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Ode to an organ

Recently revived for a choir concert, the movable pipe organ at NCPA holds fort as the only such musical instrument in Mumbai

Last week, as the 50-member ensemble from UK's Eton College Chapel Choir along with Symphony Orchestra of India enthralled the audience with coronation anthems and works of Mozart at Tata Theatre, the highlight of the evening was David Goode's organ concerto. As the renowned organist played the keyboards of the vintage pipe organ, the sounds from the 708 conic and cylindrical pipes, that comprise this gargantuan instrument, reverberated through the auditorium.

The Eton College Chapel Choir along with organist David Goode on the pipe organ (extreme right) performing with the Symphony Orchestra of India at NCPA
The Eton College Chapel Choir along with organist David Goode on the pipe organ (extreme right) performing with the Symphony Orchestra of India at NCPA

Fully restored by the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) in July 2013, the Beckerath 1987-make instrument was recently revived for this concert and is one of the very few remaining pipe organs in the city. “It is the city's only movable pipe organ. The whole organ is mounted on a mobile platform and it is stored in a separate compartment at backstage. The organ is brought to the front of the stage when required, using the versatile rotating stage arrangement of the Tata Theatre,” explains Khushroo N Suntook, NCPA Chairman and SOI founder.

The restored pipe organ at NCPA comprises 708 conical and cylindrical pipes.
The restored pipe organ at NCPA comprises 708 conical and cylindrical pipes. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Vintage charm
Donated to the NCPA by the industrial and business community of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1988, the instrument was specially designed and manufactured by the German company, Beckerath for the Tata Theatre and tuned on its arrival in Mumbai by its director, Timm Sckopp. Suntook recalls, “Professor Edgar Krapp, Professor of Organ, Frankfurt was the first to play it for the inaugural concert in March 1988.”

Prepping up the pipes
The 27-year-old instrument suffered neglect over time and went through a lot of wear-and-tear before it was restored fully two years ago. According to Suntook, the manufacturers sent the engineers who took a full month to complete the restoration process. The cost of restoration was '22 lakhs.

David Goode pipe organ

Though in a working condition, maintaining the instrument isn't a cakewalk and requires 20 hands to even move the pipe organ to the stage. “The pipe organ has to be maintained in optimal climatic conditions. Maintenance includes not letting ambient humidity exceed 40 to 70%. The temperature may vary between 15 degrees and 30 degrees Celsius, but it should only change slowly by one degree Celsius per hour,” informs Suntook, adding that there are special instructions given by the manufacturer to even clean the pipes of the organ.

"Before every concert, the organ needs to be placed on the stage with the air-conditioner turned on for at least 24 hours," he says about this mammoth instrument that will next take the pride of place at the upcoming World Music concert by the band, Indiva, on April 10 at NCPA.

What is a pipe organ?

Commonly used in churches and cathedrals, the musical instrument produces sounds by driving wind through pipes selected via a keyboard (called manual) or pedalboard. The pipe organ at NCPA has a total of 708 conic and cylindrical pipes, each pipe producing a single pitch. While the manual comprises 56 notes, the pedal board has 32 notes. The air system includes an on-mounted blower motor specially designed in a sound proof enclosure.

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