It’s a job that requires a maestro’s ear and a surgeon’s touch.
When a church with a pipe organ closes, the instrument becomes available for purchase. But moving a massive, complex organ is not any task for an amateur. There are thousands of intricate, connecting pieces and mechanisms in a pipe organ.
Scott Wick, president of Wicks Organ Co., said his craftsmen are usually the best candidate for the job, and such undertakings have become a new niche market for the 100-plus-year-old company.
“It takes more skill to do what we are doing today,” Wick said.
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On Valentine’s Day, Wick left his office in Highland with a few employees to finish just such a project, one they have been working on for six months.
Last summer, a church in Ohio named The National Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon started working with Wicks to acquire its own organ. At first, Wick said they had their eye on an instrument in another Ohio church. He estimated what it would cost to rehabilitate and move the organ. However, before the deal could be completed, the organ became unavailable.
Then, Wick remembered a useful piece of family history. An organ in Holdredge, Nebraska, had become available due to another church closing. The Nebraska organ, which the company had built and installed 40 years ago, was in better condition than the other in Ohio, which would allow the church to add on to it as well.
However, that job is harder than it sounds.
“It was a trickier thing to do than actually starting from scratch,” Wick said.
In fact, it’s matching the sounds that makes it hard.
The workers had to make sure the organ matched tonally. Wick explained that every pipe has a different sound. Wick said the company had to bring in a retired, 81-year-old employee to match the old sounds with the new. The instrument makers also had to compare and acquire different pipes from other organs.
“We’re having parts from all over the country,” Wick said.
Wick said the company collaborated with one of the church’s artists to make what he calls the organ’s “missing teeth.” Placing the pipes in the middle of the organ will be the final stage of the project. Wick said they painted the massive wooden pipes red and blue to match the interior of the church.
“This is one of our first time in our company’s history that we built painted wood pipes,” Wick said.
Once the final pieces make it to Ohio, the artist will decorate them with custom appliques.
Wick estimated that the final stage would take a week and a half to complete. He also said the project means more than just widening the skill set of his company, as a church will get an affordable instrument, while helping to carry on his family’s name.
“This ‘organ transplant,’ as we call it, is continuing the tradition, that my grandfather and my father have been carrying on now for 100 years,” Wick said.