The planning required for the purchase and installation of a pipe organ
is extensive. Typically, an "organ committee" is formed to research and
select the organ builder. This research often entails interviewing
several organ builders as well as traveling to visit some of the
instruments they have designed and built. The entire process can take a
year or more to complete.
Designing a pipe organ begins with its tonal design. The organ as an instrument has a rich and varied history. Through time, the organ has evolved tonally and mechanically. Further, national styles of organ building can be traced. Interlocked with these traditions and evolutionary changes is church music itself. A thorough knowledge of the organ's history and its relationship to the music it is designed to play is a requirement of a good organ builder.
Once an organ's tonal design is finalized, the mechanical and visual designs follow. The two are interrelated and demand careful attention in order to be visually artistic and mechanically concise. The style of the instrument's casework can vary considerably. Anything from a modern or contemporary style to an historic style is possible. No matter the style, the case and its ornament must be complementary to the building and surrounding furnishings, and relate to the organ's physical placement in the room.
The casework of a pipe organ serves several functions. It blends and projects the sounds from the various divisions of the organ. It serves to protect the pipework from the detrimental effects of dust, direct sunlight and drafts, the latter two of which can cause tuning problems. It acts as the structural support for the components of the organ. And perhaps most noticeably, it becomes a work of art in itself, capable of making the organ a thing of beauty to behold.
Once a location has been established, and subsequent visual design approved, blueprints are made and construction commences. From the time a contract is signed for a new instrument until the time it is finished in the building can take anywhere from 18 to 24 months. Much depends on the size of the instrument and the number of instruments the organ builder is working on.
Once the pipework of the organ has been built, voicers begin the tedious task of bringing the pipes to speech. Since pipe construction differs between sets or "ranks" of pipes, each set will produce a different type of sound in the organ. This process begins with the tonal director bringing a few unvoiced pipes from each rank to the building along with a portable voicing machine. He then "sets" the tones of these pipes right in the room that will be their final home. This process, called "setting the c's", allows the voicer to hear how the pipes will sound in the building prior to voicing all of the pipework. Once back in the shop, the remainder of the pipework is voiced to match those that have been set in the church.
As construction progresses at the organ builder's shop, the instrument is assembled in the "erecting room". Once fully assembled, the organ is then taken apart for shipment. Casework is sanded, finished, and carefully wrapped in blankets. Pipes are carefully packed and crated. Great care is taken to ensure the organ's safe arrival at the building.
When our crew delivers the organ, the various pieces are unloaded and sorted as they are brought into the building. Many times, members of the organization assist in the unloading process and often, the installation of the organ actually begins before the truck is fully unloaded.
A typical organ installation generally takes about two to four weeks. Larger instruments have larger crews so the time involved is about the same. By the end of the installation period the organ is "playable" with most mechanical adjustments have been completed. The voicers then arrive to complete what is called the tonal finishing. This process takes several weeks since each pipe of the organ is carefully adjusted to suit the acoustics of the room. More than a mere tuning, the tonal finishing is perhaps the single most important phase of the installation process. If it is not performed correctly, the instrument will not be able to address the musical needs it was designed for.