Organs – Care of Church Organs

The pipe organ is to be held in high esteem in the Latin Church, since it is its traditional instrument, the sound of which can add a wonderful splendour to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lift up men’s minds to God and higher things. (Vatican II – Musicam Sacram)

A pipe organ is usually the single most valuable item in any church building for insurance purposes.  It should therefore be safeguarded. Not only has the organ a significant role in the liturgy, it may also be important in other ways, for example:

(a) An organ may have particular artistic, stylistic or musical significance.
(b) Architecturally, the organ may be of value due to being an integral part of an overall, architectural ensemble, or where part of the organ, case, pipe-work or mechanism is of interest.
(c) Organs built up to First World War should in general be regarded as historic, but there are also organs of a more recent date which have historic and artistic significance. 
(d) It should also be noted that not all historic organs are in historic or listed churches. There are also significant or historic organs in unlisted or recent churches.

This said, no assumption should be made of the worth of an organ without professional advice. This is because it is also the case that not all organs are of good quality and it is important that financial resources are not wasted on poor instruments. No work beyond careful routine maintenance should be undertaken without appropriate professional advice and permissions. An organ also should not be moved or any changes made prior to the obtaining of such advice and permissions.

Note: the above are important protective measures: 
(a) The inappropriate expenditure of even a very small sum of money can result in irreparable damage to an instrument. 
(b) It is also the case that inappropriate changes made to a historic organ may result in the organ becoming ineligible for grant-aid for restoration.

Maintenance

It is important that instruments are properly maintained by parishes to avoid major capital expenditure caused by neglect or inadequate care. Normally an organ should be tuned once each year and sometimes more often if the temperature and humidity of the building experience large changes over the seasons. If in doubt about maintenance advice should be sought.

Given proper care, an organ with a mechanical (tracker) mechanism has an almost indefinite life. Mechanical action organs exist in playing order from as early as the 14th century.

Organs with other playing mechanisms (pneumatic, electro-pneumatic, and electrical) have a shorter working life. The working life of these organs can be extended by renovation or replacement of the worn-out parts and by the organ being cleaned as necessary. This can often mean substantial work and expenditure at 25 or 30 year intervals.

Electronic organs can provide a temporary alternative in certain circumstances, especially if the church building is not to be maintained permanently. As these instruments tend to rely on computer technology, glued wood composites and loudspeakers, their construction materials are not comparable with the longevity of that which can be expected from a pipe organ, and therefore do not always make a good economic investment in the long term.

Advice should be obtained from the Cathedral Music Office with regard to suitable specialists in respect of pipe organs. Any capital expenditure relating to pipe or electronic organs should always be referred to the Diocesan Director of Music before any action is agreed or undertaken.

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