By SHIRLEY PULAWSKI
OBSERVER Staff Writer
"The Schlicker pipe organ in King Concert Hall has been the pride and joy of SUNY Fredonia and the entire area for many years," Brian Bogey, professor of organ at the school, told the OBSERVER.
The organ has a rich history and has undergone a recent renovation, funded by anonymous donors.
The organ was built in 1961 and was originally located in the Old Main School auditorium at 1 Temple St. It was relocated to its present position during the spring of 1969. It has a three-keyboard (each called a manual) console and pedals. The console is the unit at which the player sits, which looks somewhat like a piano, but has 61-key manuals, numerous sound controls called stops, a series of 32 foot pedals on a foot board which control over two octaves of low notes. Other foot pedals are installed which open and close features such as certain voices (a set of pipes, or rank, which create particular sounds) or a window-like apparatus which controls volume (called "expression" on pipe organs) by opening or closing to allow more or less sound out of the chamber of ranks behind the movable windows.
The history of the pipe organ is very long. Its origins began in ancient Greece, in the third century B.C. The pipe organ, which is much more complex than most, if not all musical instruments, predates the harpsichord, clavier and piano, which did not appear until the 18th century.
The organ bay contains 44 ranks of pipes for a combined total of 2,459 pipes. These specifications create a need for a large custom space for the organ's permanent residence. "It tips the scales at over eight tons," according to Bogey.
Only the largest of the pipes are visible to the audience in the hall's rows of seats. Hundreds of metal and wood pipes are enclosed in a bay behind the largest pipes, all of which can only be accessed via a climb up a ladder and entrance through a small hatch-like doorway. Sizes of pipes range from larger than a human leg to around the size of a small pencil.
Bogey said the renovations have resulted in great improvements to the organ.
"It is wonderful to have had the work done on the copper trumpeta real this past summer," he said. "There were some structural and tonal deficiencies that were corrected to the pipe work. I am happy to report that this stop has become a prominent and truly glorious rank of pipes."
Carol Boltz was an instructor in organ at SUNY Fredonia in the early 1970s and is very familiar with the instrument and its recent renovations. She and her husband Jim are known for their work with the Fredonia Opera House and local history, and both share an interest in the organ and its history as well. Carol explained the organ is a very complex instrument, "consisting of both mechanical and electrical systems, each requiring some level of maintenance over its many decades of service."
The recent renovations to the organ addressed numerous issues, including metal fatigue to some of the pipes. Some damage was visible to those seated in the hall.
"It was clear from the audience view that the large facade pipes were slanted or bent, their collapse presenting a safety hazard. This may have been due to the kinds of metal alloys popular during the 1960s and '70s," Carol explained, adding that the painted finish was flaking off some pipes, although not all 2,459 pipes are painted.
She also said the lowest 12 resonators on the very large pipes were showing significant signs of metal fatigue and were too damaged to be repaired. Those were replaced, and the remaining 24 resonators repaired and painted. Further, the swell machine, a large, louvered volume-control box centered among the pipes, was failing and needed a solid-state unit replacement.
Jim and Carol explained not all replacement parts are easily swapped, obtained or installed.
"On 20th century organs many parts are standardized, but repairs to leathers, parts of mechanical actions, certain manuals (keyboards) and pedals need hand-fashioning, perhaps due to the size of the instrument or the specific space in which the organ is located," she said. Jim said every organ is unique and must be built to the specifications of the room in which it will be installed.
Carol said regular maintenance is necessary, but its needs are low.
"Considering the organ's thousands of parts, the instrument has and continues to have low maintenance needs. The console, where the performer plays, needs only minor cleaning or dusting. Cleaning and dusting the pipe chambers is infrequent and must be judicious, due to the possibility of a dust particle clogging a small pipe," which she said could cause a pipe to stick in an open position.
Traditional pipe organs involve a great number of fixed and working mechanical parts, but Carol said, "The organ imposes little upkeep for what it gives. Minimal needs include seasonal tuning, due to the pipes being affected by temperature and humidity. The blower motor may require simple lubrication at long intervals."
ORGAN CONSTRUCTION AND MECHANICS
A blower motor powers the bellows which push air through the pipes.
"Pipes require pumped air to create notes, as does a flute or whistle. However, with thousands of pipes, including some over 8 feet in length, vast amounts of air are required to be pumped through the pipes," Carol explained. "Playing the organ before the discovery of electricity required at least one person to operate the bellows. ... Starting in the 1860s bellows were gradually replaced by wind turbines which were later directly connected to electric motors," she said.
The motor is specially designed to generate little noise so it does not interfere with music being played.
"The pipe organ is a great but very complicated mechanical instrument," Bogey said.
The numerous keyboards are known as manuals, each with 61 notes. The keyboard layout resembles that of a piano, which was not invented until centuries later. Near the floor is a pedal board, which consists of 32 pedals and notes, also arranged in the layout found on a piano.
A set of pipes is known as a rank, and each consists of 61 pipes; one pipe for each note on the manual.
"Remember, the organ manual only has 61 notes compared to the piano which has 88 notes," Bogey said.
The many voices of the organ are controlled by mechanisms called stops, which are accessed on the console. There are four families of pipe voices: the principal, flute, string and reed families. Bogey explained the principal family consists of "Full-sounding pipes generally used for accompanying church hymns or for playing a Bach prelude, fugue, or toccata."
The stops are small tabs or draw knobs with the name of the instrument family on it. Bogey said the stops are listed usually in German, French or English languages so organs around the world have universal markings.
"An oboe might be listed as 'Hautbois,' a French term for oboe, or a flute might be listed as a 'Gedeckt,' a German term for a wooden flute," he explained. "This is listed so that one could go to Sweden, France or Italy and the organs there would have the same markings and one would be able to play it and understand what each stop indicated."
Each stop has a number on it which refers to the length of the pipe. "Thus, the larger the pipe size, the lower the pitch; the smaller the pipe size, the higher the pitch," Bogey said.
Stops can be more complicated and control more than one rank for a combination of sounds.
"Some stops have a Roman numeral such as Mixture IV, Plein Jeu V," he said. "The Roman numeral means that this particular stop would have 61 pipes times four, or a total of 244 pipes. A five-rank stop would have five times 61 pipes, or 305 pipes, connected to that particular stop."
Bogey explained there are variations between different organs.
"Basically, there are no two pipe organs alike. Each organ has its unique set of stops, placement, and acoustical environment. Organs can vary from a one-manual instrument up to six manuals.
Not surprisingly, playing the organ, Bogey explained, is much more complicated than a piano or other more common instruments.
"It is complicated in that you are playing music with both hands and both feet. With the piano, the dynamics and interpretation of the music is controlled solely by the hands. The expression on the organ comes from the volume pedals, called shades, and from the many stop combinations. ... Therefore, it is a very mechanical instrument and musicality comes from manipulating all of these stops ... as well as controlling the volume pedals or shades."
PLAYING THE ORGAN
Because the organ has so many variables, sheet music also is more complex than piano or other sheet music.
"The piano has two lines of music to read, whereas the organ has three staves of music, one for the right hand, one for the left hand, and one for the pedals," Bogey said, and added he recommends potential students to have an extensive background in piano lessons first.
"All of our students have had extensive piano backgrounds and several are piano majors here at Fredonia."
This semester, Bogey has six organ students and one additional college professor who studies the organ with him. One is training at the master's level, while most are undergraduates.
"Most of the students have not had organ lessons previous to coming to SUNY Fredonia. ... I also have three students who currently serve as organists in churches in Dunkirk and Silver Creek," Bogey said. "I am grateful to have a very talented and dedicated group of organ students this semester."
Playing this organ in King Concert Hall is particularly pleasing, according to Bogey.
"I think that this organ is a delight to play because it is a vintage Schlicker instrument with vibrant reeds, articulate yet warm-sounding sounding flutes, lush strings, along with a sturdy and distinct principal family of stops. Of course the trumpeta real, which is really a bright Spanish trumpet tops off the organ with its grand stentorian sound. The instrument is a gem to play," he raved.
He added playing in the concert hall is also special.
"The King Concert Hall is a very lively acoustical setting and the organ can be equally heard from the organ console as well as throughout the immense hall," he explained, and added all venues are not as well designed.
"There are some installations in concert halls and churches where there are poor acoustics or where the organ pipes are not well-placed and are buried," Bogey explained. "This becomes most frustrating as the instrument cannot be heard very well by the organist and/or the audience. We are very fortunate at SUNY Fredonia with our concert facilities and our performance venues."
The most recent renovations are not the end of future plans for the organ and updates.
"We are hoping to have a solid-state action put into the organ at some future date to ... allow the organ to have many memories so that different organists can set their piston combinations on their own individual memory," which Bogey said would "prove to be very beneficial to any guest organist or to the various students who are studying organ and practicing on this instrument."
The renovations were made possible by outside donors, not state or other tax payer resources.
"I am truly grateful to our very generous anonymous donors and to the college for making this most recent organ renovation project a reality," Bogey concluded.
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