Monday, March 21, 2022

The adventures of the rolling reed organ


My collection of musical instruments is expanding. In Italy, I left a digital organ and an East-Germany piano, bought by my parents during my school years, not mentioning the mandolin inherited from my grandfather and other small instruments. As soon as I moved abroad, 12 years ago, I bought a digital keyboard to practice at home. I also purchased two recorders and a mandolin in these years. Two years ago, after buying another digital organ for my viennese flat, I gave away the keyboard, hoping that it will help a friend to learn playing. Then, I had to think of the house on the mountains. I was looking for an instrument with a keyboard and that could possibly play without requiring electricity. The piano is too loud, too expensive for transportation and very sensitive to temperature and humidity. Then, a young organist met in Vienna suggested to go for a reed organ (Harmonium in German). I was skeptical at the beginning, I had played one in Brussels and I remember some from the time in Italy, but I was not quite impressed and such instruments are out of production since decades. I gave it a try, I learned something about the instrument from him and the internet, and I finally convinced myself that a kind of accordion but as large as a piano could be what I was looking for. I began to search for a second hand instrument on the internet.

The purchase

I checked the second hand market website for Austria for months, but I was not convinced by any of the announcements. Then, I contacted the person selling an Estey, an American reed organ, because I had the feeling that the instrument had been taken care of. I went to check it and it looked in a good condition. Quite big, with a lot of stops, but with a warm and gentle sound. The owner was a very kind educated lady, who was not playing the organ anymore and wished that it was sold to someone able to play it further. Done, I take it.

The transportation

Happy for the decision, I had to find a way to carry the organ to the country side. Many (more or less) professional companies asked quite a lot of money, even more than the price of the instrument, and many friends' car was too small to fit the instrument. Finally, I found a Romanian guy, who offered to help for a reasonable price. It was complicated to fix a day compatible with my, his and the owner's agenda, but we manage it.

current situation

The reed organ was actually heavier than imagined. A couple of friends and the seller were so kind to help me bringing the instrument to the street and loading it on the truck. The journey went fine, but the surprise was waiting at the destination: not only there was a heavy snowstorm, but it had continued for hours, so that the ground and the roads were covered by a thick layer of compacted snow. No way, the truck didn't manage to reach the house. The slope was too steep. We decided to park as close as possible and to carry the reed organ. Making it rolling, although it has wheels, was not possible due to the snow. We tried to lift it, but I'm not strong at all. Almost in despair, I phoned the neighbour crying for help. She sent her husband and son, even though they were just sitting for lunch. God bless them,! Four men managed to take the instrument into the garage, because the steps to the house were completely covered on snow. After carefully drying and cleaning the outer part of the organ, I could briefly check it. The reed organ had survived the adventurous transportation with very minor problems and I could play my favorite choral "Wer nur der lieben Gott läßt walten" full of joy. The day continued with some field work in the area, despite the snow.

The restoration

A couple of weeks after, I had time to check carefully the instrument. I am not able (yet) to perform a real restoration, but I wanted to check all the parts, repairing the wooden pieces that got damaged during the transportation and cleaning the interior of the instrument. Everything went fine. I could find the original label and thank to the young Italian organist I found out that the reed organ was manufactured in the USA in 1912. The instrument is 110 years old!!! It was then imported in Austria and survived two world wars (hopefully, it will not have to experience also a third one...). Unbelievable, despite the adventures, the intonation is still good and all the stops work.

First experiments

Mozart Krapfen for Carnival

After months, the reed organ is still in the garage. It took a while to get rid of the snow from the entrance, then the neighbours got covid, and now my parents are coming. The temperature in the garage (not heated) is similar to that I generally experience in churches, so it shouldn’t damage much the instrument, but staying there too long is not pleasant at all. Anyway, every time I'm home, I offer a kind of concert to the neighbours, playing with the garage door wide open. I've been playing music from Frescobaldi (I know, he composed long before the instrument was even invented) to Franck (more appropriate). Some chorals of Krebs seem written for the instrument. The several stops, the separation between high and low, and the forte with the knee levers allow effects recalling the two manuals of a pipe organ. Of course, I've been playing Bach, too.

The next chapter of the story will be carrying the instrument in the house and starting playing with friends and other instruments. I'll keep the blog updated. Make music, not war!

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