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«Why Do (Many) Organs not Survive for Centuries?»

Started by organforumadmin, September 11, 2011, 01:05:38 AM

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Moderation Prof. Mag. Dr. Wofgang Kreuzhuber
OBM Wolfgang Rehn
Dr. Nikolaus Könner
Drs. Paul Peeters

A commonplace about pipe organs is that they survive for centuries. But
it is still not universally accepted that organs require regular maintenance.
On the other hand, too much maintenance is counterproductive. Beware
the annual general tuning!
Changes in musical taste and temporary fads have often been responsible
for damage to historical instruments, especially when the instruments
represent a particular style, are part of a particular organ landscape or
are associated with a particular artistic personality. A change of organist
on an important organ and/or changing expectations in Church Music
have often led to major interventions in the conception of an existing instrument.
At the same time, removing proven defects can lead to meaningful improvement
of an instrument and hence to its increased estimation. The
history of organ building shows that changes in the original construction
motivated solely by personal preferences mean the beginning of the end
of an instrument.


No easy answers... The use of electric/electropneumatic key action may have something to do with this...

One must understand that a mechanical key action can also with constant use become worn and fail prematurely...

And certainly changes in musical taste are certainly a factor, especially if the existing instrument shows its age and expensive repair work may make the decision to replace the existing instrument "easier"...

Here is a case-in-point...

The words you see in the above URL would tend one to assume the worst... but, read on!

Quote"When In our Music, God is Glorified" was the final hymn to flow through the vintage pipe organ at First Presbyterian Church in Green Bay, and Don VerKuillen played it.

VerKuillen called it the perfect piece of music for an instrument that has served the downtown congregation for more than 80 years.

"I just let the organ, as loud as it could, make this joyful noise," said VerKuillen, 17, who has been the organist at First Presbyterian for a year. "It's a wonderful hymn. The text is so fitting for that type of occasion."

The organ — built in the 1920s by the Wangerin Organ Company in Milwaukee, which is no longer in business — was retired on Sept. 4 in a church service. It was a special moment for VerKuillen and many of the longtime church members who attended.

"The whole time, I was not thinking about the music whatsoever," VerKuillen said. "I was thinking: 'Oh my God, this is the last thing that the organ is going to play, and I'm playing it right now.' It was kind of this sad feeling and happy feeling all at the same time."

The pipe organ had started to wear down, show its age and become unreliable, VerKuillen said. Sometimes one of the pipes would hit a note and keep going even if the key was no longer depressed; other parts of the organ would just quit working sometimes, he said.

First Presbyterian is raising funds for a new custom-built organ — with parts from the old one —that church leaders hope will be ready in December. According to the church website, they have raised $122,681. The target is $180,000, VerKuillen said.

In the meantime, a piano and a harpsichord are filling in.

The church is working with P.J. Swartz Inc., a Georgia-based company that rebuilds and restores pipe organs.

"There are no two pipe organs in the world that are the same," VerKuillen said. "Each one is custom built for the room that it goes in. You can't just go out and buy a pipe organ. You have to have a builder come to the room. They get a feeling for the room that it's in. A pipe organ is nothing if it's not designed to the room that it's going to be in."

First Presybertian's vintage instrument was small for a pipe organ, VerKuillen said. It had nine ranks, with each rank representing 61 pipes. He likened its music to singing.

David Wilson, a member of the church for 12 years, said the organ has been an integral part of the church for more than eight decades.

"I think for most churches — at least with a congregation like ours that has been in this neighborhood for 135 years — an organ and organ music are very important to a religious setting."

Wilson said church members in recent years have moved to the suburbs, but they continue to worship at the downtown church. The pipe organ is part of their tradition, he said.

The church's organ committee had considered other options for their musical accompaniment. "After much research, thoughtful deliberation and an extensive amount of prayers, the committee announced that a new organ will be built," said VerKuillen, who was pleased with the decision. He said he had a connection to organ music before he could walk or talk, adding that the only time he behaved in church as a little boy was when the organ was playing.

VerKuillen said the pipe organ has "a very emotional role" in the church.

"It's the thing that gets played at the weddings, and it plays the music at people's funerals," he said. "And every Sunday at church, it leads the congregation in singing, which I believe is the most important part of the church service, because it's when the congregation can participate ... That's just really powerful."

Bear in mind the age of the organist :o ;D :D ;) :) 8)
Quote said VerKuillen, 17, who has been the organist at First Presbyterian for a year.


The objective is to reach human immortality—that is, to create things which are necessary to mankind, necessary to the purpose of the existence of mankind, and which have become the fruit that drives the creation of a higher state of mankind than ever existed before."


This story deals with a much more "visible" instrument, one which by all accounts was "doomed" from the time it was installed...

QuoteKennedy Center Needs a New Pipe Organ
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By Anne Midgette
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 28, 2009

Imagine you're renting out the Kennedy Center concert hall for your chorus's or orchestra's concert. You do this because the Kennedy Center is the main seat of the performing arts in the nation's capital. Sure, it costs you upward of $21,000, but being there confers a certain prestige. You get red carpeting, plush seats, majestic views of the Potomac from the lobby.

You also, unfortunately, get an organ that is prone to emitting loud, sometimes embarrassing noises of its own volition, at unexpected moments. Think of a football referee blowing his whistle during a quiet passage in your Requiem, and you'll get the idea. The Kennedy Center organ is in such poor condition that it has been deemed unplayable and probably unsalvageable.

Last year, the Kennedy Center asked the independent organ builder Lynn Dobson to give a professional assessment of the Filene organ. That assessment "recommended that it really is in such an unusable condition, it's not worth saving and it really should be replaced," Claudette Donlon, the Kennedy Center's executive vice president of administration said yesterday.

Donald McCullough, the director of the Master Chorale, fell victim to the pesky instrument in December. While McCullough was conducting, the organ emitted a very loud sound over his head, and technicians backstage ran around in search of the power switch (which is, inconveniently, on a different level from the stage). Eventually the pipe shut off with a cartoonish, Doppler-like whine (WHEEEEEeeeeeahhh), only to resume full blast when the organ was turned on again. At that point, the decision was made to perform the rest of the concert with piano accompaniment. The audience, however, enjoyed McCullough's informal explanatory lecture while the technicians scrambled. "You do these little things," McCullough says, "and people talk about that more than the great piece you did."

"It was all rather comical," he adds.

It might be funnier if this had only happened once. The problem is, this kind of thing happens all the time. Washington's chorus directors and organists have simply learned to adapt to ciphers, which, in organ terminology, refers to the sounding of a pipe when no key has been pressed. According to Irving Lawless, who installed the organ in 1972 and still works, harder than he should have to, as its curator, the problem is worst in winter, when there is the least humidity in the hall -- and when Washington's choruses all use it for their Christmas concerts.

But you really hate to have it happen to someone like Lorin Maazel, who in November 2007 conducted the National Symphony Orchestra in Saint-Saëns's Symphony No. 3, "Organ." Lawless says the problems began during the second rehearsal. The first performance went fine, but there was a problem during the second performance. During the third performance, as William Neil, the NSO's organist, describes it, Lawless sat backstage "in one of the organ chambers in the organ itself with a flashlight and all the lights turned out, poised to pull pipes out on the fly because notes were sticking."

Washington's musicians have diverging views on many things, but you'll find little argument about the Kennedy Center's organ. "The thing is nonfunctional, really," says Julian Wachner, music director of the Washington Chorus.

The Filene organ seems to have been doomed from the start. Donated by Catherine Filene Shouse, it was built during a period of change in the aesthetics of organ sound, when the trend was toward thinner, higher, lighter, neo-Baroque organs. "There's a lot of clarity, a lot of point," says J. Reilly Lewis, director of the Cathedral Choral Society and the Bach Consort, and an organist. "But it just doesn't have the eloquence, the spaciousness, the majesty you really need." In other words, it doesn't cut through the orchestra.

The construction wasn't very good either. Aeolian-Skinner, the organ's maker, long represented a pinnacle of American organ-building, but the firm folded while the organ was still being installed, and the instrument was significantly affected by the company's last-ditch attempts at cost-cutting. Skinner's air chests were normally "built like a Mack truck," Lawless says, but those on the Filene organ used an experimental construction. So did the console, which Lawless had to rebuild some years ago.

"I've done a lot of installations for Aeolian-Skinner," he says. "This one has been giving me gray hairs all along."

It hasn't helped that the organ has been subject to a certain amount of extra wear and tear over the years -- such as the time the humidifying system backed up a few years ago, pouring water into the chest.

QuoteAnd the renovation of the Kennedy Center didn't do it any favors. The acoustic canopy that helps focus orchestral sound actually obscures the organ, and the instrument was moved 15 feet farther back. "Technically, it's outside the room," Lawless says.

The problem is clear enough. But in these tough economic times, nobody is quite sure what to do about it. Dobson's report estimates the cost of a new organ at $3 million to $5 million; "raising money," says the Kennedy Center's Donlon, "is more difficult than it's ever been"; and the center has other demands on its resources, like continuing to bring the building up to code. "We really haven't determined a timeline" for dealing with the organ question, Donlon says.

Is an organ a necessity or a luxury? Certainly, there are many pieces in the orchestral repertory that call for an organ: Neil cites the Brahms Requiem and Strauss's "Alpine Symphony," both coming up this season, as works that could put the instrument to the test. Nigel Boon, the NSO's director of artistic planning, said through a spokesman that he does "bear the state of the organ in mind when planning" the orchestra's seasons. Recently, McCullough opted not to use the organ in a performance of Mendelssohn's "Elijah." "I couldn't count on it," he said.

Washington's organists and music directors look wistfully at other new halls across the country where significant instruments are helping to develop a stronger organ culture: Philadelphia's Kimmel Center, Dallas's Meyerson Symphony Center, Seattle's Benaroya Hall, or the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. They believe that the nation's capital should be able to hold its own in such company and dream of finding a donor who agrees with them. "There have to be Mrs. Shouses out there," says Neil, "who would love to see a grand instrument."

Yet many orchestral halls do without pipe organs. The Baltimore Symphony just performed the Saint-Saëns at the Meyerhoff and Strathmore on an electronic organ without incident. True, an electronic organ isn't the same as an acoustic instrument; "literally, you're just playing a recording back," says McCullough. But some of them sound pretty good. And they have the distinct advantage of working.

And choral directors are tired of gambling, particularly when they're shelling out the big bucks to perform at the Kennedy Center. "My recommendation to the board of the Washington Chorus," Wachner says, "is that we should rent an electric instrument this Christmas."

As for the pipe organ: At least it looks pretty.

But wait... There's more...

QuoteKennedy Center extends Eschenbach's contract; new organ in works

By Anne Midgette, Published: September 25

The National Symphony Orchestra opened its 80th anniversary gala concert at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Sunday night with a double-barreled announcement from the center's chairman, David M. Rubenstein. Christoph Eschenbach, the internationally renowned conductor and music director of the Kennedy Center, will extend his contract for two years, through the 2014-15 season. And the concert hall will, at long last, be getting a new organ.

The new organ comes courtesy of Rubenstein, who is donating the instrument — valued at about $2 million — as well as the cost of installation, which is slated to take place next summer. Built by the Canadian firm Casavant Frères, the new 5,000-pipe organ will replace the Filene organ, which was built by Aeolian-Skinner.

Although installed in 1972 and relatively young in organ terms, the 4,000-pipe Filene organ was problematic from the start — Aeolian-Skinner folded as the instrument was being put in — and has become so erratic, in part due to flooding and other wear and tear sustained during the renovation of the concert hall in 1997, that it has been virtually unusable.

In 2008, Lynn Dobson, an independent organ builder whom the Kennedy Center called in to assess it, said the instrument was not worth saving.

The new organ will retain 61 pipes from the old instrument in a special "Filene stop."

Eschenbach's contract extension comes after only one season. That first season was generally successful, certainly from the point of view of the orchestra's musicians, who are in full honeymoon mode about their conductor.

Eschenbach has given a couple of free chamber concerts with individual musicians on the Millennium Stage. It's hard to say what larger effect he has had on the Kennedy Center's programming, and he has not necessarily raised the orchestra's national or international profile yet (though an international tour is said to be in the works). Still, extending the contract offers more stability to an orchestra that has gone through a long period of uncertainty about its artistic leadership, and offers a vote of confidence to a conductor whose last tenure in Philadelphia was far less harmonious.

The objective is to reach human immortality—that is, to create things which are necessary to mankind, necessary to the purpose of the existence of mankind, and which have become the fruit that drives the creation of a higher state of mankind than ever existed before."



My name is Don VerKuilen. I am the organist at First Presbyterian Church in Green Bay. I am very upset about all the comments going on these sites about the project of our pipe organ. In the process of doing this organ, the historical value of the organ was taken in to a lot of thought. I would just like to clear up some things about the project. Some of the article I dont think was worded quite the way I wanted it to be. They are making it sound like its going to be all knew and we are just going to throw the old one away. Thats really not the case. The old organ had some BEAUTIFUL BEAUTIFUL sounds to it. It was soooooooo romantic sounding. It was very important to me that all those sounds would be kept and enhanced by some additions to the organ to make it a bigger sound, and able to play just about anything.

Before I was at the church, a previous organist had taken the 8′ Viola D' Amor and cut it in half, calling it a 2′ Principal. They didn't even care to change the stop tab, the just put a piece of masking tape on the stop and wrote in blue pen the new name. They had also taken out the 8′ Vox Humana and put in a rather nasty sounding 8′ Trumpet. Now I know the poor sound of the Trumpet may very well of been from the the old resivoir. The organ was getting less than 2″ of wind when It was to be on 4". Everything else on the organ is wonderful. There was also a later addition of a 4' Octave that was done really well!

Every Sunday something was going wrong on the organ. After the fire in the building the organ was caked in black. There were a lot of dead notes and when I got there, whole ranks of pipes didn't play. Something needed to be done!
In the new organ WE ARE KEEPING ALLL THE PIPE WORK OTHER THAN THE RUINED VIOLA D' AMOR AND THE ADDED TRUMPET! We are also adding a new trumpet and an Oboe to the swell. Instead of using the Unit Bourdon to play at 8,4,2, and 2 2/3 we are adding a 2' Block flute and a 2 2/3 Nazard. On the great we will add a 4' Octave, 2' principal, and a 4rnk Mixture. We are keeping the 8' Diapason from the old organ in the great and putting the added swell 4' Octave in the swell. In the pedal, we are adding a Haskell Base 16' Principal instead of the old Wangerin's Resultant 16' Principal. We are keeping the 16' Bourdon. Also adding a 16' Trumpet! Wahoo! All this will be played from a new console.

It will be easy to play the old wangerin it will just have some new parts so that It can last for years and years and years. I don't intend on having an organ that screeches, or has a poor sound. It will be a solid organ that will help support singing and also be able to play a wide range or lit for the organ. I am very happy, and excited for the organ to finish. We are getting close, should be done in late Jan. I will post about the dedication concert!



First, I wish to welcome you to this forum ;D  :)

The article quoted and your subsequent reply is not your first "appearance" here... See,136.0.html

QuoteSome of the article I dont think was worded quite the way I wanted it to be.

That is too often the case I am afraid... There is a tendency for the media to remove "technical details"
from news stories and to "paraphrase" :(   There are other examples (on this forum :o  where lack of information given in a media report has lead to the drawing of conclusions far removed from the facts, and subsequently the addition of a new member as a result :o :-[ 8) and with their contributions a better understanding of "the rest of the story" so-to-speak...

I was hoping that readers of the forum would take this into account when I included the news article in this particular thread as an example of a case where
Quoteremoving proven defects can lead to meaningful improvement
of an instrument and hence to its increased estimation

Your joining  this forum and your informative reply has certainly contributed to "filling in the gaps" in the original article, and moreover supports the thesis ;) 8) 8) 8) 8)

By your account much more than "parts" of the old organ will be used in the construction of the "new" instrument 8) 8) 8)  and of course we all wish to hear details of its inauguration ;)

Moreover your experience with this project could be usefully documented in other threads and would be of great interest to myself and other members, as well as those stumbling about cyberspace ;)

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year :D


The objective is to reach human immortality—that is, to create things which are necessary to mankind, necessary to the purpose of the existence of mankind, and which have become the fruit that drives the creation of a higher state of mankind than ever existed before."


A quick, brief update on the situation involving the organs mentioned above. I chatted with Don on Facebook and his reply indicates that the installation of the new instrument at First Presbyterian, Green Bay, Wisconsin, was successfully inaugurated on April 22... 8) 8) 8)

And the new Casavant purchased for the Kennedy Center is currently being installed ;) ;)

The objective is to reach human immortality—that is, to create things which are necessary to mankind, necessary to the purpose of the existence of mankind, and which have become the fruit that drives the creation of a higher state of mankind than ever existed before."

Pierre Lauwers

"The old organ had some BEAUTIFUL BEAUTIFUL sounds to it. It was soooooooo romantic sounding. It was very important to me that all those sounds would be kept and enhanced by some additions to the organ to make it a bigger sound, and able to play just about anything. "

Though one can understand this as common sense, in the real world, the long history of the organ
demonstrated this never works. "kept old stops" never sound like they were in a rebuilt organ.

Best wishes,