Category Archives: Featured

Major article contributions

Fritts Organ at Notre Dame Completed

Paul Fritts
Paul Fritts

The organ workshop of Paul Fritts & Co. in Parkland WA has recently completed the delivery and installation of Opus 37 for the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN.

The organ is the firm’s largest to date, with 69 stops and 4 manuals. There are some 5,164 pipes including a full-length 32’ Posaune in the Pedal.

The organ has numerous firsts for the company:

Paul Fritts Opus 37 at Notre Dame
Paul Fritts Opus 37 at Notre Dame

The majority of the pipework for the organ is made from tin/lead alloys that have been cast on sand instead of the previous method of casting the metal sheets on top of a cloth-covered slab of stone. The sand casting is a more ancient method of preparing the metal that causes the molten metal to cool much more quickly than on the stone slab. This rapid cooling causes the crystals which form in the metal as it solidifies to be much smaller than when the metal is allowed to cool more slowly. This crystal structure imparts a subtle but important character to the metal that seems to promote elegant pipe speech and a colorful sustained sound.

It is the first 4-manual organ built by the Fritts workshop.

Paul Fritts Opus 37 at Notre Dame
Paul Fritts Opus 37 at Notre Dame

It is the first organ by the company to incorporate both German and French reed stops on the same divisions. French reeds at 16’ and 8’ pitch in the Pedal, at 8’ and 4’ pitch in the Great and a Cromorne 8’ in the Rückpositive join the Cavaille-Coll style Hautbois 8’ in the Swell to add substantially to the ability of the organ to play French literature.

There is also a Renaissance-style Trompet 8’ in the Swell which is patterned after those built by the great North German Scherer family of organ builders.

The organ makes use of “thermally-modified” lumber in the playing action (keyboards, backfall levers, couplers, etc.) as well as in the windchests for sliders and toeboards. This material is the result of a new way of treating wood that has been cured at a high temperature in kilns where the oxygen has been removed to prevent the wood from burning. The high temperatures cause the cells of the wood to seal off effectively, making the wood resistant to absorbing or giving off moisture and thus remaining very stable dimensionally. The result is that dimensionally-critical parts of the organ remain stable throughout seasonal swings in the humidity level.

The organ is also the first to use carbon fiber rods as trackers throughout the instrument. These, too, are entirely impervious to humidity changes,  which is especially important in a large instrument with very long tracker runs. An added benefit is their lower mass.

Paul Fritts Opus 37 at Notre Dame
Paul Fritts Opus 37 at Notre Dame

As in all of the larger Fritts organs, the Notre Dame instrument has “dual” stop action. The stop action is first and foremost mechanical with the drawknobs being physically attached to the windchest sliders. Electric solenoids can move the stops when thumb pistons or toe studs are depressed. These solenoids are controlled by a sophisticated computer system that has 999 levels of memory, meaning that all of the pistons and toe studs can be set 999 different times. Additionally, this is the first use of so-called “intelligent” solenoids that incorporate optical sensors to monitor the movement of the solenoid during the actual motion. If the solenoid is moving too slowly, the computer can send additional amperage to speed up the movement. It can also slow down a solenoid that is moving too quickly. The motion of the solenoid is also monitored to reduce the current as the slider reaches the end of its travel to quiet the system.

The organ was set up in the Basilica and voiced and tuned very quickly and efficiently. The entire process, from the unloading of the trucks to the tuning of the final pipe, required just 81 days. Preparation of the organ in the workshop along with the shop voicing of the flue pipes, and especially the careful voicing of the reed pipes on the actual windchests in the organ in the shop, contributed substantially to the savings of time during the installation.

Both the visual and sonic impacts of the organ in the Basilica have exceeded the expectations of all involved in the project. It is hoped that the organ will serve as an inspiration for both worship in the Basilica and for the organ students and other performers for many generations to come.

Bruce Shull
Bruce Shull

Please stop by the Basilica to see and hear the new instrument if you are in the South Bend area.

Bruce Shull

Erik McLeod
Erik McLeod

Listen to Erik McLeod improvising on some of the “bigger sounds” of the Notre Dame organ.

New AGO Website

In order to expand functionality and flexibility, we have migrated the Tacoma AGO website to the WordPress web framework.  The URL will remain

To Gain Access

  • Navigate to
  • In the login block at the bottom of the menu column on the left, select the “Lost Password” link
  • Enter the email address on file at (the national site)
  • A password change link will be emailed to you
  • If your email address on is not correct, you must change it before you can get access to our chapter site; it takes about a day for the update to propagate locally

Summary of New Features

  • Members will be able to log in to see additional features, such as the membership directory and private locations that are not shown to the public.  Members will also be able to add events to the calendar, submit articles, post classified ads, and participate in forum discussions on various topics.  Your AGO executive committee is working on a plan for editing and maintaining content.
  • Members can log in with either their email address or their national AGO membership number, and the password established at the time of the first login.  Corrections to email addresses, names, addresses, telephone numbers and other preferences should be made on the AGO National site.  They will be automatically propagated to our local site.
  • The calendar will be updated continuously as events are sent to us.  It is possible to subscribe to the calendar so that you don’t have to manually update your own calendar.  Details are available in an article on the site.
  • The newsletter will still be emailed monthly.  It will be a summary of all of the articles posted since the last newsletter, along with the calendar.  You don’t have to wait until the newsletter comes out to see the news.  It will show up gradually on the website.  Check it regularly!
  • The email addresses formerly used to contact officers (such as and submit events and articles are discontinued.  Members can look up other members’ email addresses in the membership directory, which is visible after logging in.  Non-members will use the Contact widget located on the main menu bar.  Members will be able to submit their own events and articles, including pictures.  Instructions will be forthcoming.

Many thanks to Paul Tegels for maintaining an excellent web site for the past four years.  All of the information from that site is being migrated to the new site, including articles and all of the newsletters published since Paul has been archiving them.  They will be indexed and searchable by date or by content.  Paul will be on sabbatical for a few months but, upon his return, will continue to work on web content along with other volunteers.

Pipe Organ Encounter (Technical)

POE Technical Report, Tacoma AGO Chapter
July 21 – 26, 2013
Submitted by Shari Shull, POET Director

DSC_7973 copy
Shari Shull, Program Director

Nineteen students from ten states, Japan, and France arrived at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, on Sunday afternoon to participate in the POE Technical event. The Tacoma AGO Chapter collaborated with the Paul Fritts Organ Shop and the Martin Pasi Organ Shop to present the POE Tech week that included hands-on organbuilding and visits to 12 pipe organs.

Dr. Paul Tegels, Pacific Lutheran University organ professor, presented the opening concert at PLU, demonstrating the Brombaugh positive and the Fritts Concert Hall organ, opus 18. Following the concert, Bruce Shull, organ shop coordinator, unveiled the portative organ prototype that he designed for the POE Tech. Bruce’s announcement that the students would build one of these instruments during the week was met with amazement from the audience and excitement from the students. The first evening concluded with the students playing the two PLU instruments.

DSC_8203 copy
POE Tech Volunteers
DSC_8228 copy
David Dahl demonstrates the Brombaugh organ at Christ Episcopal Church

On Monday, time at the Fritts Shop included each student gluing up a wooden pipe, demonstrations of woodworking machines, and pipe voicing. PLU organ professor emeritus, David Dahl, gave a PowerPoint presentation of slides and musical examples titled, “A European Organ Odyssey.” The day concluded with Naomi Shiga demonstrating the Fritts organ, opus 8, at University of Puget Sound, and David Dahl demonstrating the Brombaugh organ at Christ Church Episcopal, Tacoma.


“What a wonderful way to insure that classic organbuilding skills are passed down to future generations.”  –Shari Shull


Time at the Pasi Shop on Tuesday included each student making action parts for the portative organ.

DSC_8238 copy
Martin Pasi addresses the students

Demonstrations of pipe metal casting, sawmilling logs, metal pipemaking, tuning and temperaments filled the day. Organs by Schlicker and Kilgen at Trinity Lutheran Church in Tacoma were demonstrated by Dr. Jonathan Wohlers. Students played the organs in the evening.

Wednesday was our Seattle day. A visit to St. James Cathedral began the day with a demonstration of the Rosales and Hutchings-Votey organs given by cathedral musician, Joseph Adam. Dr. Mel Butler, cathedral musician, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral demonstrated the Flentrop organ in the nave and also the Fritts Chapel organ, opus 22, and the Pasi continuo organ, opus 8.

The POE Tech students and chaperones visited the Seattle Center and the Space Needle for some sightseeing in the afternoon. The group continued on to Lynnwood, Washington, where Dr. Carole Terry, organ professor at University of Washington, gave a concert on the Pasi Organ, opus 4, at Trinity Lutheran Church.

A return to the Fritts Shop on Thursday gave the students time to complete their wooden pipes following a voicing demonstration. Other demonstrations included computer CAD design, reed pipemaking and woodturning.

A visit to the Wurlitzer theatre organ at the Levine home in Gig Harbor gave the students a different view of highly specialized organbuilding and an opportunity to hear and play a large theatre organ.

Dr. Dana Robinson, organ professor at the University of Illinois, demonstrated the Fritts organ, opus 7, at Paul Fritts’ home. After the demonstration, students and staff enjoyed a pizza dinner. A drawing was held for the completed portative organ that the students had been building all week. One lucky student won the portative organ and all students made a wooden organ pipe to take home during the week.

The evening ended with Amadeus on the big screen. And the entire POE Tech event concluded on Friday with Sandra Tietjen and Shari Shull demonstrating the Fritts organ, opus 30, located in the Tietjen home.

The POE Tech students were a congenial group, interacting well with each other by taking turns playing the organs the group visited and working together in the organ shops. An exciting week was had by all with many students asking if there might be a POE Tech offered every year.

Special thanks go to the planning team and the following organizations and individuals for their support: National AGO, Tacoma AGO Chapter, Seattle AGO Chapter, Olympic Peninsula AGO Chapter, Puget Sound Theatre Organ Society, Al and Betsy Buck, David Dahl, Paul Fritts, Martin Pasi, Bruce and Shari Shull.