When Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the World Meeting of Families on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway last weekend, it sounded just like the Vatican in Rome.
That is in part because the masses held during the papal visit featured an organ like the one the Pope uses at the Vatican. It was provided by Cunningham Piano, a Philadelphia company that specializes in piano and organ sales and restorations. The owner of Cunningham Piano, Rich Galassini, is a Temple alumnus.
He first stepped into Cunningham Piano while he was a Temple student, where he majored in music education and vocal performance in the Boyer College of Music and Dance.
“I walked through the restoration facility where they do piano rebuilding and restoration, and I was amazed,” Galassini said. “It changed the way I thought about the piano. I never thought I would work there, let alone own the place.”
Galassini has been involved in music for his entire life and participated in various vocal groups during his time at Temple, like the concert choir, graduate conductors choir and the opera program.
After graduating in 1987, Galassini considered a career in music education, but soon realized it was not the direction he wanted to pursue after working in a Philadelphia public school for a short time.
A “help wanted” ad from Cunningham Piano in a newspaper started it all. He originally planned on working there temporarily until his classical performing career took off, but that temporary period turned into nearly 30 years.
It just so happened Pope Francis’ favorite organ to use for outdoor masses is the Rodgers organ, which is a brand Galassini is involved with. The model chosen for this event was the Rodgers Infinity 361 and after some discussion with the local Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, Galassini was chosen to supply the organ.
“We reached out to Father [Dennis] Gill, the pastor of the Basilica, made arrangements, and here we are,” Galassini said.
Since pipe organs are not easily transportable, a digital one is the next best thing because it emulates the sound. Sounds are digitally recorded on a chip within the instrument and can be recalled at any time.
The 1,200-pound organ was used at the Convention Center earlier last week and was moved to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the masses this past weekend.
A lot of other opportunities have presented themselves with Galassini’s job as owner of Cunningham Piano.
“I even get to meet and spend time with some talented, world class musicians,” Galassini said.
One of the most recent musicians to visit the Cunningham Piano showroom was Sándor Kádár, a world class organist from Hungary who was selected to play for the papal masses. Kádár has 20 years of experience playing all over the world and had been preparing to play for Pope Francis since the first rehearsal in July.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Kádár said.
Galassini received a once in a lifetime opportunity of his own when he was asked to sing in the papal choir. Chances like these, combined with his love of music, are the reason he enjoys his work, he said.
“I love seeing instruments come in and be fully restored, I love helping churches choose the right instruments for their sanctuaries,” he said. “It’s my passion.”
Brooke Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.