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Organist at organ console Olivier Latry Our Lady of Refuge Church Kilgen

Olivier Latry plays organ dedication at Our Lady of Refuge Church Brooklyn Diocese

Today marks the 4th Anniversary of the blessing of the organ at Our Lady of Refuge by the Bishop Nicholas Anthony DiMarzio of the Brooklyn Diocese and the dedicatory recital played by Olivier Latry. The church was packed to capacity. What started in 2006 with a simple question turned into a totally unlikely triumphant success.

Bishop DiMarzio was quoted by a reporter after the dedication at Our Lady of Refuge that the organ is “restoring the glory that was in Brooklyn”  

Olivier Latry is widely recognized as one of the leading organists in the world today. His talent to play music, and to artistically interpret the music on the printed page is extraordinary. But he has a greater gift and that is to just makes music up on the spot from nothing or improvises. Mr. Latry travels the world playing on the most important stages and in the most important churches.

Mr. Latry told a story in an interview for JAV 180 about where he practiced when he was 17 years old.

“rest of the time I was at home practicing on the piano and on the organ in my parish church, St. Michel, a two-manual with 17 stops, that I just destroyed because I worked so hard on the pedalboard!  Every day, I just practiced scales and pedal technique for one and a half hours, when people were still praying downstairs; you can imagine how agreeable that should have been for them! And the priest, l’Abbé Wiel, was so nice and helpful, letting me practice all the time. He even bought me a heater to put on the organ loft just to be sure to not be too cold in winter!” 

We today are all so lucky that a kind priest allowed Mr. Latry to practice on the pipe organ at his church.

Charles Courboin, the organist of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, not only drew up the stop-lists of the organ at Our Lady of Refuge, but also specified the pipe-scales and supervised the voicing of specimen pipes in Kilgen’s workshop for the organ. In the summer of 1933 manufacture started on the pipe for the organ in St. Louis, Missouri. By the Fall of 1933 the pipes were voiced and the rest of the instrument was coming together. The organ was shipped to Brooklyn in January of 1934 to the new church that would be consecrated later that year.

In 2006 Joe Vitacco introduced himself to Fr. Michael Perry the Pastor of Our Lady of Refuge in the school hall after Mass. The pipe organ barely played at that point and asked Fr. Perry if he could see it. Joe Vitacco the owner of JAV Recordings had attended Mass at Our Lady of Refuge with his Grandmother in the early 1970s. It was there he first heard its pipe organ and was hooked for the rest of his life. One thing lead to another and Joe was making youtube movies of Fr. Perry asking for help fixing the parish’s pipe organ. The New York Times did an article Hallelujah, YouTube on how the money was being raised. No one at the Brooklyn Diocese had ever heard of a church doing this when the NY Times asked. Fast forward many years. Neither Fr. Michael Perry nor Joe Vitacco were giving up. Joe asked his thousands of his organ CD customers around the world to donate to the cause, and they did. Criticially he saw that two of the finest organbuilding firms in the United States did the work. A.R. Schopp’s Sons and Quimby Pipe Organs. They both went above and beyond in their workmanship. Fr. Perry asked numerous friends from outside the parish to help and he came through. Both Fr. Michael Perry and Joe Vitacco were an unlikely tag team working together for years.

In the summer of 2013 this marathon was approaching the finish line. The New York Times was sold on doing a follow up article on the one they originally did. James Barron came to the church and climbed through the organ and interviewed Fr. Perry and Joe Vitacco. His article From a Child’s Memory, the Sounds of an Organ Is Brought Back  is an almost a motivation read of what can happen when people persist against odds great and small to win overall.

Six very well attended organ recitals followed the dedication. Here are recorded highlights of the recitals. The organ (given the name George) made some new friends.  Who knows when the Olivier Latry of tomorrow will email or call the church needing a place to learn music. The pipe organ is a draw and likely will bring people to the Catholic Faith. Most of all it sounds wonderful accompanying the voices of people Praising God. What a wonderful treasure the Brooklyn Diocese has not only in a pipe organ but also in its clergy and laity. Lets hope that the seeds planted and tended to by many will continue to bare fruit – fruit that will last (John 15: 16).

Video of Olivier Latry playing at Our Lady of Refuge on October 18, 2013
Louis Vierne Symphonie No. 1
IV. Allegro vivace
VI. Final

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