A Cipher in My Own Home

“And will you treat me as a cypher in my own home?!”

Mister Darling asks this of the Lost Boys, after being brought back from Neverland, meaning, “Will you treat me as a nothing, a zero, a mistake?” They sure ask the big questions in the musical Peter Pan. We’re not talking about that kind of cipher. We’re talking about a pipe organ cipher.

If you play a pipe organ, sooner or later you are going to get a cipher. Aside from a potential wiring issue, pipes and wind chests are sensitive to temperatures. Right on time, with the cooler weather, I had a stuck note Tuesday morning. Pipe organists are often amateur organ mechanics. In my case, I know just enough for a simple fix or two.

A cipher is when a note gets stuck “on.” That is, an air valve gets stuck open. That particular note sounds, and won’t turn off. There are a few quick fixes – stuff a rag in the pipe mouth, gently pull it out of the wind chest (if it’s a small one), or  lift the offending pipe out and re-seat it with a small piece of paper underneath, blocking the air flow. So. The other morning – Cipher! – Time to get out the ladder.

You can imagine, how irritating the whine of a stuck note is. In this case, it was a low, hooty one – which told me it was a wooden pipe. (An F, if you’re curious.) Up I go, and there it is. I can tell it’s coming from that row of wooden pipes way in the back, middle of the below photo. Besides knowing it was a wooden pipe (from the sound), I knew it was medium-sized. In addition to following my ears, there are only two ranks of wooden pipes about that size, so I knew where to look.

Up close, nothing seemed to be out of order. Of course, I had to unseat the pipe and look around underneath, but it was too dark for a photo of that. The offender was two pipes over from the pipe that is leaning a little bit forward. (Pictured.) Everything looked fine, so I decided to get back down and try to un-stick it from the console before blocking the air-flow to that pipe.

Sometimes, you can un-stick the air-valve from the console. You can try repeatedly playing the note over and over again, repeatedly sending an electric signal to the valve. You can also try is mashing down a bunch of notes at once, with lots of stops open. My theory is that this both sends a signal to the pipe, and also takes some of the air pressure off that particular note, because it’s going to lots of other notes. At any rate, both these attempts speak to trying to wiggle the air valve on the stuck note. It worked!

At any rate, we’re due for an organ check-up and tuning with the official Organ Tech soon, so I think we’re in pretty good shape. You have a great day too!

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “A Cipher in My Own Home

  1. Fascinating posts. I know nothing about music beyond singing along (badly). I’m just amazed that you can listen to a note and track down the right pipe from that forest.

    My uncle was a professional musician and specialized in the bassoon. He owned 5 of them because they were each unique, but all I could tell was that one of them sounded a bit more “mellow” than the others.

    Such a mystery music is (to me anyway).

  2. themac

    WOW – I’m amazed. That’s one large, beautiful and confusing organ! You’re brave to check out your stuck F note. I mean, you didn’t know what you’d find up there…if could be anything!

    Kathy – I played bassoon for 4 years. I have this hollow place in my heart these days since I do not own one. Such an enchanting sound…like a loon or something that can’t be mistaken for anything else.

  3. Ann Gaillard

    I’m just sorry that you’re going through all this difficulty. Sigh. I wish I could make it easier for you!

  4. Aw, it’s kind of fun. As long as it doesn’t happen in the middle of a service! =)

  5. Betty

    I remember how awed and amazed I was when I first moved here and Ranny climbed up the ladder to fix an organ pipe. As I remember, on that occasion he said that the mice had been up there and unseated a pipe. We’re so fortunate that you are willing and able to climb up to the pipe loft and fix things for us now!

  6. Interesting. I didn’t know that pipe organs got stuck pipes. Never thought of it … I’ve only played the little electric home organs or (once in my shady past) a pump organ at a very small (SMALL) church.

  7. Lisa

    That’s a mighty handsome organ for a church in the back of beyond. Can you tell us more about who built it and when. I’m a veteran of an organ-reconstruction committee years ago, so I’m quick to notice nice work.

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