This study examines the effectiveness of various types of alternative resources in organ building in order to determine whether a change to more sustainable materials would benefit or hinder the overall sound production of the instrument. The qualities of the metals and woods currently used in organ production (e.g. lead, walnut, etc.) have been prized for centuries, so the substitution of different, more sustainable materials must be considered with regards to the sonic alterations, as well as the financial implications, of using alternatives to make the organ more “green.”
Five organ builders were interviewed regarding their views on sustainable materials. In addition, the author consulted the websites of nine national and four international organ builders for information about sustainability, indicating that each organ builder defines the term somewhat differently. Decisions on the woods and metals to be used in building or refurbishing an existing organ are based more on the visual appearance, the sound desired, and the potential for reuse of existing materials. A number of sustainability practices are currently in use by organ builders in the United States and Europe. These include the reuse of transportation boxes, efforts towards recycled metal and wood pipework, and the use of high efficiency lighting.
The investigations into sustainable practice that are presented here document a variety of approaches to sustainability in organ building in the United States, Canada and Europe. This research should assist in the evaluation of further efforts to conserve valuable resources while ensuring the high quality of sound that has characterized the organ throughout its long history.