Monday, July 30, 2012

Restoring a Reed Organ: Part 3 - Resources

Last time, I promised a post on the resources that we would be using to restore our Mason and Hamlin reed organ.  I got a little behind on that and we have now begun work on the organ, so here is a little “catch-up” post with the promised information.

One of the gurus of reed organs was the late Robert Gellerman.  Gellerman has a very useful book entitled, The American Reed Organ and Harmonium, which not only gives instruction on reed organ restoration, but includes a detailed history of the American reed organ.  He also has a detailed chapter on tuning, as well as designs for organ benches, stop face fonts, and much more.  Gellerman also is the compiler of the Reed Organ Atlas, which is a directory of reed organ manufacturers, where they were located, and known serial numbers by years.  It is a very helpful resource for identifying and dating the old reed organ in the church basement or in the attic of the proverbial “Aunt Maude.”

A book that seems to stir much controversy among the reed organ restoration community is Horton Presley’s Restoring and Collecting Antique Reed Organs.  Presley was clearly a lover of reed organs and an enthusiastic restorer. However, those who appreciate a restoration that is done using traditional materials and methods according to historic parameters view Presley as something of a philistine, with his predisposition to using contact cement on bellows cloth (what is a future restorer to do when they need to remove it?!), and his rather dangerous suggestion of using a blow torch to heat old bellows cloth in order to be removed.  Still, there is much useful information in Presley, but it needs to be carefully sifted.

A lovely little book is a reprint of an early twentieth-century edition entitled The Reed Organ: It’s Construction and Desgin, by H.F. Milne.  It is a thorough guide to constructing a reed organ or harmonium.  It has lovely diagrams that help any novice to come to an understanding of American reed organs or harmoniums.  As an aside, it should be noted that the American reed organ is an instrument that works on suction, whereas the harmonium is a pressure instrument.  There is a useful trouble-shooting section.  Anyone interested in working on either a reed organ or harmonium should read this book through carefully and pay close attending to the diagrams.  The only problem I have with the book is that Milne describes the two types of instruments in parallel throughout, and sometimes he is not clear as to which organ he is referring.

James Tyler, aka "The Reed Organ Man" has written a nice little treatise entitled The Aunt Maude Series, a compendium of a serialized set of articles on how to restore a reed organ.  It is readily available on the Reed Organ Society webpage.  Tyler has a CD available as well, entiled Aunt Maude Revisted, which we have on order, with photographs and more detailed directions. 

And while I am mentioning the Reed Organ Society, I should direct you to their website, which is worth exploring.  It has a registry of reed organs, some interesting historical information, some good photos, and a few articles from their periodical.  As of this writing it is offline due to technical difficulties but we are assured it will be up and running again soon.  Another useful website is Frans van der Grijn’s, which is the most extensive website devoted to the harmonium and reed organ.  There is also a very good online Yahoo forum where restorers can ask questions and share tips.  I highly recommend Rodney Jantzi’s website and YouTube channel.  Rodney is a Canadian organist and restorer, and one really nice guy.  He has fully documented his several restoration projects in photo-journal format and these are really helpful for the novice.  I have exchanged a couple of emails with him as well and he has been really helpful.  He has many videos online, most of which are him playing his various restored reed organs, and he is one superb musician.  He also has a wonderful five-part series entitled “Reeding 101” which introduces the reed organ and offers some pointers in playing technique. I also commend to you a neat two-part video by Artis Wodehouse explaining how the stops work on her lovely Mason and Hamlin Liszt organ.

There are many resources out there, in libraries and on the web.  If you are interested in reed organs, I encourage you to start with the Reed Organ Society, which has a page of links (although not all of them are current or active), and take a look at the many videos on YouTube.  Spend some time looking at photos and watching videos and you will see what a wonderful instrument the reed organ is and what a shame it is that so many have been relegated to the attic, or worse, dismantled and turned into desks or shelves and other forms of gaudy furniture. 

Next: Some photos before the dismantle!

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