Iowa organ set to make a joyful noise: BTN LiveBIG

Tim Schoon

Iowa organ set to make a joyful noise: BTN LiveBIG

It stands three stories tall. It has 53 stops that control the flow of air to 3,883 pipes that range in size from 24 feet to less than half of an inch. And though it may look familiar, there is no other instrument exactly like it in the world.

The Klais pipe organ that dominates the 700-seat performance hall in the newly rebuilt Voxman Music Building at the University of Iowa is the result of an exhaustive search undertaken by University of Iowa organ professor Gregory Hand.

Juggling variables like the number of pipes, electric vs. mechanical action and the dimensions of the performance hall, Hand ultimately chose a German Romantic style of organ. More in line with older, traditional organs, the German Romantic style is valuable not only for its sound, but as a teaching tool.

“First and foremost, we wanted it to be an educational instrument, and one of the other things we really wanted was for it to have a historical character,” Hand told Iowa Now. “Playing an organ similar to the ones used by historical figures we’ll be studying and learning from will be very beneficial to students.”

The mammoth instrument was installed by hand over the summer by a team of German specialists sent over by manufacturer Orgelbau Klais, a family company that has built pipe organs since 1882. The inner workings are so vast and complex that the team added a spiral staircase so that students will be able to get a closer look at how the instrument functions.

Orgelbau Klais also helped the school formulate an energy plan for the Voxman building that will help maintain an optimal temperature for the organ. If everything goes as planned the instrument will educate students and entertain audiences for hundreds of years, says Hand.

“It will truly be the living, breathing heart of the building for years to come.”

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