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Parishes hope to pioneer use of organ in Catholic liturgical worship

KOTA KINABALU – A group of Sabahan musicians from three churches under the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu hope to be pioneers in incorporating organ music in their liturgical worship.

Under the guidance of liturgical expert Fr Cosmas Lee, choir directors and musicians from Sacred Heart Cathedral, Church of Mary Immaculate and St Simon Church were briefed on the digital organ, a cheaper and space-saving alternative to a pipe organ.

A Singaporean organ expert and choir director shared his knowledge on the music instrument with local musicians.

Alphonsus Chern, 38, believes in the group’s vision and said it was “possible” through perseverance and commitment, even though it may seem to be a monumental task.

“I strongly believe it is possible,” said Alphonsus, who helps co-ordinate the organ installations in Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia.

“Sabah is very young in terms of Catholic liturgical worship culture. The people are likely willing to accept something that is grounded in sound liturgical principles and shared with them in a way that is respectful and empathetic.

“What your group needs is perseverance and commitment to see it through, and to always rely on your faith in difficult times. St Simon (Church Likas) has a very strong advocate in your parish priest, it is the ideal place to start this.”

Alphonsus, who is also an organist at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in Singapore, said it is never too early or too late to introduce the organ in churches because it “is such a wonderful instrument”.

He advised aspiring organists to not only practise a lot but also to take their role seriously and with humility.

“Take your role seriously and with humility. Don’t play to satisfy your own ego. You are servant to the liturgy and to the congregation. You make or break the Mass.”

On whether the pricing plays a role in the lack of interest towards pipe organ or digital organ in the State, he said it may not be an accurate way to describe the cost of an organ.

“Organs are expensive, yes. The cutting-edge processing and sampling technology that is used to reproduce the extremely complex speech of thousands of individual pipes and their reverb characteristics, the high quality components and cabinetry are all made in Allen’s own factory in the USA.

“All this makes an Allen organ cost more than other brands, but in the long run it is actually more value for money because they are built so well, and last longer than any other organ I know of, and that makes it cheaper to own in the long run.

“An electone reproduces orchestral instruments and is used mainly for secular arrangements and designed for home entertainment use. We have appropriated it for church use but the sound does not give us the ‘feeling’ that an organ does because the audio signal is attenuated to be compatible for home Hifi systems.

“A church organ, on the other hand, is specifically designed to reproduce the very high and low frequencies of a real organ which, in the physical sense, is responsible for the sense of awe that an organ gives us when we hear it.

“Liturgical worship is a way of bringing us closer to the heavenly and the organ is the instrument that does this best because of its physical characteristics.”

The uniqueness of an organ is the “thrilling” sound that it produces.

The local musicians, who seemed both excited and scared at the same time at the prospect of introducing the instrument in their respective parishes, were told to set targets that are achievable within their comfort zone and a bit beyond.

Alphonsus assured that the organ is as flexible as the organist is.

“I have used the pipe organ to accompany solo singers, cantors, instruments such as the trumpet, violin, playing gospel hymns, jazz, praise and worship, secular songs, contemporary and traditional hymns and background music.”

Alphonsus, whose day job is as a photojournalist with New Straits Times, said he barely has any time for himself.

“I have a wife and three children. My wife teaches organ music, and co-directs the choirs with me. I work eight hours a day and then service organs and give consultations in the other hours.

“It’s work seven days a week for me for the last two years but I always remind myself that if God has given me the ability to make something happen, to do useful things, to lay the path for the future musicians, then I cannot rest until it is done.

“Things don’t change because people are afraid to give more of themselves. Trust God!”

His vision is to give those who cannot afford music education a chance to become organists and conductors and choristers. “Liturgical music is for everyone, not just the privileged and wealthy.”

“Good liturgical music is very attainable. Exposure and training will help us get there. I also want to establish a music department at the Cathedral in line with the professional way it is done in the West.”

On how he juggles his busy life, he said he makes it a point that at every choir session, it starts and ends with a prayer that unites the hearts and focuses the minds of all choristers and musicians for the day.

“In all things that I do, I try and remember that God is at the centre of everything. It is He who gave me the talents that I have. Therefore, it must be to serve Him that I use these gifts. Not to use them would be a sin.

     “To use them for my own sake would be selfish. With this in mind, it helps to keep my work focused and I trust that He will make things happen in His own time and way.” – SOCCOM St Simon

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