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

This Month in the Organ Shop: January

The astute reader may have noticed the lack of December update. The biggest reason for that is that organ builders are also organ maintainers, and spend a good chunk of time maintaining local organs. In December, “maintenance” predominantly means “pre-Christmas tunings,” and these kept Jonathan busy the whole month, thus no December update. Now, though, there is so much to report!

I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Jonathan’s shop while I was home with my family for Christmas. During the visit, I learned of the happy news that Jonathan has just hired a third full-time worker, Patrick, who is a seasoned woodworker and cabinet maker. Patrick has started to build our organ case; Bart has begun building the chest for the pedal pipes; and Shires Organ Pipes, the English company making our string and reed pipes, has finished our facade pipes (these are the pipes that will be visible to the congregation). They are made out of spotted metal (50% lead and 50% tin), which will give them a warm, singing tone. Plus, they are beautiful to look at! 

At our last update, Jonathan had just begun work voicing the string pipes in the Swell. I was able to hear his work, and had the opportunity to play a little, since the pipes were still on the voicing machine. Getting to hear and play these pipes was actually quite emotional for me. I kept thinking your reaction when you will hear this organ for the first time. You, the congregants of St. Dunstan’s and owners of this beautiful instrument. This organ is so different from our old instrument, and hearing the newly-voiced Strings really hit that point home for me. When we were done with the Strings, Jonathan put four of the Swell’s Stopped Diapason pipes so I could hear one C-major chord. It took my breath away. I truly cannot wait for you to hear this organ. I can’t wait to share how much beauty is possible in worship.

And finally, to get deep into organ building (you’re welcome to abandon ship now!): In my last article, I wrote about the “Windchest” (also called “Slider Chest”) of the Swell Division, which was completed in November. As a reminder: We can think of the Slider Chest as a matrix, with the notes of the keyboard running in the x direction, and the ranks of pipes running in the y direction. On the x axis, there is a magnet and pallet for every note on the keyboard; when you press a key, the magnet pulls the pallet opens. On the y axis, there is a slider that either shuts off or admits wind into the entire rank of pipes. So in order for a specific pipe to speak, the stop has to be pulled on and the note must be pressed on the keyboard.

It can be difficult to visualize, but I was able to take two short videos showing all of this in action. This video is of the x axis, showing how the pallet is pulled down to admit air into the pallet for the key that is pressed. This video is of the y axis. You see two sliders: one is moving, the other isn’t. Each slider represents a different rank of pipes. The video shows the slider moving from the “off” position (no air is admitted) into the “on” position, with the holes in the slider lining up with the holes in the board to allow air into the chamber for the entire rank of pipes.

So if the stopped has been pulled into the “on” position, the wind is admitted into the rank’s chamber (y axis). When you press a note, the note’s pallet will open all of the pipes (x axis), but only the pipes with air in their chamber will play. Isn’t that amazing? Bravo for reading to the end – class dismissed!