The Organ at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

The Cathedral Basilica has been graced with fine organs almost since its dedication in 1850. George Jardine, a well-known New York organ builder, completed the first instrument in 1858; it served admirably for nearly a century, until it was severely damaged by a fire in 1954.

In 1957, Msgr. Leo M. Byrnes, pastor of the Cathedral, supervised the installation of a new organ, custom-built by Wicks Organ Company of Highland, Illinois.  The tonal specifications were designed by Wallace McClanahan, assisted by James Mayton and J. Franklin Murray, S.J., all of Mobile. Tonal finishing was done by Robert Smith of Memphis.  At the time, the three-manual console contained eighty-two draw-knob stops and couplers to control forty-seven ranks of pipes, a total of over 3000 pipes. The tallest pipe in the organ is a twenty-one foot metal pipe, but the largest pipe is a rectangular wood pipe in the 32’ subbass register.  It measures 15 by 17 inches by 18 feet tall, and vibrates at a frequency of sixteen cycles per second, so low that its pulsations are felt rather than heard.  The smallest pipes are smaller than a pencil, and have a frequency of more than 8000 cycles per second.  Reverend Murray described the organ at its dedication:

“The new organ has a sparking clarity and harmonic richness of tone, even with the softest stops.  Played at full strength, the organ reverberates with a grandeur and magnificence of tone reminiscent of many European cathedrals.  All the families of organ tone are represented in the new instrument, which may be classified as American Neo-Classic in design.  The Choir Organ is almost purely Baroque in tonality.  A reed chorus in the French tradition adds fiery brilliance and clarity to the tonal ensemble.  The Diapason Chorus reflects the best work of the Wicks Company: exceptionally smooth flutes and a large and flexible string chorus give the organist the tonal resources of a symphony orchestra.”

The mahogany casework which encloses the Choir and Swell divisions was specifically designed (in Mobile) to harmonize with the architecture of the Cathedral.  The Great and Pedal divisions are unenclosed, and thus dominate on the rear wall.   The organ console is also enclosed in mahogany.  The stop knobs on the console use primarily French nomenclature, reflecting the French heritage of Mobile and the Cathedral.

In 2000, the organ console was completely renovated by the Wicks Company, including new keyboards, a new pedalboard, new key and pedal contacts, and new drawknobs.  The rest of the organ was restored and enhanced by Madison Lindsey and Troy Scott of Pipe Organ Specialties (Laurel, Mississippi).  Mr. Scott, a former Cathedral Music Director, took special pride in restoring the instrument to its place as a showpiece among regional organs; all the existing pipework was cleaned, polished, refinished, and rescaled, and two reservoirs were re¬leathered.  The renovation also included new solid-state electronics with additional couplers and a 99-level Peterson combination memory module.

Tonally, the organ remains true to its original conception.  However, the “heart” of the instrument, the Principal Chorus on the Great division, was completely replaced; as were the mixtures in the Swell and Choir divisions.  The organ was also “crowned” with a high-pressure horizontal reed, named the Oberkirch Trompette after the late Reverend Monsignor James Oberkirch, who presided over the renovation.  The Walker Organ Company provided new digital stops - a large trumpet in the Great division and six ranks in the Pedal division to balance the new acoustic ranks.  A more recent addition is a Zimblestern, provided by an anonymous donor.  The organ now totals fifty-five ranks of pipes and digital stops, and is one of the largest and finest organs in the Gulf Coast region.

GREAT CHOIR SWELL PEDAL

16’ Conical Flute

8’ Bourdon

16’ Bourdon

32’ Violone (d)

8’ Principal

8’ Dolcan

8’ Chimney Flute

32’ Subbass

8’ Harmonic Flute

8’ Dolcan Céleste

8’ Viole de Gambe

16’ Open Wood

8’ Conical Flute

4’ Koppelflöte

8’ Viole Céleste

16’ Principal (d)

4’ Octave

2 2/3’ Rohr Nasat

4’ Principal

16’ Stopped Diapason

4’ Chimney Flute

2’ Block Flöte

4’ Flùte Traversiére

16’ Violone

2 2/3’ Twelfth

1 3/5’ Tierce

2’ Octave

16’ Conical Flute (Gr)

2’ Fifteenth

1 1/3’ Larigot

IV Plein Jeu

16’ Bourdon (Sw)

IV Mixture

1 1/7’ Septième

16’ Bombarde

8’ Octave

8’ Trumpet (d)

1’ Fifre

16’ Clarinette

8’ Stopped Diapason

8’ Oberkirch Trompette

III Cymbale

8’ Trompette

8’ Conical Flute (Gr)

Chimes

8’ Trompette

8’ Hautbois

8’ Bourdon (Ch)

Zimblestern

8’ Cor Anglais

8’ Clarinette

8’ Chimney Flute (Sw)

Great to Great 16

4’ Chalumeau

4’ Clairon

4’ Choralbass

Great Unison Off

16’ Oberkirch Trompette

8’ Oberkirch Trompette

2’ Choral Octave

Great to Great 4

8’ Oberkirch Trompette

Swell to Swell 16

VI Grave Mixture

Swell to Great 16

4’ Oberkirch Trompette

Swell Unison Off

32’ Posaune (d)

Swell to Great 8

Great to Choir 8

Swell to Swell 4

16’ Posaune (d)

Swell to Great 4

Swell to Choir 16

Choir to Swell 8

16’ Bombarde (Sw)

Choir to Great 16

Swell to Choir 8

16’ Clarinette (Sw)

Choir to Great 8

Swell to Choir 4

8’ Trompete (d)

Choir to Great 4

Choir to Choir 16

8’ Trompette (Sw)

Great/Choir Transfer

Choir Unison Off

8’ Clarinette (Sw)

Choir to Choir 4

4’ Klarine (d)

4’ Clairon (Sw)

4’ Chalumeau (Ch)

8’ Oberkirch Trompette

Great to Pedal 8

Great to Pedal 4

Swell to Pedal 8

Swell to Pedal 4

Choir to Pedal 8

Choir to Pedal 4

The Oberkirch Trompette stops in each division are all drawn from the same rank, and are unaffected by couplers.

The Cathedral music program is also blessed to have the use of two Burton-type single-manual harpsichords designed by the Reverend William Gorman, a former Cathedral Associate Pastor. The harpsichords are used frequently in concerts at the Cathedral as well as other venues in the city.

The mixed-voice choir at the cathedral originated with Music Director Alfred Smola in 1959, and has a rich tradition of performing choral masterworks from the entire Church repertoire, ranging from 8th century Gregorian chants to the most modern works.  The semi¬professional ensemble regularly performs concerts of great sacred music at the cathedral, as well as providing musical leadership on Sundays and other important liturgies.  Cathedral choir members also form a base for the membership of Musica Sacra, a community chorus and professional chamber orchestra which performs biannual concerts at the cathedral.  The group is directed by Christopher Uhl, a former Cathedral Music Director.

Search Our Site

Saturday Morning 8:00AM
Saturday Vigil: 4:30 PM
Sunday Mass: 8:00 AM 10:30 AM
Weekday Mass: 12:10 PM*

*Major Holidays such as 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Labor Day, there is no 12:10 PM Mass. The daily Mass will be at 9:00 AM.