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25th anniversary of Burman University’s one-of-a-kind pipe organ

Celebration concert on Nov. 18
Burman University is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its Casavant organ at College Heights Seventh-day Adventist Church on campus, on Nov. 18. (Contributed by Burman University)

Burman University has planned a musical celebration for Saturday in honour of the 25th anniversary of the Casavant organ at the College Heights Seventh-day Adventist Church on campus.

The Nov. 18 service, featuring the university’s choral, string, brass and wind ensembles, will start off with a light reception at 6:30 p.m., followed by the program at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.

Music professor Dr. Wendy Markowsky, Burman’s music department chair and university organist, said the Lacombe organ is among Alberta’s finest pipe organs.

“Our organ has almost 3,000 individual metal and wooden pipes. Each pipe sounds one pitch,” said Markowsky about the pipes that range in size from a pinky finger to 4.8 metres high and about .3 metres wide.

Most of the workings of the wind instrument and its pipes are behind the towering front ranks of pipes that are visible to the congregation.

Used weekly for church services as well as concerts, she said the organ is as versatile as the organist who plays it.

“Think of a large orchestra that can play huge volume, but can also play whisper soft. That’s the beauty of the organ. It has a huge range of dynamics.”


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Owned by the university, but housed in the campus church, the one-of-a-kind organ was specially built for the church by one of the world’s most celebrated organ makers Casavant Freres of Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., in business since 1879.

It took more than three weeks for a team from Casavant to install the organ, and more than four weeks to fine-tune the instrument to the room.

Markowsky said last year the organ received a thorough cleaning, something it needs every 20 or 30 years.

“That was a huge two-week project where we took out by hand probably three-quarters of those pipes. I had about 20 volunteers in a big snake line. It was quite the process.”


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The organ will be featured in some of the upcoming performances in the university’s Sunday at 4 concert series.

Soprano Helen Hassinger will perform with organist, pianist, and harpsichordist Matthew Whitfield on Jan. 28 at 4 p.m.

Organ-piano duo Duo Majoya will perform on March 17 at 4 p.m.

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