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Seattle University


A New Voice

Written by Mike Thee
May 17, 2011

This week, a beautiful, custom-made continuo organ was placed in the Chapel of St. Ignatius, in fulfillment of a long-held dream. 

For some time there had been an interest in acquiring an organ for the chapel. Those ambitions really caught fire in 2008 when the university hosted the Opus Prize. As part of the celebration honoring three humanitarians from around the world, the SU Choir was invited to perform at Benaroya Hall. They wanted to sing “Magnificat,” a song of praise and redemption for the poor, which was fitting for the occasion, but it required a continuo organ to truly do the piece justice. They found an instrument relatively small in stature but still capable of delivering a mighty musical punch. The organ more than amply filled the spacious Benaroya Hall, and the performance inspired a search for a similarly sized and sounding instrument for SU’s chapel. 

Watch and listen as Bill McNamara, campus minister for liturgical music, practices on SU's new continuo organ. 
A committee was formed, with Jerry Cobb, S.J., as chair; Campus Ministry’s Bill McNamara, who took a leadership role in seeing the project through after Father Cobb assumed his current position with the Oregon Province, as well as G De Castro; Joy Sherman and Lee Peterson, respectively director and assistant director of choral music; Jim Hembree of University Advancement; George Simmons, former dean of the College of Science and Engineering; and Jack Peters, a Seattle harpsichord builder whose guidance was invaluable to the effort.   Together they traveled the region in search of a perfect organ for the chapel. They found what they were looking for and commissioned a custom-built, portable continuo organ designed to the university’s specifications by David Petty & Associates in Eugene, Ore.   

The organ was delivered to Seattle University on Monday, May 16. It will be played publicly for the first time at a special Mass this Sunday. That honor falls to McNamara, who will be joined by Sherman, Peterson and the SU Choir.  

The Commons caught up with McNamara in the chapel as he was familiarizing himself with the new instrument just days before its debut. “I am excited for this well-crafted organ to take its place beside our wonderful Steinway piano, allowing us the creative freedom of two excellent accompanying instruments,” he said. “While the organ will connect us with the great tradition of liturgical music in a new way and open up some new possibilities for solo works and instrumental ensemble, I'm most looking forward to hearing how it supports the sung prayer of the people gathered for worship in the chapel.” 

Sherman concurs. “It just adds a whole warmth of resonance and life to the service,” she says. “I’m really excited that this is happening.” 

Because the organ is transportable, Sherman, Peterson and the SU Choirs will also be able to take it on the road, for instance to St. Joseph Church where they perform their annual Christmas concert. 

David Petty, the organ’s builder, was also in the chapel during McNamara’s test drive. Reflecting on the project, which took six months, he said, “This is the nicest thing I've ever built...The greatest joy was having it come together and be playable.” 

Hembree points out that the instrument is the most significant artistic addition to the chapel since the Marian statue, and that the organ joins “all of the other specially commissioned works of art in that major sacred space.” Hembree adds that the organ’s custom cabinetry, carved by Mark Winfree-Andrew, “is intended to be in a style consistent with the chapel's contemporary aesthetic.” 

Funding for the organ was contributed by members of the Krsak family, which has a long legacy at Seattle University beginning with George and Rita Krsak who attended the university in the 1940s. Rita, who passed away in 2003, was a music major. She and George, who is still living, were involved with musical productions while students at SU. Their passion for music has been passed down through the generations. In fact, two members of the Krsak family tree, Gemma Balinbin, and Bella Stachurski, whose parents both sang with the SU Choirs, will perform with the choir at the Mass on May 22. 

The SU community is invited to hear the organ’s debut on Sunday, May 22, at the Chapel of St. Ignatius. Including a celebratory prelude at 3:45 p.m., the dedication Mass will begin at 4 p.m. For more information, contact Erin O’Roak at 296-6105 or