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From The Organ Bench | Special Edition 1 of 2

We interrupt our regularly scheduled From the Organ Bench series to bring you this Special Edition.

By now most of you have heard about our upcoming 75th anniversary celebration and ideas for “finishing the church.” One of the dreams we are praying about is a new pipe organ to replace the small electronic organ we currently use. It is important to draw a distinction between the type of pipe organ being proposed vs. the two Moller pipe organs we have had in the past, one which lasted 30 years, the other which began failing in only 27 years.

Pipe organs require something called key action. Key action is what allows the organist, while seated at the console, to open a valve underneath a pipe which then allows air to enter the pipe from a windchest. When wind passes through the pipe, sound is created. There are two basic key actions: electro-pneumatic and mechanical (a.k.a. tracker). Our 1949 and 1982 Moller organs were built with electro-pneumatic key action. Electro-pneumatic key action came into vogue in the early 20th century. Mechanical action has been around since about 250 BC.

Electro-pneumatic key action is guaranteed to fail after 30-40 years of use, though sometimes they will last 50 years. In the U.S.A. there are more electro-pneumatic pipe organs than mechanical because they are cheaper to build. However, the trade-off is an early death and you have to rebuild or replace all over again. Mechanical (tracker) action, on the other hand, can last the life of the building into which it has been placed, barring acts of God, such as natural disasters. The oldest working pipe organ in the world is in the Basilica of Valère in Sion, Switzerland, believed to have been built around 1435. It is a mechanical (tracker) action organ. The dream pipe organ envisioned for St. Joseph Church is a mechanical (tracker) action pipe organ. If you would like to hear more about this please contact me @ brad@stjosephcolumbia.org.

Brad Cunningham, Organist

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