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John Sayer

Organ Pipes Of Glass

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The proposed specification has recently been published of the new IVP/84 concert organ to be built for Auckland Town Hall, NZ by Klais of Bonn. The instrument is to have electro-pneumatic action and will incorporate the original Norman & Beard 32-foot front of 1911 together with the handful of ranks which survived the disastrously radical neo-classical remodelling by George Croft & Son in 1970.

 

On paper at least, the stoplist is thoroughly English - not an Umlaut in sight - apart from two exotic ranks on the Solo division said to be based on traditional Maori instruments: a Paukaea 8 (wooden trumpet) and a Kouaua 8 (ocarina) with pipes made of glass.

 

Does anyone have any knowledge of glass pipes and how they are made and voiced? Presumably the mouth parts, for example, are different from their wood or metal counterparts. It must surely be more than a line of graduated milk bottles....

 

JS

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The proposed specification has recently been published of the new IVP/84 concert organ to be built for Auckland Town Hall, NZ by Klais of Bonn. The instrument is to have electro-pneumatic action and will incorporate the original Norman & Beard 32-foot front of 1911 together with the handful of ranks which survived the disastrously radical neo-classical remodelling by George Croft & Son in 1970.

 

On paper at least, the stoplist is thoroughly English - not an Umlaut in sight - apart from two exotic ranks on the Solo division said to be based on traditional Maori instruments: a Paukaea 8 (wooden trumpet) and a Kouaua 8 (ocarina) with pipes made of glass.

 

Does anyone have any knowledge of glass pipes and how they are made and voiced? Presumably the mouth parts, for example, are different from their wood or metal counterparts. It must surely be more than a line of graduated milk bottles....

 

JS

 

I have seen a picture of the glass pipes of the Kouaua on the voicing machine at the Klais factory and from what I can tell, they look like normal pipes but I cannot see the mouths unfortunately.

 

I think a email to either Klais or the city organist John Wells may give some information on this.

 

JA

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Amongst my very many other distinguished accomplishments, I used to have a small business engaged in the manufacture of bonded glass furniture. Bits of David Coram Glass are still on the web. I did once experiment with a glass organ pipe, making Middle C of a Stopped Diapason, and can tell you that the pitfalls were as follows:

 

1) You can't easily alter the mouth or languid, or economically form a bevel at any point. With my experiment, therefore, I bonded glass to wood and glass to metal (all of which is easy enough to do) and had a relatively conventional pipe from tip to above the mouth on the front, and tip to block on the sides. It would be easy enough to make a glass cap, too. Then you could put coloured smoke through the organ and watch the column of air. Wooh.

 

2) You can't easily alter the length, and so you either have to have a stopped pipe (but the stopper can't be too tight) or make a square slider and accepting that it'll look awful. I found that pipe speech of an open pipe was far less interesting and characterful than stopped.

 

3) The glass industry in the UK works to 2mm tolerances - that is to say, each cut edge may be 2mm out, and 4mm if longer than a metre. So, theoretically, the pipe may be 4mm too long, and you can't just shave a bit off.

 

4) The technology at the time I was playing around was fairly basic, and the resin used to bond glass to glass or any other material was apt to break up in the presence of high humidity or vibration. Both of which, of course, a pipe experiences constantly when in use. The materials are more advanced now but the production hoops mean you'll be taking at least 2 hours per pipe.

 

I suppose you could have two large sheets of glass with dividing walls between, and just do something you blow across in the manner of a flute rather than a conventional pipe. But I've always longed to see it done - I imagined fondly that I might be able to get Matthew Copley interested in a 16' glass bourdon for his space-age Oxford organ, but alas it was not so.

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I asked Ian Bell about this, Ian being the consultant and this is what he said:

 

"The stop in question has a conventional wooden bass but from 4-foot C is of glass cylinders of graduated diameters which rest on shouldered wooden blocks, circular in plan, with conventional wooden feet. The mouths, cut from the glass, are cut up to a semi-circular arched profile. At the time I heard the trial samples a month or so ago, it was still being decided whether to break the pipes into double-length harmonic trebles.

 

The sound is deliberately (perhaps unavoidably) extrovert and somewhat unstable, in imitation of the real peasant flutes from which it draws its name.

 

The reed stop is close in sound to what would normally be called French Horn in an organ, with wooden resonators in the bass and metal in the treble."

 

John

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I asked Ian Bell about this, Ian being the consultant and this is what he said:

 

"The stop in question has a conventional wooden bass but from 4-foot C is of glass cylinders of graduated diameters which rest on shouldered wooden blocks, circular in plan, with conventional wooden feet. The mouths, cut from the glass, are cut up to a semi-circular arched profile. At the time I heard the trial samples a month or so ago, it was still being decided whether to break the pipes into double-length harmonic trebles.

 

The sound is deliberately (perhaps unavoidably) extrovert and somewhat unstable, in imitation of the real peasant flutes from which it draws its name.

 

The reed stop is close in sound to what would normally be called French Horn in an organ, with wooden resonators in the bass and metal in the treble."

 

John

 

Fascinating. I hadn't thought of using glass tubes. Because it's so difficult to toughen shaped glass, it stays extremely vulnerable. A knock with a reed knife or a set of keys or the studs on someone's jeans and it's gone.

 

One of the main difficulties with working in glass is that you don't actually cut glass; you create a fault across it with a diamond wheel and then break it away. So, if you want to have any accuracy over voicing, the way to go is to create a four-sided bonded structure with one face shorter than the rest; offer up a wooden block to the bottom; then bond a flap of metal to the shortest face, which you can then shape with absolute accuracy.

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Was there not an organ somewhere in Norfolk, with paper and cardboard pipes?

 

This could be possible. There is an 1890 Kimball organ in a church near where I live that did, I don't know whether it still does, have a cardboard 4ft rank. I think this may have been replaced by a Principal 4ft though.

 

JA

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In the Meissen museum in Germany there is a small chamber organ with a rank of pipes made from Meissen porcelain; without the notes in front of me I can't remember how long it took to make but it was a very long time. The sound is very sweet, and there is a CD of it.

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The proposed specification has recently been published of the new IVP/84 concert organ to be built for Auckland Town Hall, NZ by Klais of Bonn. The instrument is to have electro-pneumatic action and will incorporate the original Norman & Beard 32-foot front of 1911 together with the handful of ranks which survived the disastrously radical neo-classical remodelling by George Croft & Son in 1970.

 

On paper at least, the stoplist is thoroughly English - not an Umlaut in sight - apart from two exotic ranks on the Solo division said to be based on traditional Maori instruments: a Paukaea 8 (wooden trumpet) and a Kouaua 8 (ocarina) with pipes made of glass.

 

Does anyone have any knowledge of glass pipes and how they are made and voiced? Presumably the mouth parts, for example, are different from their wood or metal counterparts. It must surely be more than a line of graduated milk bottles....

 

JS

 

I would be interested to see the full spec.

 

A

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Fascinating. I hadn't thought of using glass tubes. Because it's so difficult to toughen shaped glass, it stays extremely vulnerable. A knock with a reed knife or a set of keys or the studs on someone's jeans and it's gone.

 

One of the main difficulties with working in glass is that you don't actually cut glass; you create a fault across it with a diamond wheel and then break it away. So, if you want to have any accuracy over voicing, the way to go is to create a four-sided bonded structure with one face shorter than the rest; offer up a wooden block to the bottom; then bond a flap of metal to the shortest face, which you can then shape with absolute accuracy.

 

What a fascinating subject this turns out to be; thank you all for your most interesting replies.

 

Perhaps the Kouaua will catch on in Europe, especially if re-christened Glasharmonika, Gläserne Pfeife, Flûte vitreuse harmonique or something equally fanciful.

 

JS

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This could be possible. There is an 1890 Kimball organ in a church near where I live that did, I don't know whether it still does, have a cardboard 4ft rank. I think this may have been replaced by a Principal 4ft though.

 

JA

 

Hi

 

Quite likely. One of the 19th Century DIY organ building books gives instructions for making paper pipes.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Hi

 

Quite likely. One of the 19th Century DIY organ building books gives instructions for making paper pipes.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

I too recall, circa 1969, seeing an organ with ranks of paper pipes in a church some miles North of Norwich, near Blickling Hall but not Aylsham. It was not in use. There was also a main organ with metal pipes in the church.

 

The books with very detailed instructions of making paper pipes (and others) is 'Organ Building for Amateurs' by Mark Wicks, Ward Lock and Co 1887. I think OHS did a reprint some years back.

 

Every Blessing

 

David Wallace

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Have you seen the photographs of the glass pipe organ pipes made by Xaver Wilhelmy in Virginia, USA? I'll figure out how to upload some photographs. Until I do, you can check out the American Flag Sound Sculpture that he made in response to the events of September 11th, 2001 in New York and Washington D.C.. The pipes are made entirely of glass including the foot, mouth, languid, and tuning device. The photographs at the website are quite detailed. Website: www.flagpipes.com. And of course you'll want to know if I've heard it, Yes I have. And it's amazing. It's currently stored in my storage unit until I find a good home for it. There's more. I hope you all will have some questions. I can't wait to talk about it with people who understand just how amazing it is. =)

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Yes, thanks for posting the link to the youtube video. This shows the glass flue pipes (American Flag) made completely with art glass and also the reed pipes by Wilhelmy where the resonator is art glass. The video is about 11 minutes long and shows the three ranks in use. I wasn't there when that video was made, but I have heard both instruments in use and they are spectacular. We are putting together a European teaching and consulting tour in fall 2017 to spread the use of glass in pipe organ building to some key companies in Europe. As you can imagine, I'm pretty excited about it. -Carmen

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