Pipe Organs and Weather Change

Fall weather

Wasn’t that weather during the month of December 2001 bizarre? Bitter cold one day then balmy the next. The weather plays a huge part in the maintenance and tuning of a pipe organ. For those of you who have a contract for tuning and maintenance of your pipe organ, you are familiar with the request of the Administrative Assistant when they call to schedule service. They have the same old speech; “Please make sure the heat is turned on in the building at least ten hours in advance of the technician’s visit.” The reason for this request is not because our technicians don’t like their feet to get cold, but rather the air that flows through the pipes is normally at 70 degrees during a service. When that air is below 70 degrees, the pitch of the pipes will be lower, therefore making it impossible to tune. If they went ahead and tuned the organ while the temperature was set at 55 or 60 degrees, then on Sunday morning the organist came into a warm 70 degree organ chamber, we would probably receive a call that next morning informing us that the organ was way out of tune. Typically, if the air is colder, the pitch is lower. If the air is hotter, the pitch is higher. That is the main reason for requesting a 70-degree temperature when tuning and maintaining an organ. So when you hear the administrative assistant on the other end of the line telling you that you need to have the temperature set to the same as it is during a service at least ten hours in advance, they are simply making sure that the tuning the technicians do, will hold true for the organist when the time comes to perform.

There are those times, like December for instance, where we tune an organ and the outside temperature is around 25 degrees then Mother Nature decides it is time to sunbathe. The temperature outside then reaches around 60 degrees. This plays havoc on the tuning job that was done during the colder temperatures. The first thing you know, we are re-tuning everyone that we already tuned for the Advent season. One thing you need to keep in mind when this happens is that this is an act of God and we will do our best to be there to tune and maintain your organ as soon as we can; however, the timeframe of our arrival may not be as prompt as you are used to. Usually, by the January timeframe, our schedules are already packed full of other jobs that were scheduled months, even years in advance. We ask that you please be patient when Mother Nature rears her head. We will do the best we can to get to your organ in the quickest time possible. A common practice of organists with tenure is to find some way to work around the problem. There are ways to work around a certain note that is out. Your audience most likely does not know every single note of the piece you have chosen to play, so hopefully it will pass right before them and still sound extraordinary.

I have often heard the organ tuning business referred to as a similarity of the Doctor’s Office. If you call to see the doctor, they make a determination whether it is an emergency or simply a common cold. The ones they determine as emergencies are given priority service and the ones with the common cold are seen as soon as they can be worked in. This is a pretty good comparison to the pipe organ tuning business. If you have a huge recital and the organ has a division not playing, then probably you are going to take priority over an organ that the C-4 is not playing (unless, of course, we can work them both into the same trip).

This article is written to inform you of how the maintenance procedure works and what you might expect when you place that service call. We want to thank all of our customers for their continued trust in us and we look forward to working with all of you again during this new year.  

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