• eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,574

    Highland pipe organ maker to halt production

    BY TERRY HILLIG > thillig@post-dispatch.com > 618-659-2075
    Posted: Thursday, January 13, 2011 2:03 pm

    HIGHLAND • Wicks Organ Co., which has built pipe organs in Highland for more than 100 years, will shut down its manufacturing operation over the next few months, its president, Mark Wick, said Thursday.

    Wick blamed a bad economy and changing tastes in church music. The company has built more than 6,400 organs and Wick estimates that as many as 5,000 are in use worldwide.

    Wick said the company's work force would go from 33 to about 10 but the company would continue to provide organ parts, maintenance, warranty service and repairs. He said he would not rule out a return to manufacturing if demand increases in the future.

    The company's last big project, a $1 million restoration of two organs for St. James Catholic Cathedral in Orlando, Fla., was completed recently.

    There is no indication of this at the company website
  • This is the second time in the last year that Wicks has shut down production of new organs. They have a popular business building aircraft parts which has carried them through in other slow times, so the firm will survive. Note that they are not going out of business, they are just suspending the production of new organs due to lack of contracts to build them.


    There is nothing to change on the website. They are still open to building organs if someone comes forward with the money to do so, so it would be counterproductive to say, "We have laid off our organ-building staff." which could be mistakenly interpreted as a sign that they are in trouble and closing down the business.

    Tellers Pipe Organs shut down 50 years ago, shop was purchased by Larry Phelps, who then sold it to Rodgers who eventually moved it to Oregon. The Tellers grandson, Henry, reopened the business doing service and rebuilds of Tellers and other organs for many years. It's shut down again since Henry died, but one of his sons who was working there has apprenticed out to a major builder so there is a possibility that he will return to Erie and reopen the business, I have heard.

    Casavant, back in the 1970's, created a side division making wooden furniture to assist them also when times get tight.
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,574
    second time in the last year

    Unaware of this; I know they changed the work week to be four-day-ten-hour marathons.
    Such schedule became inconvenient for them and me one weekend as a circuit board problem
    appeared on a Thu shortly before their close of business; but folks soldiered on and located
    and shipped items, for which I was very grateful.

    they are not going out of business



    I am recalling something similar with Odell.
    Austin had a scary moment too.

    side division making wooden furniture

    Similarly with Wicks.
    I was surprised to find this third graphic "step" (lower right) of the website mainpage missing
    (I know I saw it sometime in the last two years).
    EDIT: Confirmed via wayback machine (http://www.archive.org Jul 30, 2008)

    It is time for some WPA ideas!
    Isn't there some city somewhere that deserves a civic auditorium pipe organ
    and can petition for some "stimulus" money? :-)
  • Mark P.
    Posts: 248
    When Aeolian-Skinner went out of business, their artistic quality had seriously slipped. Likewise with Moeller. I could make a snide comment about "factory voicing" but I'll refrain. Pipe organs exist in a marketplace. Although I'm sure the pipe organ business is hardly thriving, I rather imagine there are firms that are doing just fine.
  • If each diocese assessed a "pipe organ fee" to each parish - let's say there are 24 parishes - that each year totaled 1/24th the cost of a new pipe organ, all the parishes in 24 years would have pipe organs.
  • When Möller went back into business all the work was voiced in the church by Daniel Angerstein, formerly with A/S, who was and is a genius and expert at this. It did not save the company. Neither of these companies failed because of the quality of their organs.
  • Erik P
    Posts: 152
    A pipe organ fee for 24 churches would be the easy part.

    Finding 24 "organists" in one diocese to appreciate the pipe organ and stay on top of the regular maintenance/tuning......now that's another story.

    I know of a church that just sold it's 2-console, 125-rank pipe organ; for a new digital Allen organ because the "Allen is so much better"
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,885
    We tracker buffs always called it the Wicked Organ Co... lol.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,550
    The only Wicks instruments in my area were tiny - as in 3 to 4 ranks. Most of them are gone now. I don't think I have ever heard any of their larger instruments.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,885
    well, all the ones i played sounded like they were submerged in mashed potatoes... but i only played a few.
  • I played a moderate-sized two-manual for several years and found it entirely serviceable.
    It benefitted greatly from good acoustics, but could probably have been fairly successful in a less happy sonic environment.
    They are often extremely susceptible to re-voicing.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,032
    To whoever mentioned it above: the furniture side has been closed for a while now. I actually saw Barbara Wick yesterday at a concert, but thought it not prudent to ask her to go in more detail about the shuttering. For what it's worth, Wicks are very reliable (not unlike Austins), but there has been difficulty with many of these larger companies of finding a tonal aesthetic that is consistent and pleasing to the buyer. In addition, most of the churches that would have bought a Wicks/Moller/Reuter/Schantz are now buying electronic. Schantz has managed to get some pretty high-profile restorations, but short of that, it's tough for these companies to get business. It seems that the people who want that sort of organ (and don't want electronic) are going more to regional builders like Goulding & Wood, Quimby, etc. Anyhow, my $0.02.
  • Wicks Aircraft has really expanded their offerings, which is good.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,885
    yea, shantz did the restoration of the basilica organ in baltimore where i played for 25 years. unfortunately, when the organ was removed, the cavity was not hermetically sealed, and when the organ was reinstalled, disaster ensued as all the dust was blown into the pipes and windchest. i never got a report on the full extent of the damage, but i do remember some of the reeds werent speaking at all.

    it may not have been shantzs fault as the restoration called for tearing out the inside of the structure down to the dirt and there were so many hands in the project.


    no, i retract that. shantz did the first restoration in the 80's. andover did the last one noted above.
  • I really am amazed about this bashing of Wicks Organs. They were or are the ONLY company that did ALL of their own pipework and construction. Most companies have simply bought pipes made elsewhere and called them their own. In January of 2009 the Cathedral here dedicated their new/renovated instrument of some considerable size. It was dedicated by Paul Jacobs and many other fine organists from here and abroad. All were very complimentary about the tonal results. The very fine tonal finishing was done by John Sperling (a man of very fine repute). If anyone would like to know more about this instrument can ago on line and read more. Let me just say respectfully, that I have played many instruments.....mechanical action and otherwise....for all practical reasons, I can NOT possibly imagine being LIMITED to what most mechanical action organs can do. Recently I heard two new ones and strangely enough, there always seems to be the need to have optional electrical assist! If mechanical action is superior, why is it necessary on many of the large ones to have optional electrical assist????? Let us not be divided on this matter and haave endless debates .......have what is best for you and the church it serves!
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  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,885
    wow, Dale. You are passionate about the Wicks! I am impressed. I MUST come up there and do a concert if you will still have me since I am a mountain range away. Of course the acoustic in your church must be spectacular having learned a little about the architecture. And yes, concientious voicing makes a huge dif, we grant you that. When is your next organ concert? Perhaps I can plan a trip to hear you.

    Also, isnt the organ actually an Estey/Skinner/Wicks conglomeration?
  • One should always study and consider whether a purely electric action, as used by Wicks, effectively produces a rich organ tone. This same sort of action is used by other builders for some situations where its use is determined to be acceptable.

    The "direct electric" action is as controversial as "tracker" action in some circles.

    I've played some large Wicks but never been bowled over by one yet. That doesn't mean I've closed my ears to them, though.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,550
    I noticed the comment about regional builders getting work instead of the major builders. I wonder how much of that is from the willingness of the regionals to work with the customers. Some of the "majors" like to dictate rather than cooperate, although the lack of work is changing that somewhat. Also, are the regional builders a bit cheaper?

    Again, I have neither played nor heard a larger Wicks, so I can't comment on electric action. With no apologies to anyone, I don't like trackers. Never did, and never will. Though for a Mander, I might be willing to change that. ;-)
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,032

    I have no desire to engage in a flame war on Wicks or other "factory" builders: they build some good, some not so good—just like anything else.

    However, there are many companies that make their own pipework now:

    www.noackorgan.com/ (at least sometimes)

    These are just a few: in reality, most places make a fair number of their own pipes nowadays. This has been the case for at least the past 20-30 years, since smaller builders came back in vogue (after people had looked overseas to Flentrop, Beckerath, etc., for inspiration...and found out how much that cost!)

    There is a very fine Juget-Sinclair organ (literally) in my backyard, and I can assure you there is no electric assist needed. Unless something is very large and has a balanced mechanical action (vs. suspended), it's unlikely that you'd need an electric assist. I think the heavy action is mostly a thing of the past; the first generation of mechanical action (I'm thinking of the St. Paul Cathedral, Pgh., von Beckerath) had some really heavy action, but we know much more about construction now, and builders can use more advanced, lighter materials to "keep things light".

    Are you in Montana? I'm pretty sure I visited Wicks a few times when your organ was in the erecting room. I don't think I (or the Wicks people!) had ever seen an organ with so many Haskellized pipes! Those Estey folks did a lot of work to fit that organ in what must have a been a pretty short vertical space! You're right, in that situation mechanical action is impossible, but for many folks with an organ in the gallery, it would be ideal.
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,909
    FWIW, there is a VERY large (around $1 million) installation of a Wicks in the Green Bay Cathedral. Frankly, it's too much for the building--pipe and chest-work is everywhere in sight--but it's a very nice instrument, indeed!
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,193
    Aren't we dancing around a very telling statement made by Mark Wick himself? He points a finger very directly at "changing tastes in church music."

    Long before I read this article, a friend (who also happens to run a local organ tech/renovation/restoration shop) posted his sadness of this news on Facebook. I responded by saying that places like Guitar Center would suffer economic hardships and have to close if praise bands and contemporary music went out of favor. I was immediately attacked by a colleague (who graduated as an organ performance major from a well-known university) who not only serves in a dual capacity as an organist/choir director as well as leading and playing digital keyboards for the contemporary ensemble, but is an outspoken champion of the "blended worship" culture. Granted she's in an Episcopal church, but the pipe organ they have is a mechanical-action screaming box of whistles that makes the music of the Anglican tradition sound like cats fighting in a packing crate. (I served as interim at that church, and dreaded having to play Anglican hymns on that instrument).

    When instruments are designed and installed with an underlying misunderstanding of the aesthetic requirements of the music they are needed to execute, it becomes even harder to advocate for a return to music of nobility and grandeur.

    This situation also makes one wonder if all of the "hooplah" over the reported "increase in the installation of pipe organs in Catholic churches" that is presented in "Pastoral Music" Magazine and expressed at various conventions and the like isn't really a canard.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,550
    There is an Anglican church approximately 25 miles from here that has one of those shrieking imitation Lutheran instruments. I just chalk it up to American organ reform misperceptions and lack of knowledge about European instruments. Those built in the 60s were likely the worst. I have wondered if the reason more people used to attend organ performances might have been because the instruments in those days were more pleasing to hear.
  • Mark P.
    Posts: 248
    I went to a performance of a Bach cantata at a Lutheran church. The musicanship was flawless. The organ, however, was a neo-Baroque disaster with no discernable Principal chorus. All shriek-y, quintadena-y and unpleasant. It did not support congregational singing well. I'll take a Pilcher sans mixtures any day over an organ like this.
  • Many of these instruments are not at fault, rather, the congregation has gone "living room" by carpeting, adding pew cushions and an organ that once sparkled now sounds shrill. On the other end, a Pilcher sits there with an Aeoline that is totally useless for the same reason, instead of wafting through the church it is inaudible.
  • Mark P.
    Posts: 248
    The church for the Bach cantata has a very live acoustic. The local parish that has a Pilcher is likewise very resonant.
  • Mark P.,

    I'm curious about which Bach cantata you heard in which the non-discernable Principal chorus would have sounded. Or was the cantata performed without other instruments?
  • Mark P.
    Posts: 248

    It was during the hymns that no discernable Principal chorus was heard. The organ accompaniment to the cantata itself was adequate.
  • Hello Noel Jones and others,

    I am Scott Wick from Wicks Pipe Organ Company.

    Our company downsized, but we are still in production of building new pipe organs as well as restoring and enhancing existing instruments. The new front page of our website is up and running and it highlights some of the work we are doing today and we have just now been able to make some updates to our old site.

    Please visit our FACEBOOK page for other recent activities at Wicks Organ Company.

    Thank you for your interest in our company.

    Scott M. Wick

    Wicks Organ Company
    Thanked by 2G eft94530
  • Scott,

    Thanks for posting and giving us a useful social media update. The Wicks Company, (along with Tellers Pipe Organs, where I once worked) have both always had a string presence in the Catholic church. In your case, extremely reliable instruments and sensitivity to the need for affordable instruments of quality established your firm strongly in the market.

    In today's economic situation and the struggle churches are going through to stay open, it's a pleasure to see that your firm has had the forethought to batten down the hatches and stick it out until things get better.

    The Wicks at St. George, Lisbon, Ohio was one of three organs is played on while in high school, the others being a Robert Morton 4 rank theater organ and then a Jardine Tracker. The Jardine was rigged up with an added electric motor to pump the bellows - when it failed I'd have to grab kids from the church to come up and spin the drive wheel to get the air up.

    When I walked into St. George's, I always knew it was going to play, no matter what happened!

    Thanks, again.

  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,550
    Glad to know Wicks is open for business and continuing to build reliable and affordable instruments.
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  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,229
    At the risk of setting off fireworks, I wonder what those on this forum and others who advocate digital 'organs' would have to say about this news? Mark does not mention this, but I am sure the digital organ industry (and their marketing double barrel powerhouse) had decimated the pipe organ industry. Just look in any AGO magazine to see the full page foldouts.
    I am sad that the AGO had capitulated to this.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,550
    No fireworks, since what you write is true. Digital builders have out-marketed and out-sold non-musician pastors and church committees on a short term price advantage. Those digitals aren't so competitive when you start talking about the number of times they will need replacing over the years. AGO is a whore out for money, and I say that as a long time dues paying member. It is a spineless organization that blows with the wind.
  • You might have to replace digital organs every 20-30 years, but how often are the front cover organs on the AGO magazine replacements of worthy instruments that are 50 years old or less?

    I've been astonished to see how often organs are replaced as the tastes of the organ world shift.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,550
    I know. Every few years it seems that too many organists have to reinvent the wheel and get a "pure" sound the previous instruments were not capable of delivering. Does this kind of silliness exist among musicians who play other instruments? I think they are more likely to respect the integrity of the instruments they have.
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,229
    I'm not sure I agree. Most organists I know are content with a well sounding pipe organ if it is of quality regardless of the heritage. I have been at home on neo-baroque trackers to ultra romantic instruments, as I am sure all of you have. But you have a point that tastes do cycle around. In a while, the foghorn sounds of Hope-Jones will be declared the ultimate.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,550
    It does seem to go in circles, doesn't it? However, it is cheaper to replace an organist than it is to replace a pipe organ. Why churches are willing to throw functioning instruments out so easily is beyond me.
  • hartleymartin
    Posts: 1,447
    It would make sense to me that with the wood working skills and resources of many organ builders that they should also look at producing furniture for churches.
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,229
    What do people think...I do think there is an increase in organs in catholic churches.
  • donr
    Posts: 949
    In my quest to get an organ for our new church, I have been finding from builders that the majority of organs are going into protestant churches.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,395
    the majority of organs are going into protestant churches.

    Not surprising, since protestant congregations represent a large majority in the United States.
    Thanked by 1Adam Wood
  • It would make sense to me that with the wood working skills and resources of many organ builders that they should also look at producing furniture for churches.

    Wicks has been involved for years in the aircraft industry, (As Möller was in WWII but that's another story) and Casavant years ago diversified and went into the furniture business.


    However, having the ability to do woodworking is one thing, opening another business that sells to a different market has its own expenses and challenges so there is no guarantee that this will help keep a pipe organ builder afloat.

  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    So I can get a Wicks stealth bomber organ? Cool!
  • Hello Carl,
    New Stealth Bomber Organs are running about $372,000,000. If you got the money, we need to talk.

    Scott Wick
    Wicks Organ Company
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,349
    Until now I had no realization that my home parish's purchase of a 7-rank Wicks in about 1960 contributed to the growing Military Industrial Complex.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,550
    It's that 4-foot jet exhaust on the Great that helped pay for the plane. ;-)
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,395
    And I thought it was the 32-foot bomber Bombarde on the Pedal.
  • Wicks Aircraft has what ever you like, bombers or bambardes. But actually most of our airplane parts go into experimental homebuilt airplanes that people (individuals not companies) build themselves in a garage, hangar, or shed.
    During WWII when we were forced to shut down our operations of building organs, my grandfather acquired contracts with the Govt. to build wings for the PT-19 trainer aircraft which were made of spruce wood. Wicks made kneelers and arm rests out of wood for the gunners who were in cramped quarters for hours at a time in the bomber aircraft.
    We did whatever it took to keep some skilled craftsmen busy. While the inspectors were not looking we would ship out an organ made of a bunch of collected used parts to a church in desperate need of a pipe organ.

    Scott Wick
    Wicks Organ Company

    Check out our FACEBOOK for Wicks Organ Company and like us.
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