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Shuffle: Orrville Organ Maker Crafts Instruments That Stand the Test of Time

Tonal Director Jeffrey Dexter plays a Schantz Organ at Zion Lutheran Church in Wooster. [Amanda Rabinowitz / WKSU]
Tonal Director Jeffrey Dexter plays a Schantz Organ at Zion Lutheran Church in Wooster.

If you’ve attended a church service in Northeast Ohio, chances are you’ve heard a Schantz Organ. The  Orrville company that makes pipe organs is marking 145 years in business and is now under its fourth generation of leadership.

Shuffle: Schantz Organ at 145

Old world qualities

The company has been making the instruments since 1873, when all that surrounded its Orrville business were corn fields. Now, the brick building with its simple Schantz Organ sign in black letters out front is surrounded by residential homes.

And the company itself has changed little since the days when anyone with means had a pipe organ in their home.  "The floor creaks and on certain days when there’s things going on downstairs, you can see light coming up from the cracks in the floor, it’s very old-world," says tonal director Jeffrey Dexter. 

Jeffrey Dexteris Schantz’s vice president and tonal director. He determines how each instrument will sound and knows every step of the pipe-organ making process. The massive building winds through the pipe room, the tonal department, the wood and cabinet shop, the console shopand the assembly room. Every piece is built here -- mostly by hand.

"No two days are the same and no two pipe organs are the same," Dexter said. "Every one that we craft is individually crafted for the client for whom it has been commissioned. It’s not like we’re a widget factory and everyone loves to come and make widgets."

From building to restoring 

As you enter the pipe department, the largest organ pipe – 32 feet -- greets you overhead with a sign that reads, 'The King of Instruments'. And it actually plays, resembling the deep sound of a subwoofer. The smallest pipe is about the size of a pencil.   

Neil Jackson has been soldering pipes by hand for 45 years. 

"It gets a little tedious," Jackson said. "Being a musician I think that’s the thing that draws me and keeps me focused because I know this is going to make beautiful sound when we’re done. I like knowing I’m a part of that."

Since World War II, the company has made 2,300 instruments. But in the last couple decades, demand for new pipe organs has slowed. Now, they make about two or three a year, focusing mostly on restorative work. President Victor Schantz is the fourth generation to run the business. And he says it’s withstood the test of time.

"The challenges facing the church in America; the challenge in facing declining enrollments and the change in musical tastes, but interestingly enough there’s still a core of traditional church music and as long as that exists, we exist."  

The work Schantz does now takes them all over the world. Vice President of Design and Engineering, Eric Gastier, has traveled as far as Australia to design pipe organs.

"Thinking about our instruments on the first Sunday when they’re used in a church and thinking about people seeing them and hearing them for the first time, that gets me excited about projects," he said.

With all the time and detail that goes in to making each organ, they aren’t just built and shipped. Jeffrey Dexter says organs are put together in their three-story assembly room. Then each piece is taken apart, carefully packaged and personally delivered by truck.

Looking to the future

And the company has no plans of winding down. President Victor Schantz’s son now works there – the fifth generation. And they’ve started a makerspace on site, where every month dozens of community members come to learn manufacturing with 3D printers and other technology, in hopes of training the next generation of Schantz Organ builders. Copyright 2018 WKSU. To see more, visit WKSU.