At St. Cecilia Cathedral, organ to perform at own birthday bash -
Published Sunday, October 20, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 12:44 pm
At St. Cecilia Cathedral, organ to perform at own birthday bash

Marie Rubis Bauer sits at the bench of an immaculate pipe organ three stories tall and summons forth sounds centuries in the making.

Bauer, 51, the director of music ministries for Omaha's St. Cecilia Cathedral, performs two versions of a piece by Johann Sebastian Bach. First, she plays in a “modern” tuning system: powerful, dissonant and slightly foreboding — the organ of masked phantoms hiding out in opera houses. Then, she plays the piece as Bach would have heard it in his time: lighter, sweeter and more delicate, like hundreds of piccolos in harmony.

This ability to switch styles and evoke some 700 years of sound — or play in two temperaments, in organ speak — makes the pipe organ that sits high above the west entrance at St. Cecilia a musical landmark in the United States. There is one other like it in the country, on the campus at Stanford University.

“In organ circles, this organ would be known on a world basis,” Bauer said.

Over the next month, St. Cecilia Cathedral will celebrate the organ's 10th anniversary with a series of events, beginning with a free concert Tuesday night featuring Olivier Latry, chief organist at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Latry, a world-renowned performer praised for his improvisation, also appeared at St. Cecilia during the year-long celebration of the instrument's installation.

Bauer recalls that when Latry arrived a decade ago, he spent hours and hours getting to know the organ before playing it for the public. It is an idiosyncrasy unique to an instrument that is architectural in nature. Organists do not travel with their instruments; they travel to them.

“Up until the Industrial Revolution, organs and clocks were some of the most sophisticated things that people built,” Bauer said.

The innards of the St. Cecilia organ — officially known as the Pasi Opus 14 — illustrate her point. Behind the intricate wood shell that faces the congregation courses an elaborate mechanism of wood and lead capable of operating without electricity. An entire room to the north of the organ is devoted to the intake and output of air, providing the wind that gives voice to the 5,500 pipes.

The organ was designed by an Austrian named Martin from a Washington town called Roy.

Martin Pasi of Pasi Organ Builders researched, built and installed the $1.1 million instrument, a process that spanned five years and produced an organ that draws visitors from around the world. An artisan organ builder such as Pasi faces numerous challenges, starting with the acoustics of their environment. In this regard, the Omaha cathedral was ideal.

“As far as the sound goes, it's a beautiful room,” Pasi said. “One can usually only dream about these kinds of things. I had the luxury of actually having one to work in like that.”

Pasi returned to Omaha for the organ's 10th anniversary. He'll check to see if it requires any maintenance before taking in Latry's performance.

“My career wouldn't be the same without that instrument,” he said. “It has always been extremely special to have had the privilege to build that organ.”

Most days, the privilege of playing goes to Bauer, who came to St. Cecilia the year the instrument debuted. On Sundays, she arrives at the cathedral at 6 a.m. to practice for an hour before doors open, then plays at Masses into the early afternoon.

“It's life-changing every time I sit down (to play),” she said. “I'm a lucky duck.”

Bauer grew up outside the small town of Lakefield, Minn., where her music-loving father listened to Bach as he milked cows and volunteered as the church organist on Sundays. She followed in his footsteps and then some, completing her education with a doctorate from the University of Kansas, a school known for training organists.

On a recent weekday morning, Bauer demonstrated the range, power and responsiveness of the St. Cecilia organ, manipulating the dozens of keys, knobs, levers and pedals that give voice to the instrument — or more accurately, voices.

“If an organist is doing their job, they're managing a large choir,” she said. “Some would say orchestra, but because it's wind, I say choir.”

She looks forward to this week's anniversary concert — though she recognizes a decade is a blip in the life span of an instrument built to last centuries.

“In the life this organ will lead, 10 years is just the beginning,” she said.

* * * *

If you go...

What: Olivier Latry, chief organist for Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Cost: Free
Where: St. Cecilia Cathedral, 701 N. 40th St.

Contact the writer: Casey Logan    |   402-444-1056    |  

Casey's a GA features reporter looking for good stories to tell about interesting people.

Archives: So many wonderful old Omaha photos
Earth Day: A change in habits can help the planet
‘Wonder Bread Years’: Tickets on sale now for salute to baby boomer generation
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium going greener
Annie Mailbox: My daughter will quit smoking if I lose weight
Win a Mommy Makeover!
Why two hotshots ditched six-figure salaries for a life of less
Jeff Corwin hopes to build connection with nature at Nebraska Science Festival
Annie, when that girl's hitting the bottle, look out
Blair High senior shows his love of pi by memorizing 1,381 digits
Jon Stewart might be real king of late night
'Tis soon Talk Like Shakespeare Day; hence be mirthful!
Can't find your pet? Social media is there to help
Easter Sunday temperatures climb into 80s in Omaha area
From fashion to baskets, a guide to the latest Easter trends
Families from area shelters treated to meal at Old Chicago
Mizzou alumni aim to attract veterinary students to Henry Doorly Zoo
This Friday, celebrate Arbor Day where it all began
Annie, my boyfriend of 3 years won't invite me to his mobile home
Kooser: 'American Life in Poetry' (April 20)
Swoosie’s voice a joy in memoir of stage, family
It's a pursuit of pastel at Spring Lake Park's Easter egg hunt
Want a different garden? Turn to your local greenhouse, nursery
How they met: An Omahan's 50-foot fall was best thing to ever happen to him
Annie, I'm telling you checking out nude bodies online is not porn
< >
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Steam-A-Way Carpet Cleaning
$50 for 3 rooms and a Hallway up to 600 square feet
Buy Now
Jump to a blog:
< >
We Love Weddings blog
W.E. Love Weddings is about everything Omaha and everything weddings by the editors of Wedding Essentials Magazine.
Weddings and engagements
Share your exciting news with your community by placing an announcement today.
Inspired Home Omaha magazine
Sign up today to get the latest edition of Omaha's best magazine for local living, home entertainment, fashion and travel!
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »