Archive for Friday, April 10, 1992


April 10, 1992


Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church members weren't disappointed with the sound coming from the 1,200 pipes in their custom-made organ built by Lawrence's Reuter Organ Co.

"When that organ played I must admit my eyes got moist," said the Rev. Robert Moser, who recently came to the plant with 30 church members to hear the organ.

When Good Shephard was built in Bartlesville, Okla., space was set aside for a pipe organ.

But the church's 500 parishioners have had to get along with an electric organ. That will change April 19.

"The pipe organ will be played in the sanctuary for the first time on that day, Easter Sunday," Moser said. "This is an exciting time for us."

The church's masterpiece is one of the 2,157 organs built by Reuter in its 75 years of operation. The company has overhauled another 1,000 organs in that time.

Craftsmanship was as important to founders Adolph Reuter, Earl Schwarz and R.A. Ruegger in March 1917 as it is to the company's 40 employees today.

Even in the age of automation, the concept of mass production doesn't exist there. Reuter is a haven for wood and metal craftsmen.

"No two organs are identical," said Alan Fisher, director of personnel and purchasing and a Reuter employee since 1949.

From shops and rooms scattered in two buildings at 612 N.H., Reuter's employees create 15 to 20 of the instruments each year.

Each is a substantial investment in musical quality. The Bartlesville church's organ will cost $230,000, Moser said.

Fisher said some of the largest organs built by Reuter have about 6,000 pipes. But there's no pipe limit. Sets of pipes are often added to organs over the years.

"It just depends on the number of rooms you want to fill," he said.

In 1980, the company was purchased jointly by Franklin Mitchell, who serves as president, and Albert Neutel, the chairman of the board. Mitchell has worked for Reuter since 1951. Neutel joined the company in 1980.

FISHER SAID an organ begins taking shape on a drafting table. Engineers design each element to suit the buyer and dimensions of the building in which it will be located.

In the shop, metal organ pipes 4 feet in length and shorter are made from an alloy of tin and lead. The alloy, bought in 35-pound ingots, is melted and cast into sheets.

After aging, the sheets are cut to size. They are formed and soldered by hand.

Pipes between 4 feet and 32 feet in length are made of copper and zinc. Copper can be flamed with a torch to create a multiple-color surface.

"As you move a torch around and heat the pipe it makes it take on different hues," Fisher said.

After manufacture, organ pipes are given the ability to speak by "voicers."

Frank Smith, a Reuter voicer, shapes the mouth of each pipe until it makes the proper sound.

"AN ANALOGY would be to think about how the mouth looks when saying certain vowels. An E is a very narrow and very wide look. Often times, a pipe will have the same characteristics," he said.

Rows of pipes are tuned in soundproof rooms, but an organist can't finish the job at the Reuter plant. Each instrument must be fit to the acoustics of the area in which it's installed.

Once in a while, Tom Watgen leaves his small tuning chamber at Reuter to help install an organ.

"That's a lot of fun," he said. "It's sterile in here so we can hear just what the pipe is doing. It's nice to get out."

About one-eighth of all pipes in an organ are reed pipes. A reed pipe has a vibrating tongue, or reed, to produce sound.

Wood pipes are also built at Reuter. They're constructed with straight-grained lumber to play the bass notes of the organ.

At Reuter, rough lumber walnut, mahogany, oak, poplar, birch, rosewood and maple are the most popular varieties is milled for construction of pipes, the console and organ chest.

THE CONSOLE, the control center of the organ, has keyboards, switches, pistons and expression controls.

"I'm partial to this one," said Fisher, pointing to a hand-carved console in the shop. "That's because of the walnut."

The chests are built to contain all of an organ's wind-controlling mechanisms. Leather pouches and valves control the air surging through pipes.

Each organ is assembled and tested on the first floor of the Reuter factory, a room with a 50 foot ceiling, before shipping to a church, university or concert hall.

Folks can get a glimpse of Reuter's handiwork on July 19, the next scheduled open house. An organ under construction now will be on display then.

"We're always surprised by how many people show up for open house," Fisher said. "What we do here is considered unusual by some people."

xxx joined the comany in 1980.

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Neutel said it was unlikely that computer-operated manufacturing technology would soon replace traditional craftsmen at organ companies such as Reuter.

"The organ business is an art, a craft," he said. "We don't have employees. We have craftsmen.

"You can't just hire a bunch of people and build organs. The training is extensive. The dedication must be there. There has to be a love for organs and music," he said.

Neutel said not much had changed about organ manufacturing in the 30 years he's been in the business.

"The switching has gone from mechanical to solid state. And every 10 or 15 years or so, people change the tonal aspects from romantic to classical. That's just a change in taste," he said.

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