Story By Julenne Mounts, Photos: Kay Kunisawa, Julenne Mounts

On September 21, 2013, Master Organ Builder Hans Ulrich Erbsloeh and his Journeyman assistant Bernd Becker arrived on Maui to undertake the tasks of cleaning, repairing, performing maintenance, tuning, and removing misconstructions from St. Johns’ Oberlinger 11-stop pipe organ.

Erbsloeh, who visited St. John’s two years ago for a similar maintenance program, recently retired in his hometown of Hamburg, Germany after 31 years as a Master Organ Builder, but still loves his work. He organized his U.S. travels so that he could also perform maintenance on the pipe organ at the Lutheran Church in Honolulu, which he installed 38 years ago with his friend, the late Dr. John Hanley. Coincidentally, Hanley later became a long time St. John’s member after retiring to Maui, and was instrumental in having our current organ purchased and installed in 1986. The two were great friends, which gives Erbsloeh an increased understanding of our community and history.

Erblsoeh and Becker worked long hours for nine days during their two week stay in Kula, often 8am to 7pm. They found a great deal more to do than they had originally anticipated including mold inside the pipes, black keys caked with “finger fat,” and improperly built pipes in need of cutting down. They remedied all of this and more, while only billing the Church their original estimate made back in January.

The bulk of the organ builders’ time was spent on two significant areas above and beyond the normal wear and tear and the effects of the high humidity of Hawaii. They soldered support seams on both sides of the mouths of all of the approximately 200 cone tuned pipes and they completely revamped the coupler system which allows for the top and bottom manuals of the organ to play concurrently.

During their maintenance and cleaning, they found that many of the cone tuned pipes of the organ were bent at their mouths. This was caused in part by the corrosiveness of our humidity and in part by poor tunings of the past during which the tin and pewter were bent. As Oberlinger Brothers, the original manufacturer, closed its doors in Windesheim in 2005, ordering replacement parts is no longer an option. And so Erbsloeh and Becker set to work on soldering support seams on over 200 of the 558 pipes on one of our plastic tables right on the church porch. These new seams should keep the tuning slots of the pipes from bending as much in the future and will allow for accurate tuning.

According to Erbsloeh, the organists of St. John’s have always complained that the organ was out of tune. Upon inspection during his last visit, Erbsloeh discovered that the coupler system, which allows for the top manual and bottom manual to correspond, has never functioned properly due to a particular “misconstructed” part, and that the valves just didn’t open enough. His solution was to have a friend handcraft all new parts, and during his recent visit, he installed these new parts and new pilot screws. St. John’s Organist Leonard Sakai, who has been trained in the maintenance procedures over the years commented: “I’m excited to try it when I return from the mainland. It should be really fantastic.”

Erbsloeh recommends that due to the impact of the humidity on our organ, a routine maintenance should be scheduled every two years. He will be returning in two years to the Lutheran Church in Honolulu for the 40th anniversary of their organ and will stop en route in Menlo Park, CA for maintenance on another organ there. Our organ will celebrate its 30 years of service to our church and community in three years. Perhaps a celebration is in order? Mahalo to Richard Buckley who was kind enough to house them and to Monika Jost who allowed them to use her truck during their stay. And a special mahalo to Hans and Bernd for their devout dedication and hard work.