Local craftsman installs grand new organFirst Lutheran Church will soon be enjoying a new organ. Local craftsman Dan Jaeckel, who has been building organs for nearly 40 years, is installing it.
By: Beth Koralia, Budgeteer News
First Lutheran Church will soon be enjoying a new organ. Local craftsman Dan Jaeckel, who has been building organs for nearly 40 years, is installing it.
Jaeckel says the previous First Lutheran organ wore down quickly after it was installed in 1950.
“It was hurting 25 years ago,” he said, “and has been limping along since then.”
Over the past three decades, Jaeckel has drawn up seven proposals for a replacement. The church finally accepted one of them.
He began playing organ in seventh grade. He has worked for mechanical pipe organ builders here and abroad. Realizing that his background in mathematics, architecture and music fit very well with pipe organ construction, he started his own company in 1978.
Jaeckel Organs sells instruments to churches, universities and concert halls all over the United States and has even sold to customers in Japan.
The new organ at First Lutheran has 55 stops and 3,600 pipes. Roughly 12 percent, or 400, of the pipes are in place. Jaeckel expects that the organ will be finished in four months.
Jaeckel began working on the First Lutheran organ two-and-a-half years ago. Depending on the size, an organ can take from three months to four years to complete.
In the final four months, Jaeckel will work with the pipes, “making them sound good.” He must maneuver the metal and wood in certain places to achieve the correct sound — and only after these alterations will he actually tune the organ.
After that tuning, the organ will likely need few adjustments. Ninety percent of Jaeckel’s organs have not needed retuning.
Those that did so required tuning only because of a change in temperature, Jaeckel said.
“But they don’t ever need to be voiced or tonally manipulated again,” he said. “That’s a one-shot deal.”
Jaeckel builds some of the pipes while others are ordered from Europe. To minimize costs, Jaeckel is reusing a few of the pipes from the previous church organ.
Historically, pipes are made of a tin and lead alloy, but they can also be made from different kinds of wood.
“It does matter what kind of wood you use for a particular sound, and it does matter what percentage of tin and lead is used for a particular sound,” Jaeckel said. “None of them are bad, but they do have a place in what kind of sound you want.”
When designing an organ, Jaeckel must first consider the purpose of the instrument.
“This organ is first and foremost used for worship — and Lutheran worship specifically,” he said.
The organ was built in his shop, then transported and installed in its current location.
“Each organ we build is specifically for one place,” he said. “They are all custom-built, so it functions not only sound-wise or tonally but also visually and acoustically for each space. We dismantle it and bring it over in parts in trucks.
“The only limiting factor is the size of the front door of the church.”
Decorative elements are added to help the organ blend in with its setting. Color is the most common ornamentation. Some organs include cutouts and carvings in panels above the pipes. The First Lutheran organ is decorated with red and green milk paint (an ancient formula) and encased in a solid wood cabinet.
The type of wood also embellishes the design.
The wood used for this instrument is a “special kind of oak” rift sawn and quarter-sawn.
“[This] allows the grain to show through, making it more beautiful,” Jaeckel said. “On other organs, we do even more carvings, but the architecture in this building is more stark and more contemporary.”
The solid-wood cabinet that wraps around the pipes adds to the total cost. Jaeckel says the reason he uses solid wood is because “the wood resonates with the sound of the organ.”
“Just like the soundboard on a piano or violin or guitar are not made out of plywood,” he said. “It’s more expensive to build the way we do, but that resonance is very important.”
Because the construction was so labor-intensive, and the materials of such high quality, the cost of this custom-built organ is well over $1 million — though Jaeckel would not give specifics because the church is getting “quite a good deal.”
The organ could last for centuries. Jaeckel uses a traditional method of construction called mechanical action. Organs built with this method have been known to last 600 years.
Jaeckel says the longevity factor “more than compensates for cost.”
Aside from the long-lasting appeal, Jaeckel says he builds mechanical action organs because of their musicality. When one presses a key, a valve under the pipes opens and wind moves into the pipes, he said.
“This is a direct connection to the pipes,” he said. “You can control how quickly or slowly the valve opens; therefore, you can make much more of a musical phrase.”
Jaeckel equates the action with playing a stringed instrument. How slowly he draws the bow or attacks each note impacts the sound and quality of each note. The same is true of a mechanical action organ.
“In an electric, the valves open electrically and the sounds are always the same,” he said. “It switches on or off. There are no other possibilities.”
Jaeckel has tried more contemporary materials and construction methods but found the results to be unsatisfactory.
Frequent Budgeteer contributor Beth Koralia can be reached via email@example.com.