University of Dubuque Commissions Custom-Crafted Pipe Organ

Apr 5, 2019 | University Relations staff

DUBUQUE, Iowa – University of Dubuque President Jeffrey F. Bullock is excited to announce today the commissioning of Dobson Pipe Organ Builders to build and install a pipe organ in Heritage Center’s John and Alice Butler Hall to expand students’ musical horizons and enhance campus events.

The $2.4 million pipe organ, known as Opus 97, is the gift of UD Trustee John Butler (DHL’17) and his spouse, Alice (DHL’17).

“Dobson Pipe Organ Builders, based in Lake City, Iowa, is one of the premier pipe organ builders in the world, with pipe organs throughout the country and overseas. We are delighted to work with a company that is dedicated to building versatile, powerful, and beautiful instruments and works of art,” Bullock said.

Known as Opus 97, the pipe organ will take over 21,000 hours of labor to build and install to the left of the proscenium stage in Butler Hall. The front pipes, which will speak and be constructed of burnished 85 percent tin, represent only a fraction of Opus 97’s 3,033 pipes, the majority of which will stand behind the wall.

Construction of the pipe organ began in Dobson’s workshop last year. Installation will begin May 2020 and be completed November 2020. Some prep work will occur in Heritage Center this summer.

Opus 97 will accompany campus events such as worship, convocations, baccalaureate, and choir performances, become an integral component of Christmas at Heritage Center, and be utilized as a practice and recital instrument.

“Much like Heritage Center, Opus 97 will create new opportunities and change the way we experience our university,” said Charles Barland, UD organist and head of the Department of Fine and Performing Arts. “A pipe organ can be a spectacular musical instrument with variety of sounds on par with a symphony orchestra. Being able to help select the sounds for the instrument is truly an honor that most organists never have an opportunity to experience.”

Opus 97 consists of four divisions playable on three manual keyboards and pedal. Somewhat unconventionally, all manual divisions are enclosed for maximum dynamic flexibility. Unusual too is the provision of a Solo as the third manual division rather than a more ordinary Positive or Choir, an approach Dobson has explored with success in several previous instruments.

“As the major pipe organ on campus, Dobson Opus 97 will offer inspiring new teaching and performance opportunities for students and new musical experiences for listeners. The organ’s distinctive visual design identifies it as a unique art object in Butler Hall while still harmonizing with the warm interior of that space,” said John Panning, vice president and tonal director of Dobson Pipe Organ Builders.

Opus 97 represents a homecoming for Dobson. Having worked the past two decades with clients from coast to coast and overseas – the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, Merton College at Oxford University, Saint Thomas Church in New York City, among others – Opus 97 is the firm’s first new organ for an Iowa client since 1996.

Dubuque residents John and Alice Butler are partners in business, philanthropy, and community service in their hometown and beyond. In 2011, they were awarded the Telegraph Herald First Citizen Award in recognition of their contributions to the community. John Butler, executive chairman of Cottingham and Butler as well as a UD trustee, and Alice Butler hold a special place in their heart for UD. For nearly 40 years, the Butlers have made numerous investments in the University through their support of endowed scholarships, buildings, and, more recently, John and Alice Butler Hall.