The Philosophy of Restoration:
As assembler and editor of this web site, I believe that it is necessary to clarify and state my official position on the various approaches and methods of organ conservation. Here, in a nutshell, is my philosophy:
First, it should be stated in very clear terms, that this author firmly believes in maintaining the integrity of historic instruments, and in preserving original instruments in their original state, and if possible in their original venues. If an instrument is working correctly, there is no valid reason, in my opinion, to alter it. In such cases, I believe in and subscribe to the strict guidelines set out by the Organ Historical Society.
This said, there are some valid reasons why certain instruments may be properly restored with carefully thought out deviations from original design or materials.
One case for intervention is the improvement, by science and modern technology, of materials that would not otherwise have been available at the time an instrument was built. Wood, for example, is something that has not really been improved on. Wood is a natural product, and aside from better treatment and curing methods to make it less subject to insect damage and rot, neither God and Nature, nor man has not done much in the last 500 years to improve the way wood is made. This fact should tell us that replacing the wooden components in an organ with plastic or synthetic materials is not necessary or advisable, and these synthetics probably would not guarantee the longevity that wood would otherwise provide. On the other hand, rubber cloth in lieu of leather has proven to be a problem in pneumatics. Rubber cloth deteriorates and dries out at a greater rate than good leather, so replacing rubber cloth with leather on a restoration, would not upset me terribly. Why did certain organ builders in the 20's and 30's use rubber cloth? Probably because it was cheap and readily available. Remember that organ builders and organ manufacturers were, in many cases, two different mind sets that were operating for totally different reasons. Companies like Wurlitzer, Kimball, and Robert Morton were manufacturers. They built organs, but they operated their mass-production businesses to make a profit, and if it appeared that they could save money by cutting a corner, they often did. This is evidenced in some of the later Wurlitzer organ pipe chests having eliminated the use primary pneumatics and substituted poorer quality materials in some instances. On the other hand, magnets used in these organs changed over the production run, and the later magnets seem to hold up better than the earlier ones. So obviously these companies were seeing improvements come about through research and testing, and they were applying these improvements to the organs they were building.
These companies were learning and researching, just as we are in manufacturing today. New engineering developments were coming out all the time, and if a manufacturer saw something that looked like it would work better, they were known to try it. Unfortunately, they did not have the benefit of some eighty-years of testing data that we now have, so we have the privilege of seeing errors in their ways at times. Had Howard or Farney Wurlitzer known that rubber cloth would not last as well as leather, it is entirely possible that all Wurlitzer percussions would have leather on them, but the scientific evidence simply had not been developed at that point in history, and rubber worked fine as far as they could see. Remember that 80 years of testing of these instruments, often under the worst conditions, has given today's organ technician huge insight that no manufacturer or builder had a hundred or even eighty or so years ago.
The hypocrisy of restoration:
This only gives rise to the argument of, for example, would Bach have composed and played his works as he did if he were to have been given a modern digital or computer controlled instrument. My guess is that if Bach were alive over the last four hundred years, he might have composed everything from rock to swing and maybe even rap. Bach and many of his followers were innovators in their time. Likewise Widor, Vierne, and their contemporaries, were innovators to the point of really causing some musical concern in their countries and time periods. How dare we assume that these great composers would have stood still in their styles and philosophies of music, when we know that more modern composers ranging from Gershwin to Mancini to Webber all went through phases in the development of their music. To those who presume to know Bach's full intentions and philosophy of music, I say Poo! And to those who believe that there is no latitude given by the great masters, with regard to playing their music, I also say "think again guys". These people were geniuses in their own right. History tells us that they were open-minded experimenters, and they never would have accomplished what they did had they not experimented with what was handed to them by their predecessors.
In the mechanical aspects of organ restoration, there is room for disagreement as well. For example, we have esteemed restorers and builders who sit down and craft strict guidelines on how a tracker or early EP organ should be treated during restoration, yet these same individuals have absolutely no problem adding a computerized relay to the instrument, especially if they are in the business of selling such diabolical devices. Likewise musicians, many of whom serve on boards and committees of organizations to see to the authentic and historic treatment of pipe organs, often demand electronic relays and combination actions, stop and rank revisions, and other changes that are philosophically prohibited on an historic instrument, in order to weave their magic.
You can't have your cake and eat it too. One either subscribes to historical authenticity, or one acknowledges that he or she is liberal in their attitude to music and instruments to the point of allowing certain scientific improvements that greatly affect the capabilities of the organ without necessarily changing its original sound.
I believe that if an organ's relay is failing, that consideration should be given to electronic relays as well as to restoration of original relays. Does the original relay seriously restrict the organ's utilization? Could the same organ benefit tonally from having increased unification or rank re-arrangement done by an extended relay design? If so, then maybe a digital relay system is valid in the scheme of things. Whether it be the sound of a Wurlitzer tibia, a Skinner string ensemble, or the blasting post horn of a Barton, the organ and the ultimate product of its sound are not going to be changed if the valves are keyed by a pneumatic relay or by a computer. The organist, the pipes, the wind and the acoustics are the only factors that really affect the equation.
Replacement of missing parts:
Here is where I deviate from the norm in my way of thinking. I have been criticized by the "purists" for some of the work I have done with recreation of replacement organ components. If, for example, an organ falls into my hands and I find that it is missing a critical component such as a toy counter, how do I address this? Here is my answer to you:
If the original missing equipment, or an identical replacement, can be found, certainly use that avenue of approach. If the original parts are not readily available, make them if possible. At this point, I break away from the philosophy of others. In my opinion, it now becomes the prerogative of the owner of the instrument as to whether he or she wants an authentically recreated replacement, or whether there is room to consider that maybe the original design could be improved upon with modern technology. As long as the instrument is not being touted as a "full authentic restoration", I think it is totally at the discretion of the owner. If the owner wants to tinker with building an authentic reproduction of a toy counter, more power to you! I have seen some fine work done in this respect by a number of both professional and amateur builders. On the other hand, eighty-years is a long time in the course of science. Maybe, just maybe, there are some scientific developments that can improve on the huge pneumatic demands that original toy counters presented. Improved low current solenoids, for example. If I am creating a replacement part for an instrument that was missing that part all along, why can't I have the liberty to use what I consider to be a scientific improvement over original equipment as long as the owner is agreeable? What gives the professional restorer the right to say that this "compromises" the instrument, when that same restorer has no problem compromising an instrument by installing a modern computer relay from a company that he represents? Let's stop being hypocrites! Modern science has done some things to make better organ parts, and it has likewise done some things to cause materials to not be as good as original natural products used in the last century. Let's all be big enough to make these decisions based on sound scientific and musical evidence of whether the instrument will be improved with these substitutions, and whether deploying these methods will keep the instrument playing for future generations. That is the determining factor in my philosophy. Do not change the sound of the instrument, but certainly improve on its operation, ease of maintenance, and flexibility where reasonably possible.