722 N. 145th St. | Shoreline, WA 98133

Organ Project Updates

March 28, 2019

This is the first article in an occasional series that will update you on what’s happening at the Ortloff Organ Shop as they build our new organ! I sat down with the intention of writing about the Slider Chests that are currently being built, but I quickly realized that organ lingo is confusing! Like any field, it’s necessary to learn the “words of the trade” in order to fully understand what’s happening.

If you’ll bear with me, this week’s article has been redesigned into a dictionary of the lexicon so that we’re all on the same page about what these words mean. The dictionary begins with very simple words that you might already know, but quickly gets into more complicated aspects of organ building.

At the Organ Console:

  • Organ Console:  Where the organist sits to play the organ. The console consists of manuals (keyboards for the hands), a pedalboard, stops, and pistons.
  • Manuals: The number of manuals differs from organ to organ. Our current and future organs are both two-manual organs.
  • Pedalboard: Keyboard for the feet.
  • Stops: Each stop controls a specific rank of pipes. When you pull a stop knob, wind is allowed into the channel for that rank of pipes (see below, “slider chest”). Different combinations of stops change the timbre of the organ.
  • Pistons: Buttons that allow the organist to change the combination of stops. The organist can set pistons in advance for a quick change of sounds.

Inside the Organ Case:

  • Division:  Set of pipes controlled by a specific keyboard at the console
  • “Great” Division: The set of pipes (ours will be housed in the free-standing case) controlled by the bottom manual. The Great is the main division on the organ.
  • “Swell” Division: The set of pipes, housed in the “Swell Box,” controlled by the upper manual. Our new Swell will contain most of the “color stops” on the organ.
  • Swell Box: Pipes in the Swell division are enclosed in a “box” (really, an insulated room). The front of the box that faces into the sanctuary does not have a wall, but rather a set of “shades” (like Venetian blinds) that the organist can open and close from the console. When the shades are closed, the sound is contained inside the box (don’t worry, you can still hear it! It’s just softer). As the organist opens the shades, you’ll hear a “Swell” as more sound is let into the sanctuary.
  • Windchest: The place in the organ on which the pipes sit.
  • Slider Chests: The most common type of windchest. Each rank of pipe is arranged on top of the chest “stop channel”. The pipes for each individual note sit together on their own “key channel.”

For an organ to make a sound, two events must occur:

  1. A stop must be pulled, allowing the wind into the channel.
  1. A key must be pressed, allowing the wind that is “at the ready” inside the channel to be allowed inside the “key channel” and into the organ pipe.

Now that you know some very important words in the organ building world, head over to the Ortloff Organ Company facebook page to see the work they’ve been doing on the Great and Swell Slider Chests! Remember that the shop uploads new photos and videos every Friday – if you haven’t already “liked” the shop page, I encourage you to do so! Jonathan includes helpful descriptions so us laypeople can understand what they’re doing.

Susanna Valleau, Parish Music Director


June 12: Here is a long-awaited update on our organ project:

Most recently, our organ builders have been continuing work on the wind chests (bonus points if you remember what those are! If not, you can refer to my previous article above. Toe holes have been drilled into the toe boards. The pipes will sit in these toe holes and the air will travel through them to make the pipe sound. Our organ will have approximately 1,066 pipes. That means that 1,066 toe holes must be precisely laid out, drilled, and sealed. Organ building is an amazing blend of truly exciting work that is also at times incredibly, incredibly repetitive.

The first set of pipes — the Viola and the Viola Celeste (two sets of strings that will be in the swell division) — have arrived recently from Shires Organ Pipes. Ortloff outsources his pipes from this company that specializes in pipe making. These string pipes are beautiful to look at — they are made of spotted metal, giving them a beautiful shine and a hammered surface for the sound to bounce off of.

You can stay up to date by following the Ortloff Organ Co. on Facebook. They update the page most Fridays with the latest pictures and detailed descriptions of what they’ve been up to. It’s amazing!

Susanna Valleau