A Fresh Set of Pipes

October 29, 2013
Index Magazine

A Fresh Set of Pipes

Cleaning and tuning Harvard’s 1958 D. A. Flentrop organ. Video: Antoinette Hocbo.

Commissioned by E. Power Biggs, our famous organ housed in Adolphus Busch Hall came to us in 1958 from Dutch builder D. A. Flentrop of Zaandam, Holland. This instrument was among the first and for many years the most prominent example of the revival of the Tracker organ—which marked a return to historical organ construction where the connection between the keys and pipes is entirely mechanical.

It’s been 55 years since this organ played its first note and it has continued to beautifully perform during concerts, radio broadcasts, and weekly recitals . . . but not without a little help.

For the past several years, Stefan Maier and his team at Tracker Organs have been the caretakers of our organ, making sure its mechanics are in order and its pipes are pitch-perfect. While Maier checks in frequently throughout the year, more recently, he performed a full organ cleaning. This entails removing and cleaning all the pipes, cleaning the body of the organ, and reinstalling and tuning it. Most of the 1,600 Flentrop pipes were transported to Maier’s shop in Orange, MA, where they were thoroughly cleaned. Then, just like tidying that old bookcase in your house, Maier uses a good old vacuum cleaner and Murphy’s Oil to clean the organ’s wind chests, rackboards, and action (the mechanics that connect the organ keys to the valves that distribute wind to the pipes).

Finally, he reinstalled the pipes and tuned them from scratch. “Tuning is actually quite a complicated affair,” says Maier. Using a computer program he designed himself paired with an oscilloscope, he tunes each pipe to its appropriate frequency (or pitch). Many factors, such as room temperature, humidity, or even open doors, affect the sound of the pipes and their pitch. “I spent a lot of time opening and closing doors,” laughed Maier, whose precision allows the organ to stay in tune much longer.

When Adolphus Busch Hall swells with magnificent sounds during our Midday Organ Recitals, you will hear both the impeccable construction by organ builder D. A. Flentrop and the great care of Tracker organ technician Stefan Maier. Don’t miss your chance to hear a performance of this historic organ this fall before the recital series is temporarily relocated in 2014.