and message and heighten our worship experience through reinforcing or altering our mood or emotional state corresponding to the progressive solemnity in the Mass throughout the liturgical cycle.
“The second major benefit of a completed pipe organ is its use in education. Every cathedral has a responsibility to act as a center for assembly, worship, communication, and education for the people of the diocese. Regarding music ministry in the diocese, the latter began to coalesce with the establishment of the Diocese of Knoxville Music Commission in 2017. Since then, the Music Commission has laid the groundwork for the next step of establishing the Cathedral Academy of Music, a project that is set to launch this year. The Cathedral Academy of Music will offer training programs and certification for musicians, accompanists, directors, cantors, and clergy in the Diocese of Knoxville by providing opportunities to gain professional-level knowledge and experience through lessons, courses, and applied participation with musicians from around the diocese and beyond.”
The third benefit of the completed organ “is its use in evangelization,” Mr. Kahler said. “Another well-established program of the DOK Music Commission is the Cathedral Concert Series. Since 2018, the Cathedral Concert Series has hosted more than 65 free concerts featuring the finest local, regional, national, and international sacred and instrumental ensembles in the effort to support the performing arts and foster an appreciation for sacred and instrumental music in East Tennessee. The Cathedral Concert Series annually brings tens of thousands of non-Catholics, performers, and audiences together with even more through the live-stream, and offers them a welcoming opportunity to see and hear the space while learning more about the cathedral and the Church, making the CCS a dynamic tool for evangelization. The completion of the pipe organ will certainly increase the prominence and visibility of the cathedral parish and Diocese of Knoxville around the world through its role in the Cathedral Concert Series.”
A high place in the Church
The pipe organ has a high place in the Catholic Church, Mr. Kahler said.
“The pipe organ is a fascinating instrument, as much science and physics as it is art and culture,” he said. “The pipe organ is not only the most complex instrument humanity has ever created, and subsequently the most challenging to play well, it is also the single most important instrument in the Roman Catholic Church. Due to its capabilities and flexibility, the pipe organ is regarded as the only instrument afforded a place of honor in any liturgy, having faithfully served the Church and God’s people in worship for at least the last 1,000 years.”
Mr. Kahler quoted article 120 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, promulgated by Pope St. Paul VI in 1963 during the Second Vatican Council:
“In the Latin Church, the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument, which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up (the human) mind to God and to higher things.”
The cathedral organ is by design intended to blend with the human singing voice and the musical instruments in the liturgical or ceremonial context, Mr. Kahler said.
“The pipe organ’s sustained sound is able to support participation and reinforce the soundwaves generated by the person singing. That is another reason the organ is so important to congregational singing of hymns, psalms, and songs of the Church,” he said. “Brass instruments and percussive membranophones like timpani also share a natural affinity with the organ, as the soundwaves of these types of instruments closely resemble and carry majestically like those of the organ. With the increased range of subtle sound capabilities of the organ, other light and nuance instruments like the piano, winds, and strings can be used to a surprisingly beautiful efficacy throughout music repertoire.”
Mr. Kahler is also thankful for the Seftons’ gift.
“We feel an inestimable level of gratitude to the Sefton family for their gift to fully fund stage two and complete the cathedral pipe organ,” Mr. Kahler said. “Sir Alan and Dame Sally Sefton have furthermore provided an accompanying gift that establishes a means for the instruments’ perpetual care and maintenance without cost to the cathedral parish or Diocese of Knoxville into perpetuity.
“Through the Sefton family’s tremendous gifts, as well as all those who have contributed to the Organ Fund since 2018, Cathedral Music Ministry is poised for an exciting future as this magnificent instrument is completed, the programs that benefit from it are realized, and the people of the Diocese of Knoxville are supported through worship, formation, and service.”