Parts is Parts: Some Minor Organ Repair

It is a paradox.

The basic technology of pipe organ construction has remained unchanged for 2,000 years, yet the design and construction of a pipe organ continues to be an act of supreme mechanical mastery and outstanding craftsmanship.

This is especially true of mechanical action instruments.  In organ parlance, “action” refers to the means by which the keys work to open the valves that admit air into the pipes.  In “electronic action” instruments, this is process is aided by a series of electric contacts, switches, and wires that do the work electronically.  In “mechanical action” instruments, the the key at the console is connected–mechanically–to the pipe, so that the pressure of the finger on the key actually does the work of letting air into the pipe.   Because the long rods that run from the console to the chest are called trackers, one often hears this referred to as “tracker” action.  The organ at Trinity is a tracker.

One of the many links in this “tracker” mechanism is a leather strap that connects a hook on a pull-down from the tracker (coming up from below) to another hook from the pallet inside the chest (coming down from above).  If the organ-lingo double-talk is confusing, here is a visual:

trackers and pull-downs (long vertical pieces) connect to pallets (small hooks at the very top) by small leather straps

a closer look

Leather is used, I think, because it is durable yet supple enough to give slightly when the action is operated so that the player does’t feel any “hitch.”  There are limits to leather’s durability, however, especially in a place like this with high humidity, constant air-conditioning, and salty ocean air.   This leather straps on this organ have begun to become brittle and break.  When this happens, the action is no longer connected to the pipes and there is a dead note.

broken strap

see the pull-down dangling, not connected to the pallet

Of course the straps only fail at the most inopportune times and places–middle C, for example, ten minutes before the service starts!

a last-minute fix on a Sunday morning to avoid a dead note in the middle of the range–that is a pipe cleaner holding the mechanism together where the leather strap has failed

So I decided that replacing these leather straps, once and for all, would be a relatively simple matter.  I sent away for a 12″ x 12″ piece of leather that was slightly thicker than the straps that were beginning to fail.  This, along with a leather hole punch, set the church music budget back a whopping $30.  It took two afternoons to cut the strips and punch the holes, and another afternoon to switch out the old straps and put in the new ones.

the tools

cutting the strips (part one)

cutting the strips (part two)

marking the holes

punching the holes

et voila

No more dead notes–at least not for a while!  

For more adventures in organ maintenance, see a previous blog post on organ tuning here.  


‘Jingles for James’ Result

The benefit concert for local musician James “Bull” Canty this past Sunday was  a fantastic success.  A few statistics from the afternoon’s proceedings:

Size of Audience: 300 (at least!)
Total Musical Numbers Performed: 23
Singers: 13
Instrumentalists: 8
Pianists/Organists: 6
Jazz Bands: 1
Chamber Choirs: 1
Brass Quartets: 1
Total Number of Musicians: 27

Total notes played by James Canty: 835,298 (estimate)

Dollars Raised: $7,594.41

James is very close to his goal of $9000, and the money raised from this event virtually guartantees that Bull will be able to get the surgical procedure that he needs.  If you missed the concert but would still like to make a contribution, you can send a check made out to First United Methodist Church, Myrtle Beach (put ‘James Canty’ in the memo line), 901 N Kings Hwy, Myrtle Beach, SC 29577.  The church will write a check for the total of all the money collected made out jointly to James Canty and the Medical University of South Carolina.

Thanks to all for supporting this effort; I am proud to have been a part of it.  In the words concert coordinator Tim Koch, “The arts at work!  What a triumph!  Congratulations and thanks to all!”

Lift up your hearts!

What is the purpose of a choir?

It’s not to perform difficult music before a silent and intimidated (or irritated) congregation. It’s not there to impress the faithful–it’s there to encourage the faithful to find their voices to praise God in his holiness.  It is what we call a ministry…

So said Father John Andrew, Rector emeritus of St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, in a fantastic (ten-minute) sermon given a week ago Sunday on the purpose and importance of music in worship.

Read or listen to the sermon here;
check out the entire St. Thomas archive of webcasts here

Benefit Concert This Sunday

“Jingles for James:
A Benefit Recital for Eyesight”

Sunday, August 12 – 3:00 PM

First United Methodist Church
(901 N. Kings Hwy)

James “Bull” Canty, a local trumpet player and CCU alum, has a deteriorating retina disorder associated with diabetes that has threatened his sight in both eyes.  Last year he was able to raise the $8k or $9k dollars he needed to fix the more critical eye, and now he needs to have the same procedure for the other eye.  Time is of the essence as there is a foreseeable point of no return and permanent blindness in the remaining eye.
Bull has played with us at Trinity a number of times; he was in the brass quintet that played at Sebron Hood‘s funeral.
Featuring Professional Musicians from The Long Bay Symphony, The Carolina Master Chorale, Coastal Carolina University, Grand Strand bands, U-N-I and Soul Function, and Churches from across the Grand Strand.


Hymn 493: “For the Anniversary Day of One’s Conversion”

This was the title of Charles Wesley’s “O for a thousand tongues to sing” when he first published it in his Hymns and Sacred Poems in 1740.  Later, it was chosen by his brother John to be the first hymn in A Collection of Hymns for Use of the People Called Methodists (1780), the first true Methodist hymnal.

For this reason it is has generally been placed at the beginning of the hymnals of the United Methodist church and its forerunner Methodist denominations in this country (with the exception of the 1932 Methodist Hymnal, which led off with ‘Holy, holy holy’).  Methodists in the UK, however, do not attach the same significance; their hymnals tend begin with a paraphrases of Psalm 100 (either ‘Before Jehovah’s awful throne’ or ‘All people that on earth do dwell’).

In American hymnals, “O for a thousand tongues” almost always appears with the familiar hymntune Azmon.  Azmon is a sturdy melody in triple time by Carl Gotthilf Gläser (1784-1824), a provincial German composer and teacher that had been a boy chorister at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig.  It is interesting to note, again, that Brits do not hold to any such strict monogamy between texts and tunes, particularly in this case.  One can see in the illustration above that Wesley indicated ‘Birstal Tune’ was the tune for this text, but that did not catch on either.  In a quick glance through my modest hymnal collection, I found this hymn paired with no fewer than twelve different tunes.  This might seem bewildering, but it isn’t actually that surprising—because of the straightforward meter of the poetry, this hymn can be sung to a wide variety of tunes (including the themes to The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’sIsland).

My favorite tune for this him, the one we sang when I was at university in Wales, is an early 19th-century fuguing tune by Thomas Jarman called Lyngham:

Lyngham has a sprightly melody with several repetitions of the text and lots of interplay between the parts; it has a very similar musical character as Azmon, actually, but is a much longer and more elaborate tune.

As with many of the hymns we sing, this one is excerpted from a much longer poem.  Wesley’s original has 18 stanzas beginning with the text ‘Glory to God, and praise and love.’  The part we know begins at stanza 7.  The number of stanzas that editors tend to include in hymnals varies between five and eight, with as many as ten in Wesley’s original 1780 collection.  As often as not, stanza 1 will be appended to the end of the hymn as a sort of summing up—this is the case in Thy Hymnal 1982.

There is a companion volume to the hymnal that has background and commentary on all the hymns.  The entry on this hymn observes that “this important text by Charles Wesley has suffered at the hands of past Revision Committees of the Hymnal.” Well, I’m sorry to say that the suffering continued at the hands of Revision Committee for the present hymnal.  I am talking about what they did in stanza 5: “Hear him, he deaf: his praise, ye dumb / your loosened tongues employ.”  Now in fairness, I have to admit that “dumb” is considered a bad word by my pre-school aged sons, but I really fail to see who else but a six year old could misunderstand or take offence to its use in the context.  The solution that the committee put forward is typically vapid:  “Hear him, he deaf: ye voiceless ones / your loosened tongues employ.”  Being voiceless (hoarse?  shy?  victim of political repression?) does not pack the punch of being dumb–physically unable to talk.  Also, changing the end of the first line from “dumb” to “ones” necessitated changing the end of the third line from “come” to “comes,” and even at that they don’t rhyme.  To me the thing is just…well, dumb.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, here is the full eighteen stanzas of Wesley’s original hymn.  The harlots, publicans, and sons of lust in the later stanzas can be read as eighteenth-century “quaint,” but the penultimate stanza contains an image so shocking to modern ears that it would be completely unusable in any worship context –it was omitted in the “full” version of the text in the current United Methodist hymnal.

Glory to God, and praise and love
Be ever, ever given,
By saints below and saints above,
The church in earth and heaven.

On this glad day the glorious Sun
Of Righteousness arose;
on my benighted soul he shone
and filled it with repose.

Sudden expired the legal strife,
’twas then I ceased to grieve;
My second, real, living life
I then began to live.

Then with my heart I first believed,
Believed with faith divine,
Power with the Holy Ghost received
to call the Savior mine.

I felt my Lord’s atoning blood
Close to my soul applied;
me, me he loved, the Son of God,
for me, for me he died!

I found and owned his promise true,
Ascertained of my part,
My pardon passed in heaven I knew
When written on my heart.

O for a thousand tongues to sing
my dear Redeemer’s praise!
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of his grace.

My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad
The honors of thy name.

Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
’tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’tis life, and health, and peace!

He breaks the power of canceled sin,
he sets the prisoner free;
his blood can make the foulest clean;
his blood availed for me.

He speaks, and listening to his voice
New life the dead receive;
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
The humble poor believe.

Hear him, ye deaf, his praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ;
Ye blind, behold your Savior come,
And leap, ye lame, for joy.

Look unto him, ye nations, own
Your God, ye fallen race!
Look, and be saved through faith alone,
Be justified by grace!

See ally our sins on Jesus laid;
The Lamb of God was slain,
His soul was once an offering made
For every soul of man.

Harlot sand publicans and thieves,
in holy triumph join!
Saved is the sinner that believes
From crimes as great as mine.

Murderers and all ye hellish crew,
ye sons of lust and pride,
believe the Savior died for you;
for me the Savior died.

Awake from guilty nature’s sleep,
And Christ shall give you light,
Cast all your sins into the deep,
And wash the Ethiop white.

With me, your chief, you then shall know,
Shall feel your sins forgiven;
Anticipate your heaven below
and own that love is heaven.

Charles Wesley (1707-1788), gesturing for the altos to sing just a bit more softly


The church was struck by lightning this past Tuesday (insert any number of irony-laden quips here).  No one was hurt, but it did send quite the power surge through the church.

Surge protector and plug in my office

The organ, thankfully, was unharmed.  However, the security system was down for several days, the sound board for the church PA system was fried, and the phone system was toasted and needs to be replaced entirely.   In the words of Bruce Geary, our beloved Pastor for Member Care:  “Looks like we’ll make our deductible.”

If you need to reach the church, please be patient– our internet is back, but our phones are still out.