When I was young and in high school I was a rock ‘n’ roll fan. It had to be loud and in your face. Then one day I walked into a large church and the organist was practicing with all the stops pulled (i.e. LOUD). The organ shook the building and resonated through my very body. I was hooked! I said, “I have to learn to play that!” And I was off on my adventure. Alas, I am no virtuoso but I can play hymns well and I do all the footwork. I love to play the organ and make the whole building shake with the big 32 Foot in the pedal.
My early fascination with the Pipe Organ led me not only to learn to play it, but also to tune and repair the organ in our parish church. That in turn led to a great summer job I had for three years.
I worked for Lewis and Hitchcock and company that built and serviced pipe organs. What a great job it was! I went all over the city helping to tune and repair pipe organs in some of the grandest churches of the area, both Catholic and Protestant. When you build and service Pipe Organs you have to know a little of everything: electrical, HVAC, carpentry (for the casework), plumbing (for the pipes and tubing that supply the wind), electrical motor repair (for the blower), even leather work for the air reservoirs and pipe valves. It also helps to know music and architecture to bring it all together. It was a great job it was. I learned so much. I was also very thin in those days and was able to squeeze into some pretty tight spaces to tune and make repairs. I shudder to think today of some of the high ladders and narrow platforms I negotiated to do the work.
These days, Pipe Organs are still being built but more often Electronic Organs are chosen by churches. Truth be told, with digital sampling, the sound of the newest electronic organs isn’t bad. But nothing beats the sound of a true pipe organ, the king of instruments.
The first video shows you some of the basics of how a pipe organ works.
The second video shows you the work of a an organist, Frederick Swann as he plays a toccata. You’ll see how an organist switches keyboards, pull stops, play with hands and feet, and controls the swell shades (volume). The greatest virtuoso is the organist and you will see why! It takes A LOT to be a good organist.
Incidentally, in purchasing the “Crystal Cathedral” (Now Christ Cathedral) the diocese of Orange has also acquired the 6th largest Pipe Organ in the World and you will see it played in the second Video.