Chapter 22 Pipes, Parts, and Pianos
Mr. Mac chuckled at their puzzled expressions. He told them, “Boys, don't be disappointed, yet! This is going to be a fairly large Theatre Organ but the number of ranks of pipes will surprise you. How many do you think there will be? Guess!”
Faces contorted in thought. Jimmy guessed first.
“Well . . .” he drawled, “the Willowbranch Baptist Church is the biggest organ we've ever seen and it has forty-five ranks. . . uh, I'll guess this organ will have seventy ranks!”
Harry doubted: “Remember, he just said that almost any church organ would be bigger in the number of pipes. I'm gonna' guess, maybe . . .forty ranks of pipes.”
Mr. Mac laughed: “Too many. Guess lower.”
Jimmy said, “What, about thirty-five?”
Harry said, “Yeah, there's all those stops and you said this would be a big sounding organ. I'm with Jimmy it's got to be about thirty or thirty-five or so . . . or else it wouldn't be much of an organ!”
Mr. Mac threw his head back and laughed, “Oh, it'll be `much of an organ' all right! Would you believe it's less than half of what Harry first guessed? This is going to be a nineteen rank organ with seven percussions and a host of traps and some special toys. It's large for most Theatre Organs, but because the Wurlitzer people felt bad about not being able to come here to install it themselves, they threw in a few extra ranks that will make this a very big sounding organ, indeed!”
When Mr. Mac said `nineteen ranks' the boys' mouths dropped open. But Jimmy was not satisfied: “Mr. Mac, how can nineteen ranks sound big compared to forty-five ranks? I mean when Mr. Edwin pushes the Sforzando pedal on the organ at his church and all the stops come on it's a really big, glorious sound.”
“Yes, it is . . .” agreed Mr. Mac, “but you are still thinking that bigger numbers of ranks means a bigger sound. Here is why that's not necessarily true . . . “
Mr. Mac counted fingers as he began to explain: “First of all, church organs generally operate on a lower wind pressure than Theatre organs do. The higher pressure makes Theatre pipes sound fuller and more intense. Also, most ranks, especially the Tibias, Diapasons and Strings will play at many octaves, high, medium, and low, with stops duplicated on several keyboards each. Then there are the tremulants. When all the tremulants are on, the ranks blend together into a very special big sound. Talk about glorious! I can't wait for you two to hear it!”
“But, Mr. Mac,” started Jimmy, “don't tremulants give the pipe sounds just a little shaky effect?”
“Normal tremulants would,” explained Mr. Mac, “but these are going to be deep tremulants which will have a big effect on the sound. Many ranks will have their own tremulant, so each division will have several tremulants instead of just one like church organs. Altogether they blend and magnify the whole sound like an eggbeater beats a little cream into a whole lot of whipped cream.”
Harry tried to visualize what that might sound like. Jimmy was kind of worried about this tremulant thing. Mr. Edwin had taken the boys to see the organ at the Episcopal church. There was not a tremulant in the Great division at all and the tremulants that were on the other manuals didn't work at all.
When Jimmy asked why, the Episcopalian organist got a funny look on his face and: “My dear boy why would one fix that which one would never use?” He then wrinkled his nose as if something smelled very bad.
After lunch Mr. Mac gave the boys the job of cleaning the packing material out of all the nooks and crannies of the console while he finished connecting the cables and wind line to it. They were to dust the keys and to polish the stop tabs with soft cloths as they did so. As they happily went about this task they began to notice just how the stops were grouped.
Jimmy commented to Harry that they should know exactly where all those things were: “You never know when it might come in handy to be able to find those things in a hurry for Mr. Mac!”
“You're right!” replied Harry, “You know how he likes us to help him when he tunes the organs in the churches by holding down the notes and turning on the stops while he's up in the chambers, sometimes he doesn't even have to tell us what he wants. He's gonna have to tune this one too, isn't he?”
Jimmy saw many words that he did not recognize which he jotted down in his notebook list:
Harry and Jimmy finished the job quickly and sought Mr. Mac to see what else they could do. They located him in the main chamber. He was standing in the access door looking at something he had just finished.
Harry said: “We've finished polishing the console.” He noticed the look on Mr. Mac's face. “What's up?” probed Harry.
Mr. Mac smiled broadly, “Everything but the pipes!”
“You mean we're all finished?” Jimmy asked.
“No,” chuckled Mr. Mac, “we're far from that but we've finished a major part of the job!”
Harry thought about this, checking his list; “Let's see . . . first you installed the blower in it's special room on the top floor, then you ran the wind lines from the blower room to the chambers, the console and the relay room. The main and solo percussions, swell shades, reservoirs and pipe chests are in place, winded and wired. I can't believe it, we're actually going to put the pipes in next -- right?”
“All most! The wiring and winding to the chambers need to be checked and the percussions have to be tested first!” explained Mr. Mac. “And the quicker we do it the quicker the organ will actually be playable!”
Jimmy was eager, “OK, what do we do now?”
“Have you boys seen the piano?” asked Mr. Mac with a twinkle in his eye.
The boys looked at each other with puzzled looks, shaking their heads `no'.
“Well, that's a good place to start. Let's climb to the percussion chamber!”
The percussion chamber was actually a large concrete room that was part of the ceiling, centered high above the stage and was accessed by a cage enclosed catwalk. Jimmy thought for a moment that he might be sick looking way down on the stage below, but his curiosity won and he found that he felt quite safe with the wire mesh all around him. At the end of the walk was a door. Mr. Mac took out a key and opened it.
There was an electric light switch on the wall next to the door but even before Mr. Mac switched it on Harry could see quite a bit. This was because the whole front of the small room opened out into the theatre itself with just an open ornamental grill letting in the light and letting out the sound. In the open front part of the room was a large form covered by a canvas tarpaulin. Mr. Mac switched on the lights. In the back of the room Harry could see a group of large wooden boxes, at least Harry thought they were boxes. The more he looked at them the more they looked like twisting and turning wooden chimneys. But boxes and chimneys are usually square and have equal sides, which these did not. Though they appeared to be well built, they were very odd in their dimensions.
In front of this point of interest was a bench-like chest situated just behind the front grill, that had several smaller box shapes that didn't seem to have a purpose. Jimmy stood by Harry looking at this and he asked Mr. Mac the question Harry was just about to:
“What in the world is this?”
“That's the toy counter -- or at least, that's where it will be by the time we're finished. That's the piano up front there and the big boxy things on the back wall of the chamber is the thirty-two foot Diaphone pedal extension.”
Harry was incredulous, “You mean those boxy things are pipes?”
“That's right,” explained Mr. Mac, “the reason they look so crazy is that they're mitered. That means they've been bent around a corner into a “U” shape to save space.”
Jimmy said, “You mean this stuff has been up here all this time?”
“That's right, they were the very first of the organ parts installed. ”Mr. Mac continued as he pulled the tarpaulin away from the upright piano. “They had to be put here first, while the big cranes were still inside the building so the pipes, parts, and the piano could be lifted into place. I've been saving this as a kind of a surprise for you boys. We still have to install one more rank up here. See, there's the offset chest for the Post Horn there in front of the Diaphone pipes and just behind the toycounter. The piano is already in position here, and the wiring and wind lines are installed, but first,” he paused as the boys helped finish folding the tarpaulin, then continued gesturing with his head, “the toycounter stuff still has to be installed on this chest here.”
“This is the bee's knee's Mr. Mac.” Harry said, “OK, where do we start working?
"Well," replied Mr. Mac, "we start by unpacking one of those crates on the stage down there; the one that has the toycounter parts in it!"