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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Mailbag: “To be an Organbuilder”

February, 26, 2007

Dear Michael,

I’m curious, how does one get into the art of pipe organ building. Is their a certain degree people look for?
Robert Dicks
Pewaukee, WI


Unfortunately, in the United States, all that it takes to be an organbuilder is for one to print up business cards that say ‘organbuilder’ on them, then convince a client that you actually know what you are doing.

In truth, one learns by doing, preferrably under the supervision of someone else who actually already does ‘know’. For this most ancient of hand-crafted instruments, it should not be surprising that the best training is in a master-apprentice situation. In Germany, there actually is an official system of training and licensing. In the USA, we have membership organisations, such as the American Institute of Organbuilders (AIO) or the Associated Pipe Organ Builders of America (APOBA) which, to varying degrees, offer training and collegial encouragement.

Since organbuilding combines aspects of architecture, physics, structural and mechanical engineering, metallurgy, cabinet-making, and acoustics, along with the more specifically-targeted practices of pipemaking, scaling and voicing, wind-supply and key-action design, not to mention the entire history of organbuyilding and its implications in the 21st century, there is a LOT to learn.

Read everything you can, then read it again, then contact a reputable builder and ask questions. Or, depending on your age, look for work in a reputable shop…start with sweeping the floor and learn from the bottom up.

It really is an art, as the very many individual styles of current and past organbuilding practice prove. As with any art, perfect your understanding of the craft first, then you will be well-positioned to realize the artistic aspect later.



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