CLEVELAND - At a small manufacturing shop on the near west side of Cleveland, a worker feeds a buzz saw through a piece of wood, as the saw sends a high-pitched screeching sound to the ceiling of his workplace. A couple of miles away, at a large church with a beautiful sanctuary, the musician on the pipe organ sends a beautiful high-pitched note to the rafters of the building.
Both men are intricately linked through the same instrument. Each man works at the different ends of the pipe organ.
Holtkamp Organs has made pipe organs for churches and other groups throughout the United States since 1902 when Henry Holtkamp joined an earlier organ company before eventually taking it over in his name.
Ownership was handed down through the generations. Today, Chris Holtkamp runs the operation begun by his great-grandfather.
At Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ, Tim Robson sits at the console, as he has done for years at many churches. He plays one of his favorite hymns, "All Creatures of Our God And King."
"You can always tell a Holtkamp organ by the look of its keydesk, its console," said Robson, who began playing the pipe organ at the age of 12. As he touches the stops, buttons that open different pipes, the organ swells in sound.
Robson and Holtkamp find a tie that binds is the organ. The church instrument was made in 1894 by another organ company. For 20 years, it went unused until 1994 when Holtkamp Organs restored it.
Above the console are dozens of pipes, each designed to play a specific note when air is pumped through.
"With the organs that Chris Holtkamp is building now, he is continuing the tradition -- the family tradition," said Robson as he fingered the keys easily.
At the shop where Holtkamp works on Myers Avenue, he is surrounded by photographs of pipe organs his company has built. The company is now working on a design for a church in Bridgetown, Va., which was built in 1740. At one time, the building was a storage facility for military ammunition. Holtkamp is working on drawings of how a pipe organ would fit into the church.
He moves easily throughout his company, which employs about 15 people. There are specialists who work on the wood parts of organs. Others deal with the many pipes, which are made in the shop. Tim Kasper and Akil Gina mix a combination of zinc and lead, both in liquid form. At 340 degrees, the metals are hot enough to pour onto a drying table where the molten metal will harden.
Kasper is an unusual man both making the organs and considering their sound. He is an organist at a church in suburban Lakewood. He puts much effort into his work, knowing organs can last through many generations.
"It's amazing if you look at organs in other countries, Europe in particular, how long they have lasted," Kasper said.
Once the molten zinc and lead are hardened, the flat metal will be rolled and eventually fashioned into pipes that air will be pumped through, creating musical notes.
"Think of it as a big whistle," said Holtkamp pointing to pipes of varying sizes. On some organs the largest pipe may be 16 feet in length. The shortest may be the length of a pencil.
Although Holtkamp is making a pitch to build the organ for the Virginia church, there is no contract yet. However, a contract for an Arizona church is being fulfilled at the pipe organ manufacturer.
In his shop, a woodworker is sanding part of the box that will hold the pipes. A few feet away, more pipes are being rolled. It is a slow process. And it can be an expensive one, too. Holtkamp said organs can sell for a little as $150,000 and as much as $1 million. Price is dependent on size of the organ and the work that goes into fitting it into the space.
It is a labor intensive business because each organ is different. At the drawing board, Holtkamp, 58, works with the dimensions of churches and his customers’ wishes. If a building has a high ceiling, the pipes of the organ may be positioned to draw the eye toward the height of the room. If the ceiling is low, the pipes may stretch more in a horizontal fashion.
In many ways, Holtkamp is an artist who must consider what the eyes will see as much as what the ear will hear.
Holtkamp Organs does not make the music. Musicians and organs will do that. However, the company is the maker of the maker of music.
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