Wild Air


ballet pipeOrgan pipes are durable.  In fact, well-made organ pipes, properly cared-for, can last nearly forever.  They become a portal to the past, as we hear sounds that were crafted decades or even centuries ago.

Part of a major organ project, such as the one at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Shelbyville, is repairing and maintaining the older pipes, and blending the sounds of old and new together to form a new musical being.

I have always thought that one of the most excruciating art forms is the ballet.  Its beauty comes not only from practice and technique, but also from sheer endurance.  Consider for a moment the ballerina that is en pointe.  That is, she is elevated on the very ends of her toes.  Yikes!  All her weight, and all the force of her dance is concentrated on one or two square inches of contact with the floor.  This image, borrowed from dance, demonstrates the reason for one of the most common repairs we make to large organ pipes.

The weight of a pipe is concentrated on its base, at a part of the pipe we call, appropriately enough, the “toe.”

Now, imagine our “pipe” ballerina again.  She stands en pointe for over one hundred years!  Often, after such a long time, the toes of some of the large pipes (typically those over 4′ in length), are deformed by the weight they support.  The metal in these toes, which is usually lead, forms itself to the shape of the hole in which it is resting, sometimes actually closing the hole and choking the air supply to the pipe.

When we move these big pipes to new windchests, as we are doing in Shelbyville, these toes must be reformed.  With larger pipes, we usually simply remove the old cast toe points, and solder new  toes onto the pipe feet.  I’ll bet a lot of ballerinas wish their toes could be fixed as easily!

Here’s a video of one of the big pipes from St. Joseph’s having this process of pipe-podiatry!  This process has been done to about 60 pipes in this organ.


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