“Hidden Talents Keep Tabernacle Organ in Tune,” Ensign, Jan. 2011, 77–78
Much praise is given to the organists who perform on the world-class Tabernacle organ on Temple Square, as well as to the organ itself. The organists have earned the attention. Credit for the organ’s performance, however, goes not to the organist alone or even to the instrument itself but to two men whose behind-the-scenes efforts have allowed the organ to fulfill its musical potential: the organ technicians.
Robert Poll and Lamont Anderson have been working with the Tabernacle organ for more than 25 years. Their job responsibilities cover many other instruments on and around Temple Square, including 8 pipe organs, 2 harpsichords, 4 electronic organs, and more than 70 pianos. They listen constantly to the instruments, says Brother Poll, especially before events.
Brother Poll divides the work he and Brother Anderson share into three categories: tuning, mechanical maintenance, and renovation. The tuning usually involves individual pipes rather than the organ as a whole; tuning the entire Tabernacle organ takes roughly a month to complete. Mechanical maintenance primarily entails the refurbishment of malfunctioning pieces. Renovation is also focused mainly on smaller projects, including replacing the felts on pipe shutters so that the shutters seal better and create a greater contrast in volume.
The technicians’ methods of caring for the instruments are constantly evolving. This applies most to care involving the large organs. Organs of the size and caliber of the Tabernacle organ are, in some ways, “too customized for standard fixes,” says Brother Poll, and require a detailed knowledge of many areas as well as the ability to innovate.
In one case, a high-pressure air regulator in the Conference Center organ kept going into oscillation—setting up resonant frequencies that sounded like the playing of one of the low pipes. Brother Poll used a piece of wire tied between two points to apply sideways pressure on the valve. The makeshift solution continues to prevent the problem.
Brother Poll credits inspiration for his ability to solve many of the issues that arise in his work.
The technicians know the Tabernacle organ inside and out. As Brother Poll moves through the belly of the organ, he points out pipes and tells when they were added. Except for the visible pipes and casework, the present organ was basically new in 1948, but among its 11,623 pipes are 122 from the original organ and 95 others from pre-1948 rebuilds.
The pipes come in an astounding array of sizes and shapes, from tiny pipes the width and length of a drinking straw to fat pipes over 30 feet (9 meters) tall. Finished wood, zinc, and a combination of lead and tin are a few of the materials used to make the pipes. Only the largest 10 of the visible gold pipes are “speaking” pipes, while the remaining 41 are simply dummies that mask the body of the organ.
Brother Poll knows the organ as though it were an old friend. He shakes his head with exasperated affection at the instrument’s quirks, such as the way some pipes will never tune properly if tuned together.
He knows, perhaps better than anyone, what a magnificent instrument the Tabernacle organ is—and what it takes to keep it that way. Because of Robert Poll and Lamont Anderson’s care, each of the instruments around Temple Square is an exceptional instrument.
Find this story and its accompanying video and a photo gallery at news.lds.org/organtechs.