Music Department Receives New Organ

Tracker organ replaces original practice organ

By: Becky St. Clair

The new tracker organ is hoisted to the second floor window and carefully lowered to the floor.

Kraig Scott, associate professor of music, inspects one of the smallest pipes of the organ.

The Walla Walla University Music Department recently acquired a new practice organ.  It is a tracker organ, built in Hamburg, Germany, in 1968 by famous German builder Rudolf von Beckerath.  

Many organs today are electro-pneumatic, meaning they use electric circuits to power a motor that opens the valves under the pipes.  In a tracker organ such as this new one, there is a mechanical connection from the key to the pallet directly under the pipe itself.  

“This is how the instrument was built from its invention in approximately 200 BC until the late 19th century when the advent of electricity allowed for a different kind of playing mechanism,” explains Kraig Scott, associate professor of music at WWU and the university’s organ instructor.  “The organ is one of the oldest instruments we have today.”

There are five pipe organs on the WWU campus.  Prior to installing this new tracker organ, all were electro-pneumatic action instruments; the closest mechanical action organ was in Pasco, Wash.

The new organ was a replacement for one of the original practice organs installed in the Fine Arts Center (FAC) in the 1960s.  According to Scott, the practice organs have long been demonstrating problems, but  over the past several years, the problems had been getting out of hand.

“The organ technician comes twice each year to tune all the campus organs,” says Scott.  “For the past several years he has spent several hours on each visit just keeping the practice organs operable.  That time will be cut in half now, as we only have one of those left.”

Though the new tracker organ was appraised by the Organ Clearing House at $20,000, the cost of dismantling the old organ, moving the two instruments, and setting up the new one pushed the amount needed somewhat higher.

When Scott learned that this organ was available in mid-December, he began making phone calls and personal visits to friends who had previously supported the organ and music program at WWU.  Several organ students, their families, and friends also made significant contributions to the project. 

"I am incredibly grateful to those music lovers who gave financial contributions to this project," says Scott.  "It was amazing to experience their support and generosity."

Once the organ arrived, the challenge was getting it to the second floor practice room.  The only option was to remove an indoor window in the lobby of the FAC and hoist the instrument up and through the opening.

“In addition to the heavy lifting, in order to get the organ through the window we had less than one inch to spare on each side,” says Scott.  “It was a challenge, but David Petty did an excellent job.”

Petty is an organ builder from Eugene, Ore., who was contracted to dismantle, refurbish, ready for shipment, and reassemble the 500-pound tracker organ.  It was a convenient arrangement, as the tracker organ came to WWU from its former owner in Eugene.

“I am extremely grateful to the generosity of those who contributed to getting this organ here,” says Scott.  “It was a widespread effort on the part of many people who made this possible.”

For more information on the organ program at WWU, email, or call 509-527-2561.

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