Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Another video of the Smith Connoisseur - Andante Religioso (Mendelssohn Organ Sonata arrangement)

I found my old Dr Stainer's American organ primer - yes!

Hi folks

I decided to make another recording of the Smith Connoisseur.  I was rifling through some of my old music and came across an arrangement of Mendelssohn's Andante Religioso for single manual.....so here it is.

Click HERE

or here is the YouTube Link   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSImwNbXr1s

Stencilled shades

You can hear the keys rattling, the bellows squeaking, the odd cipher, the coupler cutting in and out - pretty hilarious actually!  Although, I always maintain that a good organist can accept what ever instrument is presented and find a way to get the best out of it.

Enjoy....and keep reeding folks.


Tuesday, 21 February 2017

A Video of the Smith Connoisseur

Hi folks

I could not resist. Here is a YouTube recording of yours truly playing the old unrestored Smith Connoisseur.

My dear daughter #1 kindly videoed it on her iPhone, so it is not uber cinema-graphically polished or anything.

Plenty of notes and stops do not work, ciphers galore, hopelessly out of tune, wheezy bellows......but hey, enjoy the video anyway. 

God So Loved the World -  Stainer’s ’The Crucifixion’

Here is the YouTube link:


or click HERE

Alternatively, type this search into YouTube - Smith Connoisseur reed organ - God so loved the world - Hymn

I can have fun messing around on this organ whilst the Estey Artist Z56 is being resurrected.

Take care folks ...... there will be more uploads eventually.


Monday, 20 February 2017

Smith Connoisseur - The story

Five and half octaves with a 1 1/2 octave Sub Bass

The Smith Connoisseur organ arrived today, and yep, there is a whole different story about this organ too.

The story goes like this.....

Once upon a time there was a little boy (yours truly) about four years old that was taken to a week-long Bible School by his parents in 1971.  The only thing of note that he remembers to this day was the massive (massive to a four year old anyway) old pedal organ up the front of the auditorium (chapel) that led the singing. This old organ roared majestically and had no trouble at all leading the singing with a congregation of adults and children up  to 400 strong on occasion - it seems an exaggeration, but it was true.  The little boy version of myself was in awe and wonder instantly - it was love at first site. I wanted to play it and I wanted to own it....simple as that.

Big wide rubber-covered pedals

I was duly choofed off to piano lessons, which annoyed me, as all I ever wanted to do was play the organ....especially that organ. Time passed, lessons came and went and in mid teenage-hood, my parents and I went to a few more of those same Bible Schools. Every chance I got I asked permission to be able to quietly play the organ between sessions during the day - I played it every chance I could until I was told by some poor long-suffering soul that "that's probably enough for today Phil". Ha ha - there is nothing quite like the palpable lack of self-awareness of a teenager!

Gold painted scrolling of the front-facing swell shutters

Once I was a baptised member of this church I was allowed to officially play the organ for services and sessions during these weekly retreats - and that I did with great relish whenever we attended.  That Smith Connoisseur was the benchmark of organs in my opinion.  Back at my own church I was also offered a rotational position of organist on a large 2MP Dominion (another story for another time!) however the Smith still reigned supreme in my mind. Playing the Smith was exhilarating....it really blew back my hair especially with that upright action and those massive bellows.  It was at one of these Bible Schools at the tender age of 12 that I decided that a certain sassy young blonde girl was the one I wanted to married, so as soon as I finished my apprenticeship at the age of 20, I took off to fair Adelaide to make that thought a reality.

These top ornamentals often get ruined - these are 100% in tact

The Bible School premises was owned by a church member and had been used by the Christadelphians attracting people from all over Australia and internationally (as it still does) to its thrice-yearly week-long retreats. The Smith Connoisseur had been used in this premises for many decades before I came along and was only pensioned off in the 1990's. It would not be an exaggeration to say that 60 thousand people have sung hymns to the accompaniment of this organ over the decades.

Nearly 20 years later and with five daughters in tow, the still pretty sassy blonde lady and I returned to that Bible School for a week-long retreat in the early 2000's.  To my disgust, I found that the wonderful Smith Connoisseur had recently been moved aside for a electronic 'thing'...Quelle Horreur!   I spoke to the owner and the committee and asked if we could wheel the Smith back out so when it was my turn to play the organ during the week, I could use it.  They agreed.

So much hand carving on
this instrument

Every time I played the Smith during that week, all the older folk who had been coming to that Bible School for the last 50 years were ecstatic and showed no restraint in letting me know.  The singing exploded, those that had never heard it before were intrigued and asked endless questions, the owner was reduced to tears....it was a busy week. It was also a very happy week for me too.  Nevertheless, once the week was over and we drove back to Adelaide, the Smith got wheeled back into a dusty room and that's where it stayed.  The other organists found it too exhausting to play...."Yes Phil, it sounds fabulous when YOU play it....but I'm not touching the thing!". Fair enough.

Probably the most powerful instrument
I have ever played.
Its vertical action sure lets the sound
escape efficiently.

A decade later we moved back to the Lake Macquarie area but were not much involved with this community however....then....pretty much a few days after I found my Estey Artists model on eBay, what should appear....yep, you guessed it...the Smith Connoisseur.  I bid. I won. I organised the piano removalist instantly. I now own that very Smith Connoisseur that I have loved since childhood. 

The fantasies of a four year old boy are at last made real 45 years later.

I am deeply satisfied.

Take care folks


P.S. What are the odds...two significant reed organs appear back in my life a week apart?!
P.S.S.  There is a third organ, but the odds of ever finding that are just mind-blowingly impossible. (Another story for another time folks.)

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Wherein I Falsely Accuse A Mouse

Righto folks - confession time and some super sleuthing.....

When I first brought the Estey Artist home, I tried to play it but it sadly wheezed a few tunes out then gave up with a final sigh and creak.  Clearly the bellows were chewed by the predicable and proverbial mouse. Ah well - a full recovering was planned anyway. If the bellows were in the same condition as the case then they would be a truly awful sight to behold.

Well, the mouse-chewed bellows theory began to come under question as I was dismantling the upper action.  If there was going to be evidence of mice they would certainly be messing around in the upper action. Mice love the softwood, the dry nooks and crannies of the upper action and especially all the beautiful fluffy felt. However, there was zero evidence of mice in the upper action.....my doubts began to grow at this point.

The next job was removing the bellows and feeders.  As I unscrewed the bellows and slid them out, I was amazed at what good condition both the feeders and the bellows were in - where was the mouse hole?  Oh, and then I saw the problem - the bottom batten that is secured (nailed in this case) to the bottom edge of the bellows had been loosened and one edge hanging off.  I gently removed the batten to reveal the bottom edge of the bellows cloth taking the full strain of the bellows springs and the middle section of the glued bellows cloth having separated from the frame.  That was the hole....no mouse involved. (My apologies Miss Mousey).

The batten pulled off the bottom edge of the bellows

The bellows cloth lifting away from the frame

...enough of a gap to slide an Opal card into...and to render
these bellows useless

I was not satisfied with just finding this. I want to know why? (Yes I'm annoying like that). I reflected on what I had seen whilst removing the bellows and remembered seeing a random wood screw sitting proud on the very bottom of the organ's base plate - I wandered over to contemplate it again and to let the possibilities settle in my mind regarding this anomaly.

Sipping my coffee and staring at the proud wood screw in the base plate, I allowed my mind to play through the mechanics of how this errant screw could impinge on the bellows action - then the penny dropped.  The screw would have caught the edge of the bellows batten (probably on one of its many rough moves) and pulled it off and in turn this would have left the bottom edge of the bellows cloth less supported. Over time, and with the ever-present pressure of the bellows spring, the bellows cloth would have, little by little, unstuck itself from the bottom edge of the bellows frame till the inevitable separation occurred creating an instantly ineffective set of bellows.

The proud screw....

...enough to catch the bottom of the bellows and loosen off the
batten....the rest is history.

The bellows and bellows feeder cloth looks in excellent condition, so now I have to decide if I do a 'clever' re-adhesive job using a very long straight wire primed with hide glue along the semi separated section of bellows cloth......or do I replace the entire bellows cloth just for the sake of it even though I know this is a repairable breach?  My frugal mind wrestles with my idealistic mind on the matter.

Whichever path I choose with these bellows, I will have to remember to screw in that proud screw in the base plate or we'll be right back to square one!

Take care folks


P.S.  I am still very puzzled at why there is so much of this organ's action still in marvelous condition - yet the case is so badly treated.  I am sure the answer will reveal itself eventually.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Starting the disassembly - Estey Artist

I am very thankful that the entire one side of my house is a covered garage.
Plenty of room to spread out and work.

Hi Folks

With my enthusiasm running high I have started disassembling the Estey Artist.

I need to constantly and  mindfully remind myself to SLOW DOWN and OBSERVE as I am dismantling.
Rushing through a first-time dismantle is a mistake I have made too many times to repeat.

Based on the external condition of this organ I expected the worst when opening it up. It is early days yet, but what I am seeing is in better condition than I imagined it would be.  The bellows are not holding air, but every reed works, nothing appears to be missing and there is zero evidence of mice, felt weevil (or whatever it is that eats felt), wood worm etc - that is a real bonus.

Anyway - here are some pictures thus far.

The upper action - very dusty
but in very good order really

I confess - I'm not looking forward to pulling the couplers apart
and cleaning these. I have to be in just the right mood.
Both couplers couple up an octave in this model - eminently
useful when playing 4' Flute or 4' Harp Aeoline down an octave.

The action off.

That dodgy mustard cabbage leaf carpet is gonna go - yuk!

Lining up the panels - all have splits and cracks.
The horizontal swell shades can be see on the panel
second to the right.

I have posed the question on FB page "Reed Organ Tech"
why the air entry hole to the bellows is so small.
Really interesting discussion happening there now.

New feeder straps?
At least they seem to have been done using the correct strap material.

Has this organ been dropped off a truck?
So many panels with splitting and cracks.

The splits in this side panel is
something I have never tackled before.
When the time comes I am going to
need some advice.

The manual is in really good condition - none of the keys are split, warped
or chipped - but they are very dirty.
I'm also thankful all the stop knobs are in one piece and the
labels are original.

Thus the long process begins!

Your advice, expertise, questions and comments are all encouraged.

Take care folks


It's Come Home!

My girl got deliver home again
on Tuesday night 14th Feb 2017
...awake with excitement now.

Hi Folks

Due to many requests I have started this blog 

Here is the post that started this all - I have re-posted here in this new blog:

It's Come Home!

For many years I was a busy church organist. I started playing for Sunday school at the age of eight. Over the years I played for countless weddings (always gratis), usually always played for at least one service a week and helped out other congregations when their organist was away or sick. I also had a deep love of old reed organs (pump organs). I loved that no electricity was needed and that the sound was produced purely by wind being pumped over cleverly voiced brass reeds. I loved the intricate craftsmanship of these old reed organs too.  With technique practice, these old organs can sound amazing.

The Harp Aeoline is a beautiful ethereal stop which melts the hearts
of most listeners.

Back in the late 1990's I was on the search for a big reed organ to buy - not the small specification parlour reed organs that are a dime-a-dozen, but the ones with many ranks that were designed to be played in churches and for an audience. These rare large reed organs had a wonderful variety of tonal voicing and in the hands of a passionate organist could muster up any emotion required in a congregation.  So, it ended up that a lovely South African couple that I knew had a small collection of reed organs and offered me a rare 1910 Artist's model Estey reed organ for a very generous price of $1000.00.  I took out a bank loan and bought the thing (!).  It was simply tonally stunning. Friends often used to joke that it was me versus the preacher.....did the congregation come to hear the sermon or the organ?!

For a few years I used this beautiful organ for weddings, lent it to churches who needed a replacement organ whilst theirs was being repaired or replaced....and of course it spent plenty of time being played for countless hours in our home too. I loved it - truly.  At the same time I bought other old reed organs, stripped them down, learned all about them, repaired them, on-sold them and without knowing it developed a deeply satisfying and creative hobby that went hand-in-hand with my love of music.

Cobwebs trailing thickly out of the swell shutters

At a very low point in our life I decided that I should sell the beautiful Estey Artist's model reed organ to pay for bills that were piling up.  I rashly sold it on eBay for $800.00.  I remember having a rather wobbly bottom lip as it got hauled onto the freight truck and taken away to its new owner up in tropical QLD (Queensland). I remember looking at the back of the freight truck as it disappeared down the road and feeling my heart quietly breaking - I knew I had sold an irretrievably unique instrument all because I had not managed my money situation well. I was angry with myself and sorrowful too.

Time passed, in fact years passed...many, many years.  In the ensuing years, musical tastes inevitably changed within churches and my passion for beautiful classical organ music and hymnody quickly had no useful or meaningful purpose or outlet and thus I became redundant. I eventually just stopped playing at all, even at home. My world quietly shrunk and became a greyer place somehow.  Also, over the course of years my faith changed (as it does) and eventually slowly rolled to a quiet stop...music-less, passionless, purposeless, outdated and lifeless. Never mind - there was a fabulous career to feed, a houseful of teenage daughters to continue 'dadding', goals to be achieved, purchases to be made...blah, blah, blah, busy, busy, busy.

An impressive set of ranks - my favourite stop is the 4'  HARP AEOLINE

Yet another decade passed by.

Then about a month ago, I was idly scrolling through eBay nostalgically looking at all the old antique reed organs for sale (all in various states of decay!) and there it was......was it truly it?  I enlarged the image holding my breath looking for the unique markings I knew and remembered.....yes, it really was my old Estey Artist's reed organ for sale on eBay again after so many years. It had clearly been treated poorly - broken pieces, splits in the wood, ruined polish, cobwebs, dings and scrapes - in truly parlous condition.  I bid and won the Ebay auction for $100.

She got delivered by freightliner this Tuesday evening at 11:11pm. The tears flowed a little...just sayin'.  My once beautiful organ is in a terrible state from years of neglect and abuse. She reluctantly managed to whisper a few tired, excruciatingly sad breathy notes for me before the mouse-chewed bellows collapsed completely and she fell silent......but she is home now, never, never to be sold again. 

One of the many repairs needed.

She will be lovingly dismantled, every piece carefully labeled and catalogued as I go, bellows will be recovered, every brass screw polished, every crack glued, every lever repaired, every reed tuned, each felt renewed, every ivory buffed, the case work will be repaired and re French-polished .... she will live again. It will take a couple of years of diligent repetitive restorative work on my behalf....and then she will again sing out clear her songs of love and faith again. 

Who knows, I might even find a better and more meaningful version of my lost faith again in the process of resurrecting this beautiful instrument back to life again.

Take care folks...and stay nice.