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Thread: Cleaning an Organ

  1. #1
    Apprentice, Piano
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    Cleaning an Organ

    Dear all,

    My church's pipe organ is desperately filthy throughout and needs a damn good clean. There are a small number of us who know a little about the instrument and its construction.

    Unfortunately, the church cannot afford to bring in a specialist to clean it out as they have major financial difficulties. We are concerned that the instrument will start to experience problems if the dust and dirt is not removed.

    Is it possible for a small number of us who know the layout of the instrument and the things to be careful of to go in and clean it as best we can? If so, are there any tips anyone can give?

    Best,

    John Hackett

  2. #2
    Admiral Maestoso marval's Avatar
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    Hello John

    Welcome to the forum, you have come to the right place. There quite a few organists members here, who I am sure will be able to give you advice. So stick around and enjoy.


    Margaret

  3. #3
    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    Hi John,

    There is an old saying ... "Let sleeping dust lie" ... this is so true with pipe organs - disturbing the dirt/dust IS going to cause major problems. If you are not having mechanical problems, then why fix what isn't yet broke?

    Pipe cleaning is a very delicate operation and must be done correctly by a professional. Once the pipes have been properly cleaned, they are going to need to be tuned and perhaps need some re-voicing as well. These pipes, containing mixtures of Tin and Lead are very f-r-a-g-i-l-e ... pipes can literally snap in two, or can easily be crushed, if not handled with extreme care. Replacing pipework can be very costly.

    Knowing a "little bit about the instrument and its construction" doesn't necessarily mean that one is qualified to undertake this kind of project. Yes, it needs to be done right and that is going to cost money. Depending on the size of this organ, it could take several weeks to several months to accomplish this project ... and that is with a professional performing the work.

    There are ways to raise money for a project like this ... One way is to figure out the total cost of it being done professionally, then divide that cost by the number of pipes you start an Adopt-A-Pipe fund drive. When people can own a "piece of the pie" so to speak, they usually take pride in donating funds towards a project like this.

    You might want to have a qualified organ builder/technician look at this instrument and let him/her decide if anything needs to be done in the way of cleaning. Perhaps your regular technician who presently does the tuning and maintenance can advise you as well. You do have it regularly tuned and serviced?
    Kh ~~.
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  4. #4
    Captain of Water Music jvhldb's Avatar
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    Welcom to the forum. I can't call our organ filty, it just has a layer of dust so thick you can plant potatoes if you wan't to. Our church looked at the possibility of getting it "spring cleaned", but with only a handful of organ tuners working in the country, we couldn't find one to do the job. None of them have the time to do such a job.

    We thought of attaching a thin flexible pipe to a vacuum cleaner and sucking the dust out between the pipes. I know that the slightest touch from the "vacuum tube" will de-tune the pipes so we will leave this as a last ditch effort.

    As to "let sleeping dust lie", when we use certain ranks you can smell the dust being blown around the organ. The last organ tuner wrote in the log book that we will have to do something about the dust in the organ as it is the major cause of our problems.

    If you find an "easy fix" please tell us about it as well.
    Johan van Heerden

  5. #5
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    The troubles you might cause "cleaning" may be worse than the dust!
    ...but, if you must...proceed with extreme caution. Keep in mind that if you decide to remove pipes....the whole organ will need temperments reset/ retuning etc.
    The best thing you can do for an organ is keep clutter away from moving parts....and out of chambers etc. Churches are notorious for storing things in there. I worked at one where I found all the church silver treasure INSIDE one of the Austin air lock walk-in wind chests!!
    The blower room is a good place to start....keep it clean and dust free since this is where the air comes from....and up into the pipes and chest interiors where dust will cause ciphers etc.
    Depending on how big the organ is....sometimes they are cleaned in stages. Keep in mind....pipes have to be VERY carefully removed/ packed away and each cleaned by hand. Large pipes are left in place unless a complete disassembly is planned.
    Be careful if using a vacuum cleaner that dust is not blown into a critical area etc.
    If the organ plays well enough, I'd personally not tinker with it but try to raise some $$$ to have it professionally cleaned or at least do it under the guidance of a local organ firm.
    The console is another whole can of worms. They do wear out from use and age. I recently did a consultation with a church with a 50 year old Moeller. It all plays but the console interior indicates that the death knell is near. The church's take on it is that the console still "looks good." They have hundreds of services every year, so it's only a matter of time. The leathers inside the console show exteme wear...some already leaking etc.
    Good luck/ BTW: this can't be done in a day or two, so you'd expect the organ to be "down" for awhile.

  6. #6
    Admiral Honkenwheezenpooferspieler Corno Dolce's Avatar
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    Aloha Hackjo,

    The sage advice offered by Master Krummhorn cannot be stressed enough. When it comes to funding the care/repair of the organ, it can be included in any interior renovation/repair of the sanctuary or renovation/repair of the Church building proper. Since the organ is a major part of the Church it has to be considered a part of the whole body.

    Cheerio,

    CD
    *If a man wants God to hear his prayer quickly, then before he prays for anything else, even his own soul, when he stands and stretches out his hands towards God, he must pray with all his heart for his enemies. Through this action God will hear everything that he asks* -Abba Zeno-

    *Protagoras: "Truth is subjective. What is true for you, and what is true for me, is true for me. Your opinion is true by virtue of its being your opinion."

    *Socrates: "My opinion is: Truth is absolute, not opinion, and that you are in absolute error. Since this is my opinion, then according to your philosophy you must grant that it is true."

    "Improvisational Art": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSxVO3EoCRM

  7. #7
    Captain of Water Music jvhldb's Avatar
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    I don't know about John, but we don't want to touch a pipe if it can be helped at all. Our biggest problm is that the blowers are located below the toe boxes and wind chests. Any dust blown lose when we play the organ gets sucked right back into the blowers and re distributed throughout the organ. We also have a problem with about 40+ years worth of accumalated dust sifting through the ceilings above the organ, so unless somebody donates a new organ, we will have to find a way to get rid of the dust inside the organ, or get more CD's fr the Juke Box.
    Johan van Heerden

  8. #8
    Admiral of Fugues Contratrombone64's Avatar
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    Let sleeping dogs lie ...
    I'm not an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.
    —Albert Einstein.

  9. #9
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    Thank you all so much for your very informative replies. I will relay the information back to the church. Although I am sure they will be unhappy about spending money to bring a consultant in, they should be grateful that we are not risking further damage to the instrument and thus, larger bills!

    In case any of you are interested, the organ in question is at St. Mary's Church, Kingswinford, England. Specification is here: http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/R...c_index=K00496

    I've attached a photo!

  10. #10
    Admiral of Fugues Contratrombone64's Avatar
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    hackjo - what a lovely looking instrument!!

    I love the specification, a nice, standard smallish two manual. Is the trumpet really overpowering of more gentle?
    I'm not an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.
    —Albert Einstein.

  11. #11
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    The Trumpet blends well with the Full Chorus but is also penetrating enough to be used as a solo stop over full Swell.

    The instrument has a nice overall sound, quite mellow but at the same time, very rich and bright on full organ.

    The biggest problem with it is that it has no real penetration into the church. St. Mary's is a very wide three aisle church with a small chancel at the east end. The organ has two fronts, the one shown in the photo (which faces the North chancel wall) and another which faces into the South aisle of the church. The instrument is located in a chamber built onto the corner of the church.

    The bulk of the manual pipework is located to speak into the chancel (the swell shutters face out into this area), which causes no end of problems.

    The organ is extremely loud and powerful when seated in the choir stalls, quite imposing when sat at the top of the South aisle, but anywhere else in the church it doesn't make a dent. With a full congregation in the building, the organ sounds pathetic. It also lacks punch in the Pedal department.

    I'd love to know how to solve this problem - hence my other thread about increasing wind pressure.

    I think the 1991 rebuild by Sheffield reduced the size of the instrument - a move I simply don't understand. I found the old spec on the NPOR.

    http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/R...c_index=N04917

    I don't attend the church (in fact I am not religious these days) but was brought up there and my father is still churchwarden. I learnt to play on this instrument (well, sort of) and am very fond of it.

    Here's a photo of the South Aisle case:
    Last edited by hackjo; Sep-27-2008 at 14:02.

  12. #12
    Admiral of Fugues Contratrombone64's Avatar
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    Interesting issues there and not uncommon. Without adding more noisy reeds and so forth (expensive) it's difficult to know how to solve this without actually moving the beast. St. Paul's Anglican at Burwood has exactly the same problem, the organ faces the northern wall (where part of the choir sit).
    I'm not an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.
    —Albert Einstein.

  13. #13
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    I've wondered whether moving the Great pipework to the area behind the South aisle case would help - surely it would have more projection into the church that way.

    The other alternative would possibly be to scrap the current cases and build ones which fan out into the church (away from the wall) and locate the bulk of the choruswork in that space so the pipes are out of the chamber.

    Hmm...

  14. #14
    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    John,

    A couple questions to help me understand the situation:
    • Which pipe ranks directly speak into the south?
    • Are the Great division pipes also under expression?
    Seems a good option would be to expose the Great division and have it speak into the room, not from another room off to one side as it appears is the situation now.

    Increasing the wind pressure in this present configuration is only going to add more misery to those seated in the chancel, and probably not net much difference in the wide cavernous sanctuary.
    Kh ~~.
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    Amateur musicians practice until they get it right ...
    Pro
    fessional musicians practice until they can't get it wrong ...


  15. #15
    Admiral of Fugues Contratrombone64's Avatar
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    Most organs have wooden sides - I'm wondering if removing them or at least replacing them with slats would help. I suppose it would seriously destroy any balancing built into the original design?
    I'm not an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.
    —Albert Einstein.

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