The Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ, Opus 3875
One of the visual and auditory highlights of Helzberg Hall is the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ, Opus 3875. This custom-built instrument was commissioned to showcase incredible sound, elegant beauty, and perfect harmony complementing the acoustical and visual design of Helzberg Hall.
Creating the organ required a collaborative effort between Casavant Freres, one of the best known and most respected pipe organ builders in the world, Kauffman Center architect Moshe Safdie, and Helzberg Hall acoustician Yasu Toyota. For example, the unique façade features fully functional wooden pipes hand-built by Casavant Freres artists, and its design echoes the preponderance of wood in Helzberg Hall, designed by Moshe Safdie. In turn, the gorgeous Alaskan cedar, Douglas fir, and oak in the rest of Helzberg Hall were selected by acoustician Yasu Toyota for their specific resonant qualities, making the hall, musicians, and organ work together as one perfectly tuned instrument. The organ was built in the Casavant Freres facility in Quebec, Canada, then disassembled and transported to Kansas City, where it was installed and underwent extensive testing and tuning.
Read an interview with one of the builders, conducted during construction of the organ.
As a result of this comprehensive design, building, and testing process, the organ is equally capable of performing under the orchestra, soaring above it in organ concertos, accompanying choir or choral groups, and, of course, brilliantly shining in solo organ repertoires. In contrast to the majority of organs in the United States which use an electro-pneumatic action, the instrument’s mechanical, or tracker, action gives the organist nuanced control of the speech of each pipe, much like flute players can control their instruments’ speech with their lips. The mechanical action provides subtle control for the talented organists who make full use of the organ’s considerable powers. It is the crown jewel of Helzberg Hall, a world-class instrument perfectly complementing the world-class facility in which it resides.
By the Numbers
- Four keyboards, 79 stops, 102 ranks
- 5,548 pipes, each one of which had to be individually tuned
- The biggest pipe is 32 feet tall and weighs approximately 960 pounds; the smallest is about the size of a pencil.
- Disassembled into almost 20,000 pieces to transport 1,368 miles from the Casavant-Freres workshop in Quebec to Kansas City
- It required 2 months of installation and
2 months of testing to “voice” the organ in