The Mormon who makes a joyful noise for Catholics

It took him two years, working in his living room, but he created a hand-crafted church organ that he plays every Sunday for a Catholic parish in Houston.


Ben Crandall gently lifted the hand-carved top off the cherry-wood organ and laid it to the side. He reached in and pulled two flutelike tubes from the 165 wood and metal pipes inside.

He took out another smaller pipe and used a knife to gently scrape antimonial lead off the bottom. He was tuning his creation. “You have to be gentle. Too much, and you change the sound,” he said.

Crandall, 36, of Sugar Land, built the portable pipe organ from his mind’s eye – converting his vision to reality for the St. Helen Catholic Church in Pearland.

He’s the church’s regular paid organist, playing the giant pipe organ in the main sanctuary. He’s also Mormon, a member of the Church of Latter-Day Saints.

The Rev. Jim Courville of St. Helen’s smiles when he talks about Crandall. “I think he’s a Catholic by nature now. He knows more liturgy than most Catholics.”

Crandall, who has a Ph.D. in organ performance from the University of Houston, laughed as he listened to the priest talk about him. His experience in a Catholic church was limited to recitals as he grew up. “I grew up pretty sheltered.”

He said he does spend a lot of time at the church. But he’s a committed Mormon, attending his own faith’s sacrament services at a meeting house on Sundays after playing for three Masses at St. Helen’s. His family attends a different service on Sunday mornings without him.

“Both churches value music,” he said, adding that many of the hymns are the same with different words.

Read more and see a slide show of the organ.

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