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New organ enriches St. Anthony church experience

  • 3 min to read
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Music director Kim Noftsker reads music while playing at a Mass at St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Davenport. . 

Andy Abeyta, QUAD-CITY TIMES

When Kim Noftsker approaches the new pipe organ at St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Davenport, she changes into a special pair of black pumps.

The shoes, which she carries with her as an athlete might carry a special pair of cleats, allow her to better feel the vibrations of the instrument. It is part of the routine before Mass, when she plays the organ.

But that's not all of Noftsker's work. She also has booked Philippe Lefebvre, an organist of world fame, to play at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15, at the church, at 417 N. Main St., Davenport.

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St. Anthony's music director Kim Noftsker plays the newly installed Noack pipe organ during a recent Mass at St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Davenport. A special event, featuring world-renowned organist Philippe Lefebvre, is planned for Oct. 15.

Noftsker, a Bettendorf native, formerly was a professional opera singer in New York City. She returned to the Quad-Cities in 2008 and now directs the music program for St. Anthony's. The new organ was installed last spring, after two years of organizing and fundraising that netted more than $400,000 for the project.

St. Anthony's has only had three organs since it was built in 1847, Noftsker said, though sparse records make it difficult to pinpoint dates on organ installations over the years.

In honor of the newest instrument, Noftsker has arranged a concert with one of the foremost organists in the world: Lefebvre, lead organist at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Ticket prices are $10 for students and $30 for adults. A ticket for a post-concert meet-and-greet without an actual seat for the concert is $50 while the concert plus the meet-and-greet can be had for $70.

"He is known as one of the great improvisers of this century; he is absolutely phenomenal," Noftsker said.

The post-concert meet-and-greet with Lefebvre will also feature the organ's builders from Noack Organ Co., Georgetown, Mass., led by Didier Grassin.

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Music director Kim Noftsker plays the foot pedals with a special pair of shoes on the new organ at St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Davenport. 

The last instrument to occupy the space was an electric pneumatic organ. Its cotton wiring was a fire hazard and most of its mechanisms no longer worked. Noftsker led the charge to replace that 1940s organ with a new mechanical action, tracker organ. She said the new model "should last hundreds of years if properly maintained."

Noftsker brought up her concerns about the previous organ to Ralph Cook, then the president of the church council.

With the old organ on its last legs, Cook said it was decided to switch to the piano while fundraising for a new Noack organ.

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Music director Kim Noftsker fingers the keys of the new organ at St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Davenport.   

Noftsker and Cook appeared before the parish council, the finance council, and a third council in the Diocese of Davenport before the project was fully approved.

In another year the money was raised, with funding including several bequests in the name of those who had passed away, Cook said. It took eight months to build the organ, custom-sized to the space on the balcony of the church.

"This was a good investment," Cook said. "It also keeps the history of the church in place."

The new organ has hundreds of what are called "tracker rods," and the organist can "feel" the action when it's played. "That's very cool!" Noftsker said.

There are also buttons to add sounds of different instruments, like a flute, or reed instrument. "That's nice when I'm playing a big piece," she said.

Carpeting on the church balcony was removed, and a reinforced hardwood floor installed. It took several weeks to complete. Noack sent builders, including Grassin and Bertrand Cattiaux, from France.

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It took about two years to raise funds and install the new Noack pipe organ at St. Anthony's Catholic Church.

In March there was a tornado warning while the men worked on the new organ. "They'd not heard of that before; they had to come downstairs and take shelter," she said.

Noftsker, who began playing the new organ in March, has played some concerts. She is also working with several choir groups she's formed, including an adult choir which includes some children, a children's choir, a children's string ensemble, and eight children who are cantors.

"We incorporate our music in the community as well," she said, talking about projects with Assumption High School choir students, and activities for local non-profit organizations.

Noftsker graduated from Bettendorf High School, and was attending Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, when a music teacher discovered her. She ended up at the Manhattan School of Music, and worked with her teacher there, who sang with the Metropolitan Opera.

But that teacher died suddenly, and Noftsker moved on. She married her accompanist, had a daughter and found jobs as a professional singer.

Eventually, her mother developed cancer, and Noftsker, divorced, came home to care for her. She went back to college and got a nursing degree and a job at a hospital. Her daughter, now 19, is a student at St. Ambrose University.

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Music director Kim Noftsker sits at the console of a newly installed Noack organ at St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Davenport. Noftsker and her church are holding a fundraiser at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15, where Phillipe Lefebvre, an internationally recognized organist from Paris, will perform.

She's worked in churches since her days at the Manhattan School of Music, both Lutheran and Episcopal. She converted recently to Catholicism.

"I'm very lucky," she said. "People here are very supportive of good music.

Noftsker loves to play the organ. "For me, it's very spiritual to play, and with the great works of the masters, like Bach."

Her favorite composer is Johann Sebastian Bach. She loves that the music was composed more than 300 years ago.

"That's very inspiring," she said. "I'm humbled to be able to do this,"

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