Welcome to our new monthly report of what’s happening in the Ortloff Organ Shop! While we (well… Chris and Bill) are working hard on our end to prepare our Sanctuary for the installation of our new organ, here’s an update on what our organ builders have been up to.
As you know, Jonathan and his crew at Ortloff Organ Company have been working on our organ diligently for eight months, methodically building the many diverse components for our organ: the windchests, slider chests, rackboards, toe boards, and wind trunks, to name only a few, making sure each component is flat, sturdy, and sealed. They’ve been gluing the felt and leather valves (576 of them!), leathering the pouch rails, and installing magnets so that our organ’s pneumatic action works flawlessly.
Finally, all of these components are coming together and the breath of life is being blown into our organ ― literally! In the last few weeks, the Swell division of the organ, which will go in the attic over the sacristy, has been assembled in the Ortloff shop, and wind put through the components for the first time. This allows the builders to test and adjust the action, and eventually they will place the pipes on the windchests to hear them.
Jonathan has finished voicing our organ’s first rank of pipes: the Swell 8′ Stopped Diapason. These are our organ’s very first sounds, which seem as monumental as a baby speaking its first words. When a pipe is made, it usually won’t speak right away (the proportions of the pipe have to be quite precise so that when air is blown through it, the pipe is set into vibration and “speaks”). Jonathan must manipulate each pipe to get it to speak: he adjusts about a dozen parameters on each pipe to ensure it speaks the way he wants it to. Many brand new pipes make no sound until all these parameters are set. (If you can access Facebook, see this video.)
While extremely involved, this is merely the first step of the voicing process. When each pipe in the rank is speaking, Jonathan then begins the finer voicing process as he regulates for volume and tone, working each pipe so that it matches its neighbors. When he thinks he’s happy, he goes away and revisits it the next morning with fresh ears. With each pass, he picks out the outliers and adjusts them into line. He returns with fresh ears as many times as it takes to get the rank sounding the way he wants.
In the meantime, the 8′ Trumpet and 8′ Oboe are being voiced by reed voicer Chris Broome. Jonathan visited Chris’s Connecticut shop earlier this week, where he heard samples of the two reed stops in our organ, the Trumpet and Oboe. Jonathan was listening not just for the relationship of volumes, but for the characters of the two ranks. In the process, he determined that the Oboe was too bright, sounding like a smaller version of the Trumpet. (With only two reeds on the whole organ, you want them to be different from each other!) Chris will now work to make the Oboe darker for more contrast with the Trumpet, and should have both stops voiced in about a month.
What’s happening in the shop next? Well, the entire shipment of quarter-sawn red oak has just arrived, which will be used to build the organ’s case. The console, being built by Jonathan’s mentor Steve Russell, is well along, and will be completed by year’s end. They’re about three or four weeks away from finishing the construction of the Swell. And… oh, just look forward to next month’s update! And remember, you can follow Ortloff Organ Company on Facebook, where they update pictures with extremely helpful descriptions every Friday.
Susanna Valleau, Music Director