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  • Wellington (NZ) Town Hall Organ

    Glorious pipes wrapped up as quake work begins

    $43 million strengthening project under way

    By KATIE CHAPMAN - The Dominion Post | 5:00AM - Friday, 08 November 2013

    DELICATE JOB: Taking apart Wellington Town Hall's 4000-pipe organ is expected to take at least five weeks.
    — ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ.

    IT WEIGHS 50 TONNES and has pipes up to three storeys high — and next week, it's going to be taken to bits.

    Wellington's Town Hall Organ was installed in 1906 and features more than 4000 pipes. Its home was officially locked to the public yesterday, as the mammoth task of earthquake strengthening for the 109-year-old building starts.

    The building is expected to be shut for up to three years while the $43.7 million project is under way. Workers are now removing artworks and furniture from the building, in preparation for floors to be pulled up and new foundation piles and base isolators installed.

    That job includes carefully dismantling the massive organ. Scaffolding will start being put around it this weekend, to allow the five-week job to begin next week.

    Contractors from Timaru have been hired for the job, and while some parts will be stored in Wellington, two 12-metre containers of pieces will be shipped south for restoration.

    The project will cost $1.45 million, of which $847,900 comes from NZ Lotteries.

    PROJECT MANAGER: Geoffrey Snedden.
    — ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ.

    Wellington City Council Town Hall strengthening project manager Geoffrey Snedden said taking the organ apart would be a complex exercise.

    "We will lay it all out on the floor, wrap it all up, label it ... some of the organ hasn't seen the light of day since it was put in."

    The Town Hall is renowned for its acoustics; one of the last events in the building before it closed was the recording of the score for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The score for the third movie in the trilogy will now have to be recorded elsewhere.

    "Everyone that worked on the recording thought the building was in the top three in the world in terms of acoustics," Sir Peter Jackson's spokesman Matt Dravitzki said.

    Mr Snedden said most of the work was taking place below ground-floor level. The plan was to install an "isolation plane" with base isolators that would act like "shock absorbers" in a quake. Below them would be pile caps, and then piles going down about 35 metres, he said. That would bring the building up to about 140 percent of the new building code.

  • #2
    Wellington Town Hall Organ Gets a Makeover

    The Town Hall Pipe Organ is being dismantled, pipe by pipe.

    Wellington City Council | Tuesday, 19 November 2013

    Contractors for the South Island Organ Company, Peter Gurnick (left) and George Marks (right), move some of the pipes from the Town Hall Organ.

    WE'RE taking a rare opportunity to remove and restore the organ — one of the few authentic Edwardian pipe organs in the world — while the Town Hall building is earthquake-strengthened.

    This powerful musical instrument can compete with or complement any orchestra with its enormous range of notes — from deeper than a bass tuba to higher than a piccolo. And when the stops are out, the volume of sound vibrates the auditorium floor.

    The Council’s Manager of Building Resilience, Neville Brown, says while some maintenance and restoration of the organ has been done during the past 100 years, it’s time for a major refurbishment to access parts we haven’t been able to reach before.

    “We need to remove a wall and the floor to install the new base-isolator piles that will enable the building to move in a quake. To do this, we have to dismantle and remove the organ, including its 4000 pipes, four keyboards, pedals and bellows.”

    The concert organ is known for its exceptional sound quality. Many international organists have performed with it and some have helped to save the instrument from being rebuilt and losing its unique qualities. Listening to the organ today, you hear the same sound as when it was first played in 1906.

    Over the years, the organ has been part of many choirs, the NZSO, Festival of the Arts, civic receptions, silent films and all manner of ceremonies.

    South Island Organ Company, who will be doing the restoration work, will put the organ back together and tune it ready for its first performance once the quake strengthening is completed in 2016.

    NZ Lotteries has funded $847,900 of the $1.45 million needed to restore the pipe organ and carefully store it while the Town Hall is closed.


    The Town Hall Organ

    THE Wellington Town Hall Concert Organ is known internationally for its sound quality and historical value. It’s one of the few original Edwardian pipe organs in the world — this makes it pretty special.

    Restoring the organ

    The South Island Organ Company (SIOC) will remove the Town Hall organ so that concrete piles can be installed beneath the floor where it sits and the north wall facing Civic Square can be strengthened. Once it’s out, parts of it will go to the SIOC in Timaru for restoration or repair and the rest will be stored carefully in Council buildings.

    In 2016, when the Town Hall strengthening work has finished, the SIOC will put it all back together again.

    This huge job is not without its challenges. We don’t have the instruction manual from when it was built, but we do have some drawings to help us with taking the organ apart. As the SIOC do the work, they will prepare more detailed drawings we can use in the future. There are parts of the organ we haven’t had access to since its 1906 installation, so we may be in for some surprises when we get to those areas.

    NZ Lotteries has funded $847,900 of the $1.45 million needed to do the restoration. This cost includes:

    ❏ Installing scaffolding,

    ❏ Transporting parts to the SIOC in Timaru to be overhauled,

    ❏ Preparing other parts for storing,

    ❏ Putting it all back together.

    Harry A. Tustin installed the organ in 1906. Here he is standing beside the largest organ pipes.

    John Hargraves, South Island Organ Company, and Wellington City Organist Maxwell Fernie behind the great soundboard.
    Taken before the 1985-1986 restoration. — Nigel Marplem/The Dominion.


    • #3
      Powerful organ is more than meets the eye

      The Town Hall organ is enormous — there’s much more to it than we can see from the front. It has 4,000 pipes of varying sizes distributed in a structure that is three storeys high. Two of the four keyboards play pipes contained in their own separate rooms, with louvres that the organist can open and shut to control the loudness.

      The organ is immensely powerful, capable of matching a full symphony orchestra in volume and able to play notes lower than the bass tuba and higher than the piccolo. It is the quality of tone, however, that distinguishes it from most concert hall organs in the world. Built at a time when Romanticism in music was at its height, it has a warmth of sound that envelopes the listener rather than assaulting the ears.

      It takes a full day to tune it. To make sure the 4,000 pipes are doing exactly what they are supposed to, an organist presses each key and combination of keys for the organ tuner to check.

      Entertaining the community

      The organ has played a major role in Wellington’s community — from business meetings and ceremonies to choral festivals, silent films and the International Festival of the Arts. It has also been played at a variety of public, religious and political gatherings.

      About the organ

      Wellington City Corporation commissioned Norman & Beard to build our concert organ in London at a cost of £5,000. It took 12 months to build and was shipped from England in 51 zinc-lined cases and packages.

      Designed as a symphonic-styled civic concert organ, it still has its original tubular pneumatic action and blowing mechanism. Many civic organs were rebuilt when the organ reform movement (a classical organ revival) was popular from the late ’50s to the '80s.

      There have been recommendations to make all sorts of substantial changes to the organ over the years. Though some minor changes have been made, it’s had a lucky escape from a major makeover. If any major alterations had been done, it would have destroyed the very essence of the organ and we’d never get it back.

      Listening to the organ today, you hear the same sound as its audiences enjoyed in 1906. The Town Hall’s auditorium is recognised for its quality symphonic acoustics and when the organ is played, you can hear they are made for each other.

      Douglas Mews standing next to the Pedal Division's 32-foot Double Open Diapason pipes.

      Douglas Mews in 2006, standing on the Great Division passage board of the Wellington Town Hall organ.


      • #4
        City organists

        Past Wellington city organists (starting with the most recent) include:

        ❏ Douglas Mews

        ❏ Maxwell Fernie

        ❏ Charles Collins

        ❏ Harold Temple White

        ❏ Bernard Page

        ❏ John Maughan Barnett

        There is no city organist in Wellington at present.

        International organists

        After playing the organ, prestigious French concert organist Marie-Claire Alain wrote a letter strongly recommending that the organ be kept at its original specifications.

        Many other prominent international organists have played the Town Hall organ. These include:

        ❏ Cameron Carpenter

        ❏ Carlo Curley

        ❏ Christopher Herrick

        ❏ David Kinsela

        ❏ Olivier Latry

        ❏ Edwin Lemare

        ❏ Hayko Siemens

        ❏ Dame Gillian Weir


        • #5
          Organist holds on to pipe dream

          By KATIE CHAPMAN - The Timaru Herald | 8:03AM - Wednesday, 20 November 2013

          BIG JOB: South Island Organ Company director John Hargraves
          shows some of the pipes being removed from the organ in the
          Wellington Town Hall. — MATT DUNCAN/ Fairfax NZ.

          TIMARU man John Hargraves is looking forward to playing Wellington's Town Hall Organ again — even as it's being taken to bits.

          Work to remove the 107-year-old organ, pipe by pipe, began last week to allow earthquake strengthening on Wellington Town Hall's foundations, a job that is expected to take about three years.

          Mr Hargraves is managing director of the South Island Organ Company, which is overseeing the job. Some of the parts that have never been removed before will be shipped to Timaru for restoration.

          The bellows that blow air through the 50-tonne instrument will also be restored.

          While the organ has been partially dismantled in the past for strengthening work, many of the more than 3,500 or so pipes — including the largest at three storeys — and the wooden frame have not been removed since it was installed in 1906.

          This week a spider crane was to start pulling down the largest pipes, which were originally installed by hand using a pulley system.

          Mr Hargraves said it would be more difficult putting the organ back together than taking it apart. "When you put it back together, it all has to work perfectly."

          Once it was reassembled, he was looking forward to playing it again — an experience he likened to driving an old Rolls Royce.

          When played properly, it was like having an entire orchestra, and the power of the sound could make the floorboards vibrate, he said.

          "The power of this instrument, it can be almost devastating to the audience. If you unleashed the whole power of it inappropriately you're not going to make friends."

          The company had been involved in many organ restorations in earthquake-damaged buildings.

          Two of its staff died in the February 2011 Canterbury quake while removing an organ to repair damage from the September quake. The organist was also killed.

          The organ project will cost $1.45 million, of which $847,900 comes from NZ Lotteries. The entire strengthening work for the town hall will cost $43.7 million.

          South Island Organ Company @ Facebook


          • #6
            Some more photographs from Wellington City Council....

            Organist Douglas Mews plays the organ for the last time before it gets dismantled.

            Installing the scaffolding to safely access and remove the organ pipes.

            John Hargraves from the South Island Organ Company is in charge of dismantling the organ.
            Here he shows us the brass reed inside the bottom-C pipe of the Choir Schalmei 16-foot stop.

            Dismantling the choir division of the organ, pipe by pipe.


            • #7
              Vital organ removal from Town Hall

              The Dominion Post | 12:28PM - Tuesday, 26 November 2013

              PULLING DOWN PIPES: Workers work to remove the largest of the pipes from Wellington's Town Hall Organ.
              — KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ.

              WORKERS have started the delicate job of removing the biggest pipes from Wellington's Town Hall organ.

              This morning the first of the steel pipes, weighing 480 kilograms, was slowly lowered to the ground by a small crane.

              The Town Hall's organ was installed in 1906 and features more than 4000 pipes.

              The Town Hall will be closed for up to three years while the $43.7 million earth quake strengthening project is under way.

              Wellington City Council Town Hall strengthening project manager Geoffrey Snedden said it was the first time the organ had been examined since it was installed.

              He described it as "like a giant set of bag pipes".

              "It's very complex, it's an amazing piece of engineering really."

              The entire organ weighed 50 tonnes when it was shipped over from England in boxes.

              It has 4000 pipes of varying sizes, within a structure that is three storeys high.

              The South Island Organ Company is removing the organ, and will put it back together in 2016.

              Other items that have been removed include the organ's keyboard, and delicate wood carvings.

              Some parts will be refurbished, while others will go into storage in Wellington.

              NZ Lotteries has funded $847,900 of the $1.45 million needed to restore the organ.


              Removing the biggest pipe from the organ case — the 32-foot Open Diapason bottom-C pipe....


              • #8
                Thank you very much for the wonderful articles about this fine instrument. These are among the best photos of I have ever seen documenting a pipe organ.


                • #9
                  I had the honour of having this organ and the hall to myself for about 5 hours on day last year. It was a great experience even though I have the most humble amateur. 'Hymn tune specialist'.

                  I did create a few videos of this organ.
                  Stop demonstration:
                  Thine is the Glory:



                  • #10
                    Sorry, here are the links:


                    • #11
                      Such a beautiful sounding organ when ALL the stops are pulled out, I love that hymn!
                      Current Organs/Keyboards:1967 Hammond H-111, 1971 Hammond L-112, 1972 Hammond T-524

                      Leslie cabinets: 1975 Leslie 825 & 1974-76 Leslie Model 705
                      Past Organs/Keyboards: 1961 Hammond L-101, 1974 Kawai E-300, 1968 Yamaha B-55N, 1979 Yamaha Electone B-55N, 1984 Yamaha Electone ME-50 and a lot more!


                      • #12
                        Here is an interesting YouTube clip about the Wellington Town Hall Organ.

                        I first played this magnificent musical instrument back in 1967 when I was 13 years old.


                        • #13
                          It puts our little churches organ to shame though lol
                          Current Organs/Keyboards:1967 Hammond H-111, 1971 Hammond L-112, 1972 Hammond T-524

                          Leslie cabinets: 1975 Leslie 825 & 1974-76 Leslie Model 705
                          Past Organs/Keyboards: 1961 Hammond L-101, 1974 Kawai E-300, 1968 Yamaha B-55N, 1979 Yamaha Electone B-55N, 1984 Yamaha Electone ME-50 and a lot more!


                          • #14
                             photo wtho_18_zps9e2cdef7.jpg

                             photo wtho_19_zps6aed6306.jpg

                             photo wtho_20_zpse100966f.jpg

                             photo wtho_21_zps0a455c17.jpg

                            The very last thing left in the organ at the end was the bottom-C 32' Open Diapason pipe. It was removed the day after this photograph was taken....

                             photo wtho_22_zps5bf0f00b.jpg


                            • #15
                              Southern TLC for capital's organ

                              By ESTHER ASHBY-COVENTRY - The Timaru Herald | 5:00AM - Wednesday, 29 January 2014

                               photo 9660021s_29jan14_zps6052a56c.jpg
                              BIG SOUND: South Island Organ Company managing director
                              John Hargraves compares a small organ pipe with one of
                              the larger pipes of the Wellington Town Hall organ.
                              — MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/The Timaru Herald.

                              IT TOOK eight men five weeks to dismantle the 50 tonne Wellington Town Hall pipe organ to transport a third of it to Washdyke for restoration.

                              South Island Organ Company specialist workers will spend three years on the 1905 Norman and Beard of London instrument.

                              It is one of only three in the world of the company's pneumatic, grand concert organs from that era which is still original. The organ is 10 metres high and 4m deep, and consists of almost 3,500 pipes.

                              The restoration is expected to cost at least $1.5 million to complete.

                              South Island Organ Company managing director John Hargraves said the dismantling project involved a team of riggers, a special spider crane, scaffolding and a ramp.

                              The heaviest pipe, which is 10 metres long and weighs in at 700kg, is made of zinc, while the smallest ones, which are the size of a pencil, are an alloy of tin and lead.

                              The organ underwent restoration work in 1986 and 1992 but not all of its parts were accessed.

                              A refurbishment and strengthening of the hall to meet earthquake building codes has allowed for the organ's total removal.

                              The restoration work is expected to start on the instrument in April after the historic research is done, and will include French polishing by hand.

                              "Hand polishing is very inefficient, but the only way to create an appropriate proper finish," Mr Hargraves said.

                              A voicing room is used to ensure the pipes all sound "beautiful" at the same tone and volume.

                              The pipes have different pitches, sounding like string, flutes and brass instruments, while reed pipes work in the same way as a duck caller.

                              Precise manipulation is required to adjust the pipes' sounds.

                              The Wellington pipe organ is one of 17 the Timaru company has in storage.

                              The others are from churches damaged in the Canterbury earthquakes and the future of some of them is uncertain.

                              An organ from the Knox Presbyterian Church in Bealey Avenue, Christchurch, is being restored and rebuilt at the moment by 12 staff and an organ from St Michaels and All Angels in Oxford Terrace has just been restored.

                              The Timaru company is the only one in New Zealand working on pipe organs at such a large scale.