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From The Organ Bench - No. 6 of 14

Last week we noted that the organ committee, after much discussion and research, concluded our old Moller organ was not a noteworthy instrument and that its very limited palate of voices was more suited for Protestant/Lutheran liturgy. It was noted that yes, the old organ can be rebuilt and more voices added. However, it was decided this was not the most fiscally responsible approach for the long haul because of two words – key action. Key action is what connects the organist to the pipes.

The most important decision any organ committee must make when exploring the possibility of a new organ is whether the organ will use mechanical (tracker) key action or electro-pneumatic action. The 1949 Möller organ and its 1981 replacement both utilized electro-pneumatic key action. This type of key action came into vogue in the early 1900s. It was experimental, leaving behind centuries-old tried-and-true mechanical (tracker) action. But we Americans love something new! We embrace new ideas! Pipe organ salesmen sold thousands of electro-pneumatic pipe organs across the nation. Every church had to have one. Then, toward the end of the 1940s and beginning of the 1950s, these organs began to fail one by one in every state of the Union because of the electro-pneumatic action. Salesmen then convinced us to throw out the “old” and get something new. Thus, the build-and-replace cycle was born and has become the norm for most churches. Pipe organs no longer lasted the life of the church building. As time has now proven, electro-pneumatic key action has a lifespan of 30-40 years and then the organ must be taken out of the church, sent back to the factory, and completely rebuilt, or a new organ must take its place. This build-and-replace cycle did not seem economically reasonable to our organ committee. – Brad Cunningham


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