Frank Smith went to college to become a music teacher, but bypassed the classroom to become a voicer at Reuter Organ Co.
Now, he said, he thinks of the organ pipes he teaches to "speak" as his students.
Smith's job as a voicer involves cutting and shaping the "mouths" on metal flue pipes so they produce the proper tones. By manipulating the mouth parts upper and lower lips, flue and languid the sound can be changed within a given parameter.
The aim is to make the pipes sound like a "cohesive group," he said, noting their sounds are made in much the same way as those made by a person blowing on a pop bottle.
Smith said flue pipes such as he works with make up about 80 percent of the pipes in an organ; the rest are reed pipes, which are voiced by others on the Reuter staff.
Of the flue pipe voicing, Smith likened the job to that of a choir director working with sopranos, altos, tenors and basses separately at first to learn their "parts," and then together, to blend the honed parts into a whole.
Each kind, or "rank," of pipes is voiced in Smith's voicing room first, and then they all are when the organ is assembled and tested at the plant.
After the organ is delivered and reassembled in its new home, Smith travels there and voices all the pipes once again to be sure they are properly blended.
"If anything," he said, "we leave things under-voiced here if you cut too much metal away, you can't glue it back on."
For a person who loved to take alarm clocks apart as a child and who began playing the organ at church when he was 13, Smith is in his element.
He's still organist at St. Patrick's Church in St. Joseph, Mo., where he grew up, traveling there every weekend for services, and he said the effort adds to his professional insights.
Reuter organs are known for being "very orchestral," Smith said, explaining that like a painter's color palette, the pipes provide organists with different ``colors'' to paint a musical picture, to evoke different emotions.
"Reuter tends to have a very nice, broad scope of colors to work with, even in smaller instruments," he said, noting with churches that tends to be an important consideration.
"Being a church organist and many here are we're always thinking about versatility."