Gary Blaise Early Keyboard Instruments
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  I would make the pipes and all else of wood, I reckoned, as I do not have a metalworking shop; and square they would be as well, as my woodworking tools are designed to make things which are basically squarish in nature, not roundish. Some test pipes seemed prudent. With an old wooden recorder as my model, I performed a recorder autopsy in an attempt to force the secret of its marvelous tone. Then, like the cubist carpenter, I set to work translating its cylindrical air column into a square format; for it is primarily the shape of the air column that determines the sound of a pipe and not the material. Though the sound of my first few pipes was perfectly hideous, I found it nonetheless gratifying to see how the wooden pipes could be put together and make a sound in just a few hours compared to the stringed keyboard instruments which I had been making for so many years. I was also impressed by how quickly one could develop a relationship with the principles involved in pipe making simply by adjusting the tone-producing components of the mouth and altering the wind pressure. The effects of scaling could be gleaned simply by shortening the pipe and the tonal effects of width-to-depth pipe ratios could be heard by simply ripping the pipe along it's length and re-gluing. None of this was remotely possibly with the stringed keyboards. As my academically oriented colleagues had no idea how I was entertaining myself these days, "What the hey", I thought, "the empirical approach is fun!"

Undaunted by bad sound and medieval thinking, I made a little portatif entirely out of wood. It was . . . unsuccessful. (Oh, what a surprise.) The same endeavor turned out much better when I simply copied the 4' recorder consort stop from the famous 1608 organ Esaias Compenius, all 27 stops of which are made of wood2. The success of this second instrument has encouraged the present work in progress, a 7-stop instrument whose 5 completed stops have, thus far, proven very successful (although it is always better for others to decide these things).

From the beginning, the wind for these instruments has been supplied non-electrically and entirely by the player. Originally, I figured it would be easier to build a hand-raised wind system rather than wait for an electric one to arrive from some orgel supplyhaus far, far away. And so, blissfully protected from my own ignorance, I built one. Though it was immensely more difficult than I had expected, I soon became completely fascinated with these foot-pumped systems and couldn't imagine the organ any other way. In fact, I would say, winding has become the focal point of the whole endeavor as well as itíŽs most challenging aspect. The degree of care required to make certain kinds of things seems to increase with the simplicity of their design and the wind system is an excellent example of just such a thing. I find it is far more difficult to build a successful wind system than to make the pipes or even a windchest or keyboard. Also, I'm used to making things that get glued together and stay put. Bellows move around a lot and fold up; and they need to do so quietly to be fun. It's more like a big sewing project for which I have less talent. Like the instrument itself, the wind system is made entirely of wood with just the requisite bits of leather.

2.The Compenius Organ, 1612, now in Fredriksborg Castle, Denmark (Recording by Harald Vogel, Organa Records ORA 3002)

 
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