Mini-Course: How Do Organ Pipes Work?

“Why are there so many pipes?”

“But how come you sit over here and the sound comes out over there?”

“Why are those pipes so big?”

“Why are those pipes so tiny?”

“Why are some of the pipes made from metal and others are made from wood?”

“How long do pipes last?”

Right after the wide-eyed “Wow!” when folks first see a pipe organ, I am asked a lot of questions about how the pipe organ actually works. The entire pipe organ is an incredibly complex machine, yet the pipes that produce the sound are quite simple.

Related: A fun printable that explains how all those pipes work together to make a most impressive sound.

Each pipe, individually, is an interesting example of the science of sound, but when we hear all of the pipes together, the result is amazing. That is a lot like our time together here on earth, isn’t it? The things we can accomplish when we work together are truly amazing.

Related: Lesson Outline and video links

Related: The Notre Dame Cathedral Paris Pipe Organ

Related: The History of the Pipe Organ

1912 M.P. Moller, Avon Federated Church, Avon, Illinois

The first settlers in Avon, Illinois, arrived in 1835. In just twenty years, the area grew enough to have a post office, changed its name twice, saw the building of a branch of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad (CB&Q) and formed several churches. Among those fellowships were a Universalist Church and a Congregational Church.

The Congregationalist Church in Avon was formed in 1855. Early services were held in temporary locations until a building could be constructed in 1860. Rev. Edward Beecher of First Congregational Church, Galesburg, Illinois, preached the dedicatory sermon. The years that followed were busy with endeavors and growth. The church celebrated its 50th anniversary (1905) with three days of services and celebrations. Rev. C. A.Vincent of Central Congregational Church, Galesburg was one of the speakers.

Some of the earliest families in the Avon area were Universalists, and they often attended services in nearby towns. In 1863, the first regular Universalist Society of Avon was organized. Initial services were held in a local school until a church building was erected. The church was formally dedicated in June, 1867, by the Rev. W. S. Balch of Galesburg. The total cost of the church was $4,000.

The organ in this church was a Mason and Hamlin reed organ, purchased in 1869. Mason and Hamlin organs were considered the very finest reed organs available in their day. Notable composers, including Franz Liszt, created works specifically for Mason and Hamlin organs. The organ was purchased in Galesburg for $153.

In 1906, thoughts turned to a new church building. Since the new church would have the same location as the original, services were held at a temporary facility during the dismantling of the old and building of the new church. In February 1908, the church was dedicated as the “Church of the Good Shepherd.”

By 1912, a committee was formed to acquire a pipe organ for the church. An M.P. Moller organ was selected. It was dedicated in November of that year at a cost of $1,459.99. The old organ, presumably the Mason and Hamlin, was sold to a school for $20.00.

In September, 1928, the Universalist and Congregational Churches voted to unite to form a Federated Church. They continue to meet in what was the Universalist church building.

The action of this organ is a pneumatic style developed by Moller. To this day, the pipes, console, and casework are all original.

The organ produces a clear, strong sound which easily fills the sanctuary. Since the instrument is at the front of the church, the organist sits with their back to the congregation. The mirror mounted above the console helps the organist see what is going on in the sanctuary.

For an organ of this size, it is a nice to find adjustable divisional combination actions (presets). There are two thumb pistons for each manual, very adequate for the organ.

It is significant to note that, like many organs of this era, the air supply to the organ was provided by hand-pumped bellows. It didn’t take too long to see the need for an upgrade, and an electric motor to pump the bellows was installed in April 1914.

One of the charming features of this console is the meter that shows the strength of the air pressure. Imagine the importance of that dial when the organ was being hand-pumped! The more stops that are in use, the more air is needed to make them sound. When the tremulant (vibrato) is added, the meter appears to flit like a butterfly with the changes in air pressure.

The swell division is enclosed and is controlled by pedal (on the right in the above photo). The crescendo pedal, on the left, has a dial on the console to show how much of the organ is being added to the sound. The pedal lever on the far left is sforzando, used to go directly to full organ.

Stop List

Great
Dulciana 8′
Vox Celeste 8′
Melodia 8′
Open Diapason 8′
Flute D’Amour 4′

Swell
Dolce 8′
VioleD’Orchestre 8′
Concert Flute 8′
Celeste 8′
Flute 4′

Tremulant

Pedal
Bourdon 16′
Lieblich Gedacht 16′

Couplers
Great to Pedal
Swell to Pedal
Swell to Great
Swell to Great 4′
Swell to Great 16′
Swell 4′

Great Adjustable Combinations 1 & 2
Swell Adjustable Combinations 1 & 2

1912 J.P. Moller Organ, Avon Federated Church, Avon, Illinois