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Imported Organs

By Charles Hendrickson
Copyright 1985 The American Guild of Organists. Used with permission.


Pipe organs have been imported into the U.S.  since before it was the U.S.  Early examples in the Spanish Southwest and later in New England brought organ music to the new land before there were organbuilders here to provide instruments using native materials and local craftsmen. 

But by the 19th century, there was a thriving pipe organ business in this country, with many firms capable of building the highest quality instruments of any desired size.  Still, the lure of having an imported organ lingered on, and churches and schools thought they had achieved some status by having a pipe organ from another country. 

Today, there are still pipe organs being imported into the U.S.  but little outcry or recognition of the fact.  Frequent news accounts relate the competition which American firms face with imported steel, textiles, cars, cameras, etc..  but there Is little mention of the feelings of American organbuilders regarding imported organs.  Why the lack of clamor? The American pipe organ industry is not large enough to receive special protections by (or from) the government.  We are not the sort of businessmen and craftsmen who deal out large doses of sour grapes, jingoism or patriotic commercialism.  We exist as members of, end participants in, the free market system of this country. 

For some, there may seem to be a thin line between an importer and a builder.  Indeed, some American builders import parts and pipes from abroad, but still remain American firms, because the majority of the work is done using native materials and craftsmen.  This Is basically different from the foreign firms who retain salesmen and installers in this country for instruments which are wholly or mostly built abroad, or from the firms which may appear to be American, but which contract to have Instruments built in other countries for installation here with an American nameplate.  The situation is complex, with a wide variety of builders, salesmen, representatives, agents, installers, contractors and consultants, and it is little wonder that some clients are unaware of where the organ was actually built and who they have patronized with the purchase. 

In our American open market, the purchaser is free to buy whatever instrument is chosen, but few organ purchasers will know the status of the American organ industry in relation to that in other countries.  Only a handful of American made pipe organs have been exported to Europe in recent years because several European countries make it de facto illegal for an American instrument to be imported.  But European organbuilders are free to export, advertise and sell instruments in this country.  Collectively, American organbuilders have a near zero probability of selling pipe organs in the closed European market, and they have no way of hanging the basic unfairness of such a situation. 

There are other Indignities which accompany this situation.  Many American organbuilders receive requests to provide service and tuning for imported instruments.  Some are gracious enough to do this even after the ballyhoo, publicity and one-upmanship that the imported instrument receives in the media, and the inevitable, but erroneous, statement that the Imported organ was purchased because no American made instrument was available or suitable.  Sadly, many imported organs are quietly sold and replaced after a few years when their highly touted benefits turn out to be inadequate or inappropriate. 

A more disappointing circumstance occurs when the American purchaser of a foreign made organ seeks special favors from the government to have import duties reduced or eliminated, thus depriving U.S.  taxpayers of income that could have been legally collected.  Churches and schools have also made concessions to expedite the importation of instruments which would not have been granted to an American builder.  That the American pipe organ industry survives with such unfair competition is an indication of its vitality and its ability to meet challenges and supply a superior product to the market which It knows best.  It is no longer necessary to buy a foreign made pipe organ in order to achieve the status, quality or size that such an import once provided.

The American pipe organbuilders invite the potential client to thoroughly Investigate the details of pipe organ construction before purchasing an instrument.  The shops of all American firms are open for inspection, and visitors are welcome and encouraged to see the craft of organbuilding firsthand.  Information, assistance in planning an instrument and professional guidance are available as a full service of the American pipe organbuilding community.  A partial list of American pipe organ firms is available from: Associated Pipe Organ Builders of America, 815 Second Avenue, Suite 318, New York, NY, 10017.

 

 

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