Pipe organ from Terrasse-Vaudreuil basement finds new home
PHOTO BY JAMES ARMSTRONG
Having a pipe organ in the basement of his home provided organist Roland Germain with 45 years of easy access to a practice instrument.
Owning and installing a pipe organ in the basement of a suburban home is not the usual homeowner’s dream. It all started in 1971 when Roland Germain decided to install a pipe organ in the basement of his home to use for practicing. In September 2016, when Germain turned 90 years of age, he decided it was time to sell his house and that meant finding a new home for the pipe organ.
Pipe organ in search of a home
Pipe organs tend to take up a great deal of space. In this case, over 20 square feet as Germain had added more sets of pipes over the years. According to Germain, the long-term relationship had a planned ending.
“I stopped playing the organ two years in advance of selling and started concentrating on piano,” he said. “I offered it (the organ) to Saint Thomas Aquinas Church in Hudson.”
Unfortunately, the instrument was too large to fit the gallery at the back of the church. The cost of disassembling, moving and reinstalling the instrument in another location was also a factor.
“The organ tuner and builder, Sylvain Brisson (Sylvain Brisson Pipe Organs) from Ontario, estimated it would cost about $20,000 or more to do that and many churches cannot afford it,” said Germain. In the end, he decided to donate the organ to Brisson.
“It took over five days for two people to take it apart and move it out,” he said.
Pipe organs of the region
Before retiring from his career as an active church organist in the region, Germain became familiar with many of the notable pipe organs in the area including the instruments in Saint-Madeleine-de-Rigaud Church in Rigaud, Wyman Memorial United Church in Hudson, and the Church of Saint-Joseph-de-Soulanges in the Town of Les Cédres representing different genres of pipe organ construction.
How it works
A pipe organ is basically a collection of whistles fixed to an airtight box filled with compressed air provided by bellows and controlled by an attached keyboard. Each key of the keyboard or ‘manual’ controls a pipe by opening it to let air in to create sound. A person powered the bellows by providing the wind supply in the pre-electricity era and was replaced more recently by an electric blower. The organist plays the pipes using one or more keyboards including one for the feet, known as the pedal board.
The instruments in Saint-Madeleine and Wyman are similar types of instruments using what is known as tubular pneumatic action to connect the keyboards to the pipes consisting of a series of small lead tubes transporting air that opens and closes the valves on the pipes.
“I played for about one year at Wyman,” said Germain noting he has also played the Sainte-Madeleine instrument constructed by Casavant-Frères in 1920.
According to Wyman Church member Peter Mundie, the Canadian Organ Company originally built the organ in 1913 for a church in New Brunswick.
“It was moved to Wyman in 1951 and a rebuild was done in the 1970s,” said Mundie.
Mechanical action organs
Eusèbe Brodeur, who built the organ in Saint-Joseph-de-Soulanges Church in Les Cédres in 1898, created a different type of instrument using earlier technology. It is a mechanical action instrument meaning that the keys of the manuals are connected to the pipes by a system of thin strips of wood connected to each other. The keyboards for mechanical action organs had to be in close proximity to the pipes and wind chests in order to reduce the distance the mechanical action needed to cover. The advent of the tubular pneumatic system provided more flexibility for the design of the organ as the keyboards could be situated further away from the pipes.
As for Germain, he said although he misses the pipe organ in his basement, he is content with playing his piano in his new home.