Organo Pleno Newsletter 2015


     What a great year 2014 was for us all! The economy is growing and the gas prices have been falling. Great news for technicians traveling for service calls. Our company had a vibrant year with more churches calling for service work. We traveled from Kentucky to Corinth, MS, working on many interesting projects. Here are a few projects that we would like to mention.

  FUMC Opelika, AL

     The First United Methodist Church of Opelika has a rich and varied history, a history that parallels the city of Opelika itself. They have a beautiful 1968 Reuter. As you can see in the photo, the entire Great and part of the Pedal is exposed. The metal pipes and the slide tuners were very tarnished. We washed all the pipes in a chemical bath and replaced the tin slide tuners with modern stainless steel ones. The pipes really brightened up the center of the sanctuary.

     We reconfigured the 1’ Great Mixture to a 1 1/3 Mixture by adding new pipes. Behind the center three pipes of the Pedal 16’ Contrabass is a new 8’ Trumpet. We felt the reverse diatonic layout filled in the design and the sound of the Chorus reed put a nice crown on the division. The Swell and Choir divisions are about six feet above the Great on opposite walls. Tuning has always been an issue. Before our work on the instrument, air vents were installed high on the back wall of the chambers with exhaust fans at the base of the chamber doors. One exhaust fan did not work and one of the air vents had no diffuser allowing the heat or air to blow directly on the pipes. There also was no insulation above the rooms. After the church installed two feet of insulation above the chamber ceilings and corrected the fan and diffuser, the divisions stay in pitch together. When we design an environment for an organ, we strive for natural convection air flow. We found in some older installations, keeping the circulating fan on all the time, helps in the tuning stability.

     We went over every pipe in every stop correcting speech and volume, while keeping the original tonal levels. We removed the Great, Swell and Choir division’s bellows and note pouches for leather refurbishing. We were able to do the work in phases, so the congregation would still have an organ through the project. The last major change was adding a new console. Our three manual console has tracker touch keyboards that feel great. We also added an ICS-4000 software based organ control system that has all the features!

  St. Joseph's Episcopal McDonough, GA

    We designed and installed pipe additions on a Rodgers electronic organ at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in McDonough, GA. Father Bancroft, Richard Rhineheart and his wife Candy were instrumental in adding pipes to their Rodgers organ. The church not only desired the tonal improvements, but also the visual majesty of real pipework. It was in 2006 that we designed and installed the first phase which included the 16’ Pedal Principal. The church built a substantial platform over their sanctuary doors to support the pipe additions.

     Our most resent additions include an 8’ Principal, 4’ Choral Bass and III Mixture for the Great division. We added a total of 18 ranks of pipes which gave them an independent Principal and Flute Chorus in the Great and Pedal. All recently built Rodgers organs have the circuitry to add speaking pipes.

  Athens State University, AL

     Athens State University, founded in 1822, began as a women’s college and is the oldest learning institution in Alabama. Its impressive campus has three buildings on the National Register of Historic Places to include McCandless Hall which was built in 1912. Last year we removed the 1892 George Kilgen and Son tracker organ to make way for a complete renovation of the hall. We worked closely with Mr. Jerry Bradford, who is the university’s staff engineer in charge of facilities. Under his watchful eye, most of the older buildings on campus have been renovated. The Kilgen organ was first installed in the First Methodist Church in Athens, Alabama. In 1925, the church was given a $500.00 credit towards a new Pilcher organ. Pilcher removed the Kilgen and re-installed it in McCandless Hall.

     The Kilgen family tradition of building pipe organs originates with Sebastian Kilgen. He was a French Huguenot (Calvinist) who fled to Germany to avoid religious persecution. He took refuge in a monastery near Durlach where he learned organ building from the monks and in 1640 built his first organ. The succeeding generations of Kilgens built organs in Durlach for over 200 years before George moved to New York in 1850. He worked for Jardine for a short time before he built his own shop. In 1873, he moved his shop and family to St. Louis. His son Charles joined the firm in 1886. Charles later succeeded his father as the head of the company and guided it during its most productive years.

     We approached this project with enthusiasm and a little apprehension. We have done many historical restorations of mechanical instruments in the past, but we had yet to do a stenciled façade. We communicated with Marylou Davis, an expert on stenciling, and she gave us some valuable advice which helped us to complete this task. The façade pipes had been painted silver, but with delicate use of paint thinner, we were able to expose the original stenciled design. We transferred the designs onto Mylar, a clear thin plastic. Then we cut out the designs to produce twenty-four different stencils.

     After comparing the existing colors with hundreds of samples, we settled on fifteen different colors. We used extra help to keep labor costs down, but the stenciling still exceeded our estimate. The feeder bellows and hand pump arm were not tossed out when a blower was added many years ago, so we were able to restore the hand pump system. We also installed a back flap in the wind line to the blower to allow the feeder bellows to fill the main, multi-fold bellows. We replaced the inoperable blower with a quiet, sleeve bearing, German blower that is situated to the left of the Swell box. The thick leather and felt that was applied to the pallets one-hundred, twenty-two years ago was retained. The wooden trackers were still pliable and other than a few that were broken, were retained. The organ was installed in a room behind a presidium arch. This location, along with thick theatrical drapes that were positioned in front, greatly restricted the full egress of sound. The hall was to continue having theatrical productions, so we encouraged the architect to allow a portion of the organ to move forward of the arch and to install draperies that were light weight.

     Moving the organ forward also allowed for better access to the pump mechanism and allowed for a rear access door to the Swell division. For better access, we added new ladders and walk boards to the Swell and Great divisions. We felt these practical improvements did not take away from the authenticity of the historic organ. Fortunately, the organ received very little service work during the 80+ years it was in McCandless Hall. As a result, the pipe work was in pristine condition. We retained all of the original tuning scrolls and the pitch of A435. During the careful cleaning and the restoration of the pipe work, we discovered the string stops of the organ were built by A. Gottfried & Company, who was considered the finest pipe maker in the country. Tonally, we retained the volume levels set by the builder within each rank with only minimal blending within individual ranks. The organ was well received and will remain the focal point in the beautifully renovated McCandless Hall.

    St. Ann Catholic, TN

     It has been a pleasure working with the people and staff of St. Ann since 1969. Their Schantz organ was installed with only six ranks, but was designed with future ranks in mind. As time went on and funds became available, we added a total of eleven new ranks. In 2000, we added the much needed upperwork to the Great division. We installed a 2’ Principal and an III 1 1/3’ Mixture. The final stage of the 1961 Schantz pipe organ was completed this year.  The last three sets of pipes are considered color stops and were added to the Swell division. The 8’ Oboe is a reed stop with a full warm sound that blends very well with the flutes in the organ. The 2 2/3 is a color stop as well and adds upper harmonics. The 1 3/5 Tierce also adds a great deal of harmonics as well. It completes a full Cornet. In 1983, we installed a “starter” organ at First Baptist Church in Manchester, TN. We initially installed eleven ranks. We built the bellows, chest frames and relay large enough to accommodate a much larger instrument. The name board was built with additional stop tablets for the future ranks. The original organ has grown to 15 ranks with room for 8 more ranks without having to add any new stop tabs!

   Console of FUMC, Corinth, MS

     First United Methodist in Corinth is going through a huge renovation of their sanctuary. We were contracted to refurbish the console that had water damage. The veneer had several areas that needed to be replaced and re-finished to original color. We added a new Peterson ICS 4000 control system. We installed 40 engraved drawknobs, 32 engraved thumb pistons and a new AC control system. This is an ongoing project and should be completed soon.

  FBC, Dyersburg, TN

     First Baptist in Dyersburg is also doing major changes to their sanctuary. Our firm has been contracted to protect and make additions to the pipe organ. The 3 manual Casavant organ currently has an 8 – level SSL combination action that we are upgrading to 128 levels. We are also installing a record / playback feature in the console.

Belle Meade UMC, Nashville, TN

     In the summer of 1950, thirteen families started a church in the rapidly growing development of west Nashville.  Belle Meade United Methodist has become a large congregation in a beautiful area of the city. They have a 37 rank Schantz organ situated in two large chambers on either side of their chancel. They have a busy wedding schedule so we coordinated with the Choirmaster, Mark Acker, to re-leather the organ in three stages. In this way, we were able to keep enough of the organ playable at all times by blocking the wind supply of the divisions we were working on. They are now raising money to update the electrical system. We plan to install an ICS-4000 Peterson control system that will require us to shut the organ down for several weeks.

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