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Organ Blowers And Tuning


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Looking at some of the topics on your discussion board was highly interesting .But I think some people have overlooked the most important part of the Organ that of the Blowing and tuning. I Cannot stress the importance of making sure that the blower is attended at least twice a year I ve just heard about Organ which has problems with the bearings in the motor all cease up and will have to be replaced at some expense. Also tuning should be carried out four times a year no matter what expense ! From my experience your only storing up more problems in the long run.

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I'm not sure that there is a single right answer that suits everybody, in terms of tuning.

 

I agree with Ronald Shillingford's comments about blowers, although I know one church that went more than 20 years from new without the blower being checked, only to be told by a technician that the bearings and brushes looked almost as good as new. This was an instrument that was in daily use. I guess it depends on the make and the amount of use.

 

I know two churches in England which have remarkably stable pipe organs, in terms of tuning, that are only attended to once or twice a year. One is a Father Willis somewhere in Eastbourne, (although I've not been there in more than 20 years), which is two manuals and pedals, probably only around a dozen stops with very little upperwork and one manual reed on the swell. It used to be attended by a tuner once a year who tuned the reed only and checked but never touched the flue work. The other is a Grant Deegens and Bradbeer in South Woodford - three manuals and pedals with plenty of upper work and six or seven reeds in a scheme of around 30ish stops, which is also attended once or twice a year and has remarkable tuning stability, including the reeds, even in extremes of temperatures. Both organs are the complete opposites in terms of style, which makes no difference to their tuning stability. And we are talking about two churches that are only heated on Sundays and at other special events in the winter.

 

Conversely, I know churches in London with all sorts of tuning problems, total lack of stability, even in flue work (pitch discrepencies between manuals and how often do you expect to hear the bottom A of a 16ft open wood out of tune, albeit consistently out of tune for several years?) that are attended four times a year.

 

My own church, St Ignatius, New York, also enjoys remarkable tuning stability, certainly in the flue work, although the reeds (21 of them, including one extension), I believe, are attended to quite frequently, but more a case of touching up and tuning as required on an ongoing basis and for special events. The highs and lows of New York summers and winters are well in excess of 100°F apart, around 38°C apart every year. And relative humidity levels vary significantly between winter and summer. The church has an aggressive steam heat system and is heated every day during the winter and has an equally aggressive air conditioning system (a potential killer for a pipe organ).

 

I think there are some instruments that are remarkably stable in tuning, sometimes because of the environment they are in and sometimes despite their environment. Some of this is down to quality of design and construction and the way the pipes are layed out, and some of it is pure luck.

 

I'm not sure if Ronald Shillingford is advocating that an entire organ needs to be tuned four times a year, or just the reeds. With some churches and instruments I've played, I've found that a full tuning in the height of summer of the depths of winter (ie the extremes of the climate) can be a complete waste of time with things going awry within a couple of hours. More success can be obtained in the spring or autumn when the climate is more temperate and the church's heating/cooling system is not needed, with just reeds and upper work tuned or touched up in the summer and winter as needed.

 

Certainly some churches that can afford it have their reeds tuned very frequently. Harrisons attend the reeds at Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral every two weeks. St Paul's used to have their reeds tuned once a month, although I'm not sure of the frequency these days. And qute a few of the the big churches in New York seem to have their reeds attended to every two weeks and and also for special occasions.

 

On the whole, I think pipe organs hold up pretty well. Compare them with a concert grand piano in a concert hall, which has to be tuned every time it is used. Most domestic pianos are tuned twice a year and often go out of tune within a couple of weeks if played regularly.

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  • 1 year later...

Really a question for Mr Mander concerning reed tuning. I'd like to save my church a bit of money by knocking the reeds into tune myself every once in a while. Is this a common practice?

 

Also, I am playing a little instrument at the moment with a fairly useless Dulciana on one of the manuals. I was thinking about knocking it a tad sharp to the Sw Open to have a kind of celeste. I've seen this done to outstanding effect. I'm guessing that as there's no major alteration and it can be said to be temporary, a faculty wouldn't be needed. Any advice, anyone?

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Guest Leathered-Lips
Really a question for Mr Mander concerning reed tuning.  I'd like to save my church a bit of money by knocking the reeds into tune myself every once in a while.  Is this a common practice? 

 

Also, I am playing a little instrument at the moment with a fairly useless Dulciana on one of the manuals.  I was thinking about knocking it a tad sharp to the Sw Open to have a kind of celeste.  I've seen this done to outstanding effect.  I'm guessing that as there's no major alteration and it can be said to be temporary, a faculty wouldn't be needed.  Any advice, anyone?

 

Knock it flat to a Maris - otherwise it'll be sounding all French.

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  • 6 months later...

Really a question for Mr Mander concerning reed tuning. I'd like to save my church a bit of money by knocking the reeds into tune myself every once in a while. Is this a common practice?

 

 

Hopefully no! Most organists can be taught the basics of knocking a reed into tune on a factory voicing machine. The difficulty comes in getting to them in situ without disturbing other pipes and their tuning, causing damage or even falling out of the organ. There are very few organs in which the reeds can be easily reached without climbing up into the instrument where space is so often limited.

 

Having got to the pipes, removing tuning flaps or shutters if the reeds are enclosed can be difficult, it is then necessary to know the pipe layout and their locations. It is even more important to be able to gently ease the tuning springs into tune and not knock them miles sharp and then miles flat until such time as the pipe is eventually in tune.

 

If you feel you are capable of tuning the reeds firstly get permission from the church authorities – it is their instrument, not yours, and please let your regular tuner know what you are doing.

 

Frank Fowler

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On a related subject, a question for Mr. Fowler: Why is it that an Orchestral Oboe seems to stay in tune less well than other quiet solo reeds, please? I am assuming that it is not just due to the relationship between the acoustical 'pull' of the resonator and the tongue. In the case of a Clarinet - or more so, a Vox Humana - these pipes are of fractional length (generally one-quarter or one-eighth) and yet they seem to stay in tune better than an Orchestral Oboe. What is the mysterious thing that happens to such a rank?

 

Incidentally, I have been tuning my own reeds (strictly only when necessary) for years, with the blessing of both the authorities of my church and our organ builder. Mr. Fowler's comments are indeed wise - it is very easy to damage either the tongue, the curvature of the tongue or another part of the instrument. Having said that, in Bach's time (and, I believe, certainly in Holland and Germany to-day) there are plenty of cases where the Titulaire tuned his own reeds regularly.

 

Somewhat ironically, after our organ builder has tuned my instrument (and almost without fail) I find that it is neceesary to go into the Swell-box myself and re-seat one or two string pipes (adjacent to the passage-board) which he has dislodged as he made his exit! To be fair, room is tight up there!

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Incidentally, I have been tuning my own reeds (strictly only when necessary) for years, with the blessing of both the authorities of my church and our organ builder. Mr. Fowler's comments are indeed wise - it is very easy to damage either the tongue, the curvature of the tongue or another part of the instrument. Having said that, in Bach's time (and, I believe, certainly in Holland and Germany to-day) there are plenty of cases where the Titulaire tuned his own reeds regularly.

 

 

=======================

 

I got some very disapproving looks from a certain recitalist from the Netherlands, simply because a couple of pedal reed pipes were out-of-tune prior to his recital.

 

To avoid an international incident, I got the ladders out, took the back panels off the organ and risked life and limb 20ft up, with no hand-holds or walkways.

 

He then grumbled about a few notes on the flues, and as I sat at the console, he set to and tuned the entire instrument in what seemed like no time at all.

 

I was quite impressed!

 

MM

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Having said that, in Bach's time (and, I believe, certainly in Holland and Germany to-day) there are plenty of cases where the Titulaire tuned his own reeds regularly.

 

 

The organ builders here would think you were mad if you asked them to come to tune the reeds - or even if you asked them to come more than once a year at all - the rule is, touch-up tuning once a year, full tuning every three to five.

 

That is incidentally the reason why most village organs don't have any reeds! Those by Ladegast, for example.

 

But, the organs are cone-tuned, and tuning the pipes ruins their feet, consequently also their voicing.

 

Cheers

Barry

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On a related subject, a question for Mr. Fowler: Why is it that an Orchestral Oboe seems to stay in tune less well than other quiet solo reeds, please? I am assuming that it is not just due to the relationship between the acoustical 'pull' of the resonator and the tongue. In the case of a Clarinet - or more so, a Vox Humana - these pipes are of fractional length (generally one-quarter or one-eighth) and yet they seem to stay in tune better than an Orchestral Oboe. What is the mysterious thing that happens to such a rank?

 

- - - - - -

 

I don't know the theory as to why this happens, a reed voicer (if they are still turning out orchestral oboes) might know but orchestral oboes have always seemed to be `touchy'. One was often lucky to get out of the church after tuning it before the thing went out of tune again.

 

Usually the reed shallot and tongues were very narrow, likewise the lower tube of the resonator which might have compounded their unfortunate behaviour. This is another reason why I am happy in retirement.

 

Frank Fowler

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