What is a Certified Pipe Organ Builder?

In Europe there are specific titles and regulation so that the community understands the level of education and experience an individual may have, if they are using a certain title. But what about here in the US where there is no regulation and anyone can put out a shingle and start working on pipe organs? So what is a “Certified Pipe Organ Builder”?

I’m glad you asked. One word, expertise.

Perhaps an automotive metaphor is in order.

Imagine taking your favorite 1935 Rolls Royce Phantom to a mechanic and asking him to diagnose the problem and make it work. A mechanic that works on modern cars will back away, shaking his head. Without a computer system in the car, he can’t diagnose or repair the problem, and finding parts is going to be an issue. He will try to sell you a Honda.

A Honda after you’ve driven a Roller?

No.*

Rolls Royce Engine

An old-school mechanic will consider the car with more understanding. He’ll replace parts and make adjustments until he’s able to get the car to respond. Unfortunately, this can mean replacing parts that were not faulty, which gets expensive in a hurry. Sometimes a part is no longer available, and then the mechanic has to scavenge for parts.

This is a long and costly process. If the mechanic makes modifications to systems in the automobile, it may turn out that his short term fix, results in long term damage. In short, you’ve got a lovely old Roller, a real gem of an automobile, but don’t know what you’re getting when you bring it in for repair. And you would really enjoy being able to drive it without spending a fortune on maintenance and repair.

How would you like to take the old darling to an Automobile Builder? He knows automotive history, so your unique challenges won’t phase him. He knows how to diagnose the systems of your automobile, so he’ll find what isn’t working and replace just what needs to be replaced. In fact, if that old Roller was built with a weakness or defect in design or execution (just suppose) then he can actually build a whole new system, from scratch. Yes, because of his extensive training and experience, he can do that. And he has the wisdom to know if that’s the best course of action for your dear old car.

It’s very similar with a pipe organ, it’s the most complex instrument humanity has yet produced. You want your pipe organ to be cared for skillfully and respectfully. There’s a different level of expertise when you call in a pipe organ builder rather than a mechanic. Expertise saves you money, and lengthens the life and enjoyment of your instrument.

Swell Chest of a Pipe Organ

Each day we lose pipe organs around the world to age and attrition (and sometimes to Honda dealers), and now more than ever it is a matter of good stewardship to place your instrument in the care of one who is dedicated to the conservation of the instrument. Someone with expertise, who genuinely cares.

Art glass flue pipe by Xaver Wilhelmy

Xaver Wilhelmy is a Certified Pipe Organ Builder with 30 years of experience. He can and has built pipe organs “from scratch” and has renovated instruments in homes, churches, and concert halls in Europe, and the US, including Old Post Chapel at Arlington National Cemetery. Through the European tradition of apprenticeship to a Master Craftsman, Wilhelmy learned the history, physics, pneumatics, math, engineering, and fine art of pipe organ building in the European tradition. He learned at Rieger Orgelbau, one of the most innovated pipe organ building companies in the world. His specialty became voicing and technical innovation.

In addition, Wilhelmy also works in various hot glass, and stained glass techniques, resulting in the first organ pipes made of glass in the world. Www.flagpipes.com shows one example of a pipe organ featuring glass pipes built by Xaver Wilhelmy. Imagine the design possibilities! The introduction of glass into pipe organ building changes everything! After 500 years of pipe organ building history, Wilhelmy has brought new innovation to the fine art and craft of pipe organ building. The possibilities are limitless.

No offense to Honda or people who own a Honda, or those who own electronic sound synthesizing machines masquerading as organs for that matter.*

**An organ is powered by wind. Any instrument not powered by wind is not an organ.