The organ is silent: FAQs

As any recent visitor to the Oratory knows, the grand organ of the church has been silent since April 19, 2016.  It is in desperate need of repairs. Below are answers to some frequently asked questions:

What happened to the organ? Two things:

(1) The static reservoir which regulates the air-pressure has begun to fall apart at the seams. Once the reservoir falls apart, the organ will not have the air pressure it needs for the pipes to sound. The organ will be completely silent.

(2) The mechanical machines (balance valves) that exist beneath every large pipe of our organ are made of magnets, wiring, and leather. The leather has deteriorated to the point that those machines no longer function, causing many of the pedal pipes to sound simultaneously.

How old is our organ?

Our organ was made by the Wicks Organ Company of Highland, IL in 1924. It is 92 years old! To put things into perspective: our organ relies on wiring, leather and magnets that were new when Calvin Coolidge was elected his first term as president!

Can the organ be repaired?

The organ can be repaired! However, this won’t be an easy fix and the Oratory must progress prudently. For example: the offending balance valves can be re-leathered (a very basic repair) but their placement is inside a chest that sits below nearly 1000 lbs. of wooden pipes. Practically speaking, moving 1000 lbs. of wooden pedal pipes is a job you only want to do once. This basic repair begs the question: “what do we repair next?”. If we begin to repair one, it makes infinite sense to repair others connected to this one that are equally in need of restoration. So all of the balance valves should be fixed at this time as they are in the exact same condition as the broken ones were just a few weeks ago.

Are there other mechanical problems with the organ?

Quite a few, actually. A pipe organ doesn’t endure into its 92nd year without developing problems. The largest expense for the restoration of this instrument will be the electrical wiring. The cotton-covered wiring throughout the instrument is dried and frayed. The organ needs to be brought up to code.

How much will this cost?

The complete restoration will be broken into three phases totaling $320,000. The first phase will cost $49,000 and will get the organ up and running once again. The second phase will cost $186,000. The third and last phase will cost $85,000.

Can’t we just get a new organ?

The Oratory’s organ is an excellent example of American organ building in the early 20th century. The materials used to make the pipes are very desirable both in substance and scale. While the instrument is mechanically failing, the pipework is a great example of a high point of organ building in America and should be preserved. To build a new instrument to the same size and scale would cost $960,000, roughly three times the cost of the restoration. Repairing our organ is much more cost effective.

This all sounds great! How can I help?

First and foremost, pray! Secondly, your financial contributions to the Organ Restoration Fund will help! Lastly, tell your friends! The spiritual and liturgical life of the Oratory is a great gift not just to those attached to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, but to the entire region of Saint Louis.


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