Made in Kansas: Making music from scratch

For the last 98 years, Reuter Organ Company has been making beautiful music from scratch from their factory in Lawrence. The company is actually turning 100 years old this year. They started in Illinois, but after two years the operation moved to Lawrence in 1919. JR Neutel and his team at Reuter showed me around the place. I asked him what the most complex part of the process of making a pipe organ is.

“Probably the most complex and foreign to the lay person is the actual voicing of the pipe. The building and then the art of actually voicing the pipe, teaching the pipe how to sing. You manipulate the mouth area and you have this foot and how much air enters into the pipe, the length of the cylinder and stuff. That’s kind of the mystery to many people,” said Neutel.

But it all gets started with the design phase. For every organ that has been made there, the plans are still in place. Of course, technology has made it more of a computer-designed process now, but the old blueprints still are a reminder of the history of Reuter.

“The majority of the instrument is going to be made out of wood. Even though the pipes are made out of metal, it’s mostly wood, so as you can see we have a very large wood-working area.”

Since all organs are custom-made, with the designs made to fit where the organ will be placed, each instrument has to be carefully planned and built those specifications.

Although the leather isn’t seen, it plays a huge role in the pipe organ. It allows the wind chest to be able to move up and down, driving the wind up to the pipes. Also, which pipe receives the air is determined by a few leather flaps that are moved back and forth by magnets and a control board. So, when you play the keys, the leather pieces move and channel the air to each individual pipe.

Of course, the stars of the show are the pipes themselves. From a block of metal, it’s melted down and poured into sheets of metal, then rolled into the pipe shape. The tips of the pipes are cast from melted down metals and it’s all put together. However, to truly make it a pipe organ pipe, it needs to be voiced. And that’s where each pipe is shaped, fluted or even given reeds so that they can produce the sound of nearly any instrument you want to hear.

When it’s all done and assembled, the final product is that familiar organ sound that can produce one of the most powerful sounds anywhere.

All that sound from one console that can bring an orchestra’s worth of music all at the same time.

–KSNT Storm Track Chief Meteorologist Matt Miller

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