A hallelujah for the switching power supply
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At Christmas, in particular, they are played and fill the naves of churches and people's hearts with joyful sounds. And there are almost 50,000 of them in Germany alone. They are produced, serviced and restored by around 400 organ workshops, including the company of Siegfried Schmid in Knottenried near Immenstadt in the Allgäu. Every year, the five employees work on one to two organs depending on the size or model. This also includes two impressively large models with up to 60 stops that took approximately two to two and a half years to complete.
Organ stop, what is that again? Visible parts are the pull stops, rockers or buttons labeled solo flutes, horn, trumpets or choral bass. The organ player switches on or off, a certain row of pipes with the same timbre . If the organ is required to be very loud, all the stops are pulled. That's where the quote 'we're pulling out all the stops' comes from. The individual organ type depends on the type and number of stops, which will be precisely agreed between the builder and the client.
Almost the same design as in Bach's lifetime
Today's organs still look like those from the era of Johann Sebastian Bach. The Baroque master's compositions included unheard-of splendors of sound, and he found new ways of creating harmonies that were almost impossible to play on the pipe organs of the day, which is why he worked personally on the developing the organs with respect to precision and mechanics. Since then, the organ has been seen as the queen of the instruments. Even today, the sound quality of Bach's musical language is still the measure of all things as far as organ building is concerned. As a result, little has changed with regard to the materials used to make organs: a lot of wood is used, tin-lead alloys for the pipes, leather, and felt. However, since the 1920s, the wind blowers, magnets, valves, and some other elements are now also electrical and electro-pneumatic.
Power supplies instead of rectifiers
For instance, the large slide valves (loops) in large organs are now moved electrically in an airtight manner. This is why strong magnets, that require considerable current levels are used: around 2 A per magnet, which adds up to 100 A and more when there are 50 stops. A large organ can require up to 160 A. Traditionally, correspondingly sized rectifiers have been used, but there have always been concerns about problematic heat build-up, residual ripples and susceptibility to faults. If the fitted rectifier breaks, even the most powerful organ would make no more sounds.
Power supplies have become state-of-the-art and are also blessed with the benefits of cheap purchase prices with a large selection available on the market. And, if one device fails, the organ is still partially functional and can be played. Master organ builder Schmid uses power supplies by LÜTZE. A colleague in Vorarlberg, the largest organ builder in Central Europe, spoke very highly about their reliable technology.
One example is the organ in St. Stephan's parish church, Mindelheim in Unterallgäu. Here, five LÜTZE switch power supplies (primary switched, single-phase, 480 W) ensure the reliable control of many mechanical, highly complex, and collaborative components. Schmid replaced many elements of this almost 150 year old instrument, whilst trying to keep many of the original stops (organ pipes). The goal was to create a modern, contemporary and, above all, reliable instrument with mechanical key tracts, electrical coupling, and stop control. To do this, the structural elements of the gallery, in particular with respect to the mechanical key tracts, needed to be strengthened.The entire technical system, wind supply, wind chests, and key tracts were also redesigned and rebuilt. This also involves a new organ stop including the architectural design of the front of the organ with a casing that surrounds all the pipes.The workstation of the organ player was replaced: the playing table, here with three manuals and pedals. A lot of sophisticated carpentry work goes into building an organ. The organ-maker also has to be able to work with metal and electrical elements, as well as leather and felt.
Recently, there was a dissonant intermezzo connected to the creation of the 36-stop organ for a church in the Portuguese town of Maia near Porto. The overture was the excellent transport of parts of the organ on two semitrailers to Portugal. Then months of assembly work. A week before inauguration, a technical problem occurred that could not be identified. Would the consecration and the opening concert need to be canceled? Just one additional power supply allowed the organ to be played. LÜTZE pulled out all the stops to supply a three-phase 960-W power supply to Portugal in three days – a grand opéra of high drama, and the celebratory inauguration including the opening concert was saved.