An Analytical Approach to Better Pipe Organ Building  
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Bio Sketch of Art Aadland

How does a comprehensive pipe organ builder with high standards for quality come to exist? Was it a goal from his youth? Was it inspired by senior associates that influenced his early life? Was it a passion developed by years of experience and exposure to the art? All of these are true in Art Aadland’s case. Art developed his passion and his commitment to organ building one step at a time, with a genuine love for church music, and for the sound and leadership ability of the finest pipe organs.

Art Aadland was raised in South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota, the fifth of 10 children, the son of a Lutheran minister.

Art’s exposure to organ building began at age five. Art’s father (who studied the art of organ building passionately from his early youth through his years at Augsburg College), did so with the full intent of becoming a professional organ builder. Art Sr. was called into the ministry by a dramatic life threatening experience, but never lost his passion for organ building. He built complete pipe organs for two of the churches he served, each instrument taking up to five years to complete. He shared his love for organ building and some of the foundational principles of organ building woodwork with his five year old son, perhaps thinking that very little of this information would ever rub off.

When Art Jr. turned 6 years old, his father engaged Art, his older brothers and eldest sister in the early design and building steps of a new pipe organ that he proposed to build for Immanual Lutheran Church in Absarokee, Montana. The four brothers and oldest sister soon became involved in the gluing process of a large wooden 16’ pedal violone rank of pipes, with more than 128 linear feet of gluing surface; all of which had to be positioned and clamped in one procedure (for the largest pipe).

Later that year, Art became involved in the construction of spacer mounts for large solenoids, which would move pull-downs and the sliders (of a traditional tracker/slider wind chest) for what would soon become one of the first electro tracker pipe organs ever built.

At age 6 and 7 Art was already helping his father build wooden organ pipes. Many of these were built of solid rock maple, red oak and other select woods to be included in the exposed division wooden flute and principal ranks of pipes.

As the Montana organ grew near completion, Art was often assigned as one of the brothers who would assist in fine fitting of the solenoid pull-down armatures to the solid brass solenoid core frames (as the need was noted), which were hand wound by Art’s oldest brothers (the brass cores of which were built to Art Senior’s specs, by an expert machinist in the congregation. Art and next older brother Steve were often assigned the chores of sanding of certain components. During this period in Art’s life, Art began to get very involved in music and he was often asked to sing in quartets, trios and sing solos with the school choir.

From age 9 through age 13, Art Jr., his father and brothers would do all of the maintenance tasks on this pipe organ, which had a lovely articulate sound, with two un-nicked wooden principal ranks on the exposed division and rich English style diapason and octave principals, flutes and strings on the expressive division. The organ was under girded by the 16’ open violone in the pedal. At school, Art contrived a new method of dividing and multiplying fractions that so impressed the principal of the middle school that he sent the method to text book writers as a much quicker alternative to the one traditionally taught.

As Art turned 14 years of age, the Aadland family moved to RR Westbrook, Minnesota, where Rev. Aadland (Art Sr.) accepted a ministerial call from the Old Westbrook/Highwater Lutheran Parish of rural Westbrook and rural Lamberton, Minnesota. Old Westbrook was the mother church to many of the Norwegian Lutheran churches in southwest Minnesota.

After two years of dedicated ministry, Rev. Aadland agreed to build a 12 rank tracker action pipe organ for Old Westbrook Lutheran. This was a huge step in faith, as neither Pastor Aadland nor the Old Westbrook congregation knew exactly what resources could be tapped in order to pursue such a project, considering Rev. Aadland’s passion for high quality construction to promote sound quality and longevity in a pipe organ.

The Old Westbrook congregation agreed to construct an addition to the church building of approximately 200 square feet with a 16’ ceiling that would house the expressive division of the organ. The congregation also agreed to provide funds for the raw materials and assist Reverend Aadland in the transport of organ pipes to the church. Most of the metal pipes had to be found or located from used resources, as neither Pastor Aadland nor the congregation was in a position to afford the purchase of all new custom made metal pipes from an organ pipe manufacturer.

Several occurrences came together, however, which made possible the acquisition of high integrity used metal pipes which could be restored and upgraded to suit the needs of a low pressure tracker action organ of the type that Pastor Aadland had meticulously designed.

First, the Montana organ, which was a beautifully built one manual eight rank pipe organ, fell into the need for service and some minor repair. This congregation was approached by an individual from Billings who convinced the church council that he had assisted Reverend Aadland in building portions of the organ and would be willing to repair and “improve” the organ.

The “would be” technician from Billings (who knew nothing about the basics of woodworking and much less the fine art of organ building) virtually destroyed the exposed and offset wind-chests by a very crude attempt to install Reisner valve magnets under modified toe holes (retro-drilled at odd angles) that looked like they had been forced through with dull flat bits powered by a hand held drill.

Needless to say the entire organ wind chest system (except for the expressive division slider wind chest) was degraded beyond repair by a person who was trying to make his debut as an organ builder/technician, but had no talent in that direction.

Fortunately, the project was abandoned before any damage was done to the organ pipes, blower or reservoir. The tracker wind chest that had been used for the expressive portion of the organ was as yet intact and undamaged.

Second, portions of pipework from another organ had been stored in a farm near Worthington, Minnesota and were donated to Old Westbrook to furnish the largest six pipes of the exposed open diapason. These pipes required a large amount of restoration.

Third, the Old Westbrook congregation and Pastor Aadland had permission from land owners (some of whom were members of the congregation) to assist Rev. Aadland and sons in getting black walnut logs (left by a logging company, which wanted only the main trunk of each walnut tree) from the Dutch Charley creek valley. At least 30 logs were hauled out of the valley to the parsonage, where they could be cut and processed into boards by Reverend Aadland and sons in the basement of the parsonage and in the two stall garage (which had been turned into Reverend Aadland’s organ building shop).

Rev. Aadland built a 24” band saw especially for the organ project, using in-feed and out-feed tables made of wind mill angle iron and corn picker rollers to feed the heavy logs into the very slow cutting band saw. The 24” wooden wheels of the band saw used truck ball bearings which ran on solid hardwood 2 ¼” shafts, adjustable for tracking at the top and tension at the bottom. All of the walnut boards had to be seasoned for at least 14 months before final processing could be done (final cutting, planning and molding).

The wood from these logs would be used to make three ranks of solid walnut organ pipes for the expressive division of the organ, and would also be used to make portions of the organ console, wind chests and fan frame back-fall key action of the organ.

The Immanual Lutheran Church pipe organ of Absarokee, Montana, having been virtually destroyed in the functional sense by the “would be” organ repairman was sold to the Old Westbrook congregation for about $100.00 (as recalled by Art Jr.). It should also be noted that the Immanual congregation was somewhat consoled to find a congregation that would be able to incorporate the best of the organ into the new tracker action organ in rural Westbrook. The Immanual organ was transported to Old Westbrook Lutheran Church by Juhl Stavnes and another Old Westbrook member.

The eight rank Montana organ thus contributed eight full additional ranks of pipes and one additional unused pedal rank of open flute pipes that Rev. Aadland had built for earlier consideration but left at the Montana church.

The pipes and new pipe making walnut resources from these three locations eventually provided the pipework necessary to outfit the new 12 rank tracker action pipe organ with the needed organ pipes of the proper tonalities.

From age 15 through18, Art was intimately involved with every step of the organ building process. During this period in his life, Art achieved two superior awards in the Region/State instrumental solo contests, was one of only three in Cottonwood County to be selected to sing in the Minnesota All-State Choir (only 70 voices selected from the entire state of over 3 million population), and won numerous superior awards as a vocal soloist.

Art also rated a score of 20 points above the 99th percentile in a national High School physics test, and became a finalist at the International Science Fair in San Francisco for a project in physical chemistry (the design and construction of a high temperature welding torch that was capable of sublimating tungsten).

As with the Old Westbrook organ, Art followed his father’s design instructions to the letter, as he could see that his dad had a very distinct vision for the design of the new organ. Older brother Steve was also heavily involved and there were times when Art Sr. would start Art Jr. and Steve on a project that would continue through the night in order to be completed before the next sunrise.

Brother Andy, now in college, would help lay out the positioning of the largest 8’ diapason pipes during the Christmas break, and helped with preliminary construction of the toe and rack board design of this wing of the exposed division.

Art graduated from Storden High School in 1968, was accepted into Augustana College, and spent a large portion of the summer months memorizing the periodic table, with aspirations majoring in chemistry.

The Old Westbrook organ, though not quite completed was now being used for church services. As Art Jr. enrolled at Augustana, Art was one of the few freshmen to be accepted into the Augustana Concert Choir. As a freshman, Art became one of the Baritone soloists for the choir and had the rare honor at the end of his freshman year to be asked by Dr. Running if he would like to become the new section leader to replace the current section leader who wanted to turn this commitment over to another individual. Art declined this offer as he wanted to pursue extra-curricular studies in church acoustics and other interests.

During the summers of Art’s late high school and early college years, Art apprenticed with Ulm Orgelwerke (then located in Belle Plaine, Minnesota), under the direction of Howard Nolte (a student of the Vogelpohl legacy) and Robert Sperling (former head voicer for the Wicks Organ Company, who would later become the head voicer for the Dobson Organ Company).

Art and Bob Sperling would spend many days and late nights in organ building/voicing tasks and long days on the road in organ service and tuning tasks. Art also worked many hours with Howard Nolte, and learned a great deal from both of these individuals about tonal design, voicing and trends in American organ building. Though the durability of Nolte’s instruments was marginal in certain areas, his knowledge of tonal design was exceptional. Bob Sperling’s voicing ability was second to none.

By his junior year at Augustana, Art achieved many of the core requirements for a music major, but could see that a possible future as an organ builder would also require public speaking and business administration. Art completed his BA degree with a Public Address major, and areas of concentration in advanced vocal music, music theory, chemistry, business administration and observational studies in church acoustics.

During the first semester of Art’s junior year at Augustana, Art met Ellen Lovseth, who sat next to him in the Our Savior’s Adult Choir, as the second row of sopranos shared seating with the baritones. Art and Ellen soon began spending time together as their similarities and differences seemed to provide mutual attraction and things to share with each other.

Ellen, also a preacher’s kid (now only a junior in college) had already been a proficient church organist for over six years and was a fine pianist as well. Between their junior and senior year at Augustana, Art accepted and signed his first organ restoration contract (1971) which in essence founded the Aadland Pipe Organ Co.
Art and Ellen were married during the second semester of their senior year at Augie. Art and Ellen signed their first organ re-building contract with a church in Renville, Minnesota immediately at the end of their senior year at Augie. Ellen got her BA degree at the end of her senior year while Art was three courses short of graduation. Art would complete his BA degree over the next few years, since the building of an organ construction business was very demanding as was generating new contracts along with the birth and care of two children during the first five years of married life.

The first five years of the Aadland Pipe Organ Company were consumed primarily with the restoration and rebuilding of 80 to 100 year old tracker action pipe organs. During this organ restoration/rebuilding period, Art could see both strengths and weaknesses in each instrument, depending on their make and vintage. From these observations, Art and Ellen would soon develop an entire science of organ building with respect to tuning/voicing stability and long term durability.

It was during the second and third year of organ restoration contracts that Art would develop a passion for quality organ construction. His mind was consumed with ideas for high profile improvements in design that could save congregations substantial amounts of revenue in maintenance costs and at the same time improve tuning and voicing retention to reliability levels almost unprecedented. Little did Art and Ellen know at this time that this effort would take about 30 years to achieve to the level that they sought.

The first organ building shop would be in the basement and lean-to addition of a rented house in Sioux Falls, where space was so limited that it was necessary to open the door to the basement bathroom in order to run a long board through the table saw.

From these very humble beginnings in 1971 and 1972, Art and Ellen would graduate to a larger house in Valley Springs, with a large basement for the shop, and in 1974 to an actual shop building behind the house.
In 1991, Art and Ellen purchased one of the former Ford Garage buildings from the Vernon Elefson Estate and have maintained this 98 year old structure as their current shop building. With two street side garage doors for easy loading and unloading, this building has been an excellent organ building shop, and includes 60 feet of property behind it (to the east) for eventual expansion and the addition of a two or three story assembly room.

In 1985 and 1986 Art and Ellen designed and built their first hyper stabilized pipe organ for a church in Boulder, Colorado. This was the first climate resistive pipe organ engineered for high stability.

During the first 14 years of APO existence, Art and Ellen developed a concept of cornet combination reed stop development, using pure tuned mutation ranks, combined with foundation ranks of pipes.

The extent to which Art and Ellen wanted to achieve cohesive sounding combination reed stops would require the very best tuning and voicing stability, both in the wind chests and in the organ pipes themselves.

In the early 1980s, Art and Ellen became acquainted with an organ building enthusiast/organist/English professor (with degrees in both music and literature) from Colorado University by the name of Miles Olson. Olson had been working with computer hardware and software developers in Boulder, Colorado on the application of a programmable switching system, as applied to a pipe organ. He had heard of Art’s interest in combination reed stop development.

Miles suggested to Art that he and his associates could custom design and develop a programmable switching system that would accommodate Art’s concept of dynamic reed synthesis. It would allow unlimited pitch level insertion and removal of appointed upper harmonics (via the actual activation of prescribed sections of organ pipe ranks) and accommodate any combination of ranks and any number of simultaneously inserted rank components.

Art and Ellen, along with Olson and his associates could see that the design and construction of the first computer optimized orchestral pipe organ in existence could become a reality. The term “orchestral” here is used loosely, as the goal was not to duplicate the sound of an orchestra, but rather to produce reed stops of various instrumental and reed stop likenesses and to do it with a much greater degree of precision and cohesiveness than what could have been achieved in the past (using un-stabilized organ pipes and wind chests with traditional levels of stability).

The new orchestral pipe organ was designed in 1985, contracted and built in 1986 and was playing for Christmas of 1986 (although many finishing touches were done in early 1987). Art designed and built the wooden flute pipes, pedal pipes and wind chests with a much higher level of stability than any of the organs that he had serviced and/or observed over the first 20 years of his organ building and rebuilding tenure. Since that time, this organ, which has more upper work stops than many 30 rank organs, has required only one tuning per year; while most comparable unstabilized organs would require three to five tunings per year to achieve the same level and the same constancy of precision with respect to tuning focus and tonal cohesiveness.

Art felt that the unprecedented pursuit of high stability in a pipe organ was a win/win situation, since these concepts could be applied to all forms of traditional instruments, and since redundant stability engineering would also eliminate intra-joint shifting within organ structures which is the number one cause of long term structural deterioration in all types of pipe organs.

The support Art received from his wife Ellen was astounding, as the organ had to be built for about half price to compensate those who developed the programmable computerized switching system.

The support Art received from the computer switching developers was also exceptional, as they contributed all of their work to their church (Atonement Lutheran) so that this congregation could receive the full benefits of the reduced cost. Computer interface hardware designer Bob Mathison not only designed the ciruitry for all of the computer interface boards inside the console and inside the organ chamber itself, but he also updated them, copywrited them to the domain and propriety of Aadland Pipe Organ Co, and provided continued assistance in the full understanding of all functional and operational logic -- imparting all design criteria and functional understanding to Art Aadland and Aadland Pipe Organ Company.

Miles Olson was an emensely dedicated and knowlegeable laison between the computer hardware/software specialists and organ builder Art Aadland. Miles, who was a tenured professor in the English department at CU (Colorado University), also had a degree in music, considerable experience as an organist, and advanced computer skills as well. Additionally, Miles had (in previous years) developed a long term interest in organ building -- to the extent that he made a special effort to take an interest in what Art Aadland and other organ builders were pursueing. But this was only the beginning of his involvement and supportive dedication in the development of the computerized orchestral pipe organ. Miles acted as a facilitator and an amalgamator for organ builder Art Aadland visa-vis computer software and hardware designers Tom Cairy and Bob Mathison.

Additionally, Miles acted as a proactive leader of voluntary work groups, who assisted in the installation of the valve magnets, wiring and other tasks. Miles, along with his dedicated wife Arla, also extended their support to opening their home to provide a place for Art (and occasionally his wife Ellen) to stay in Boulder, while the organ was being installed, regulated, voiced and optimized. Though Art worked extremely long hours (sometimes only being at the Olson's in the middle of the night for sleep), Miles and Arla's support frequently included delicious meals and the most friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Miles and Arla's dedication and support also extended for many years after the organ was completed and included pro-active involvement in other computerized pipe organ projects as well (as the friendship and working relationship between Art, Miles, and Tom (along with their spouses) continues actively to the present). Art sums everything up by declaring that he cannot possibly say enough good things about Miles and his dedicated and capable assistance as a facilitator; and the same would be true of Arla, who has opened her home countless times in support of these development efforts.

In like manner, the computer software designer Tom Cairy (a primary software supervisor for IBM (the largest computer firm in the US), with some assistance from Bob Bundy (another software specialist), spent hundreds of hours of work time in the development and in the refinement of the organ operational software, and worked tirelessly until the system was both reliable and efficient. Art states that like Miles Olson, he cannot say enough good things about Tom Cairy, as Tom's dedication went far beyond the development of the Atonement organ software. Tom and Miles went long distances (driving up to 750 miles one way) to personally execute the software at numerous locations in Minnesota and South Dakota and worked sometimes through the nights to see to it that each software development was properly optimized for each individual instrument. Some of these organ software developments were 10 to 20 years after the development of the Atonement organ software.

One of the large benefits Art and Ellen received from this experience was not only legal rights to the most flexible and adaptable switching system in the industry, but also the fruits of their own effort – that of developing and attaining levels of organ pipe and wind chest stability that could be applied to all traditional designs of instruments as well.

The next major hurdle that Art and Ellen had to cross was the further refinement of climate resistive engineering in their pipe organs to resist the radical seasonal humidity changes germane to the Upper Midwest, where summer humidity levels can exceed 90% R.H. and winter heating season levels can sometimes drop as low as 15% indoors.

In the latter months of 1993, Art and Ellen contracted to build a new organ for a rural church near Balaton, Minnesota, located on the northeast corner of a Minnesota Lake. In this area prevailing winds collect moisture as they flow over the lake producing ultra high levels of humidity during the summer months, contrasted with severely low levels of indoor relative humidity during the winter heating season. Art decided that this scenario would give any stability design the most challenging test as to climate stability.

The organ project was originally contracted as a “rebuild” project, which meant reincorporating nearly all of the pipes from the former instrument into the new organ. However, Art and Ellen decided to build the organ from the bottom up with all new climate resistive engineered wind chests, bellows systems, switching systems and a new climate engineered organ console (approved mid-term by the Sillerud congregation) to produce an organ with eight to twelve times more stability features than the average pipe organ.

All of the new and retrofitted organ pipes were outfitted with advanced stability detailing, and the wind chests and structures were designed with redundant stability engineering. The Sillerud Lutheran Church pipe organ was completed in August of 1994 and has since required only one major tuning each year, in spite of having an aggressive compliment of higher pitched organ stops and treble extensions.

The Sillerud organ, along with numerous organs that have been built since, have all included advanced levels climate resistive and temperature differential control engineering to maximize stability. All have produced encouraging results. Each of the organs have also been prepared for Phase II Expansions to be done some time in the future, contingent on congregational approval.

Two additional computerized orchestral pipe organs have also been built since the construction of the non-computerized Sillerud/Balaton organ, and both of these have included advanced levels of stability engineering as well ---- one at Grace Lutheran Church in Westbrook, Minnesota (completed in February of 1998; and the other at First Lutheran Church in Volga, South Dakota (completed in July of 2002). Both of these instruments are prepared for Phase II expansions, which will include dedicated ranks of organ pipes and high profile casework elegance. Additionally, the organ at New Hope Lutheran Church in Comfrey, Minnesota is prepared to become an orchestral pipe organ as well with a Phase II addition of four new ranks of pipes.

From July 2002 through July of 2006, Art and Ellen put a temporary hold on writing estimates for new organs to allow their new organs in the field to further prove their advanced levels of reliability and reduced maintenance costs. Having done this, and being very pleased with the results, the Aadlands are now preparing formal marketing efforts to bring these instruments to a larger portion of the United States. During the past four years, Art and Ellen have completed numerous upgrades and restorations on several pipe organs in local and regional areas.

Quality of the Aadland pipe organ


was founded in Sioux Falls, SD in 1971 by Art Aadland and Established in Valley Springs, SD in 1972 by Art and Ellen Aadland

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