Forty years ago, the Lutheran Church of Honolulu sought to revitalize its music program, beginning with the purchase of a mechanical action organ — a tracker organ — altogether unique and unprecedented in Hawaii, in a classic design made by one of the leading master organbuilders, Rudolf von Beckerath of Hamburg, Germany. It turned out to be the last organ he personally voiced and supervised in the United States.
Carol Langner, the bulletin board artist, is preparing a special display of LCH’s organ in the church’s courtyard for next weekend’s 40th anniversary, May 24th at 5:00 pm. She thought the average person in the congregation doesn’t know what a tracker organ is, and what makes it unique.
A tracker organ is one in which there is a mechanical link between the keyboard and the pipes. The keyboards (called manuals) and the pedal board are directly linked to the wooden trackers that connect to the windchests which play the notes. For this reason, the tracker organ affords the player more responsiveness and sensitivity to phrasing and articulation in contrast to an electro-pneumatic instrument in which there are electrical relays between the keyboard and the pipes.
Just last month, curator John P. Santoianni published a short video of the Duke University Chapel tracker organ built by the Flentrop firm, and it is a wonderful presentation on what a tracker organ is, called “How an Organ Makes Music.”
There are tracker organs which are hundreds of years old and are still playable. Historic European organs from as early as the 1400s are examples of the tracker’s longevity. The Beckerath organ at LCH is the largest tracker organ in Hawaii and will serve the congregation for generations to come.
I’m a tracker backer!