Cleaning old pipes from a Kimball organ in the government building

Michael Ruppert inspects the percussion instruments, part of the organ set at the Kimball Theater in the Government Building in 1928. Rupert, co-owner of Rose City Organ Builders in Oregon, spent two days with co-owner Christopher Nordwall tuning the organ and bringing it to playable condition.
Not playing in the atrium of the Alaska State Office Building for more than three years isn’t the worst thing that could happen to a 1928 Kimball Theater organ that’s been around since 1976.
But that certainly makes it harder for the two men who arrived this week to get them in shape so they can resume public performances as early as next week.
“Yesterday we had at least 20 notes that were played wrong,” Michael Rupert, co-owner of Rose City Organ Builders in Portland, Oregon, said on Tuesday, the second day after returning to work. “We have a dozen notes we shouldn’t play.”
On Monday and Tuesday, Rupert and his partner Christopher Nordwall spent a total of about 12 hours inspecting 548 organ pipes (and other instruments such as percussion), two keyboards and digital instruments, hundreds of connecting wires, most of which are almost a hundred years old. old. This meant a lot of ultra-fine detailing on instruments with tubes up to 8 feet long.
“Yesterday we got everything up and running,” Nordwall said on Tuesday. “We have to go back and rebuild because this thing hasn’t been played much.”
Tuners and locals are hoping Organ Welfare will hold a concert on the resurrected organ on Friday June 9th or next Friday.
J. Allan McKinnon, one of two current Juneau residents who have hosted such concerts for years, said Wednesday he wants to practice first in the next few days – during the building’s regular opening hours. and find out which songs to play on your debut.
“I didn’t have to re-learn it,” he said. “I just have to go through some old music I have and decide what to use for the public.”
One limitation is that the piano-style console on the side of the main multi-keyboard console doesn’t work, “so I can’t play some of the taverns I used to play,” McKinnon said.
Photo by Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire Christopher Nordwall played a 1928 Kimball Theater organ in the atrium of the State Office Building on Tuesday as he and Michael Ruppert worked on converting the organ to a state suitable for public performance. The two tuners were only able to tune the organ for a few hours when the building was officially closed.
Every Friday, the lunchtime concert is the Atrium’s signature cultural event, drawing crowds of government employees, other residents, and visitors. But the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 stopped the operation of the device, which was supposed to undergo a major overhaul.
“We put a band-aid on it for years and relied on the ingenuity of the organist to fix dead notes,” said Ellen Culley, curator at the Alaska State Museum, which owns the organ.
The State Library, the Alaska Archives, and the community group Friends of Museums are working to raise awareness of service needs and explore fundraising opportunities. The concept of a “network approach to care” that involves key members of the community, in addition to museum staff, to guide the work, has been undermined because it was launched before the pandemic, Carly said.
On Tuesday, Mark Sabbatini / Empire Juneau Christopher Nordwall played a demo song on the organ of the 1928 Kimball Theater in the State Office Building.
Meanwhile, according to T. J. Duffy, another Juneau resident, the museum is currently licensed to play the organ, if the organ is not in use due to the pandemic, it will worsen its condition because playing it helps to maintain its tone. and mechanism.
“To me, the worst thing a person can do with an instrument is not to play it,” Duffy wrote last year, as efforts to rebuild the organ after the pandemic began. “No vandalism or building problems. He’s just old and there’s no money for the ongoing daily maintenance he needs. In almost 13 years of my work as an organ, it was tuned only twice.”
One advantage of placing a Kimball organ in a public administration building is that it is always in a climate controlled environment, whereas similar organs in churches may be more susceptible to damage if the building’s heating/cooling system is only used once or twice. Temperatures and humidity fluctuate throughout the week, Nordwall said.
Michael Ruppert repairs the percussion parts of the 1928 Kimball Theater organ at the State Office Building on Tuesday.
Carrley said that based on discussions with other members of the community involved in the project, she asked (“begged”) Nordwall and Ruppert to set up the organ, even though their territories do not usually extend to Alaska. According to her, among other things, Nordwall’s father, Jonas, played the organ during a fundraiser in 2019.
“There’s talk, seal it, unpack it, put it away,” she said. “And then he dies.”
The two experts said their two-day visit was far from what would have been required for a full restoration — an roughly eight-month process that would have it shipped to Oregon and restored at a cost of between $150,000 and $200,000 — but would ensure good condition. an experienced organist can perform it with sufficient confidence.
“People can work on it for a few days and try to make some patches to get it to the point where it’s playable,” Rupert said. “It’s definitely not in that sentence.”
Christopher Nordwall (left) and Michael Rupert inspect the piano keyboard wiring of the 1928 Kimball Theater Organ at the State Office Building on Tuesday. The component is not currently connected to the instrument’s main unit, so it will not be playable if the show resumes this month as expected.
The checklist for “tuning” the organ includes tasks such as cleaning the contacts of the various components, ensuring that the “expression gate” is functioning so the organist can adjust the volume, and checking each of the five wires connected to each key of the instrument. . Some wires still have their original cotton protective coating, which has become brittle over time, and fire regulations no longer allow repairs (requires plastic wire coating).
Then mute the notes you play, and let the notes that don’t respond to the keys resound in the vast space of the atrium. Even if the wiring and other mechanisms for each key aren’t perfect, “a good organist will learn to play it fairly quickly,” says Nordwall.
“If the key itself doesn’t work, nothing else works,” Nordwall said. “But if it’s just one tube of a certain ring… then hopefully you put it on a different label.”
The 1928 Kimball Theater organ in the State Office building has 548 pipes that range in length from pencil size to 8 feet. (Mark Sabatini/Juno Empire)
While the reopening of the organ and midday concerts are strong signs that the pandemic is being overcome, Carrley said there are still long-term concerns about the state of the organ and the locals eligible to play it as current musicians age. Each of these presents an individual challenge, as Kimball organ lessons are not usually taken by young people, and funding a proper restoration would be a huge undertaking.
“If we are approaching its 100th anniversary, what does it need to exist for another 50 years?” – she said.
Scan to view a one-minute video of a 1928 Kimball organ being tuned, repaired and played in the National Office Building.


Post time: Mar-03-2023