Deconstructing Skinner Finds Tannenberg: Work, Life, Tools

Date May 24, 2021 19:34

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People incorporate tools in their lives to accomplish tasks that are often determined and constrained by the culture in with they live and work. I wrote a digital story a few years ago that dived deeper into this subject from my perspective as a studio woodworker and project designer. You can find a link to it below.

Ernest M. Skinner and David Tannenberg could not have been more different in their respective approaches to pipe organ design as one lived and worked in a world far different from the other. Tannenberg did not journal his thoughts, ideas, or design concepts, but Skinner did. He authored a book titled "The Modern Organ", and in it he explains his path to develop the organ into a viable substitute for the symphony orchestra. He enlarged pipe scales, increased wind pressures, applied extensive voicing technique, electrified the key action, gave the stop action combination pistons that one could preset, all to make an instrument played by one individual capable of simulating the sounds and dynamic contrast of the symphony orchestra.

I remember thinking as I read Skinner's book that if one deconstructed his improvements, one would arrive at the comparatively primitive work of baroque organ builder Tannenberg. Tannenberg too was influenced by the socio-economic culture and ethos of this time. Both men worked to design and build tools that were needed by those who used and experienced them. To understand what motivated the work of Tannenberg, I began to look at his time and his religious community the Moravians, in an attempt to synthesize a set of major design themes that I could apply to the design of a new instrument.


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When you begin to understand the time in which he worked, the methods he employed, and the elegant solutions he developed to provide an instrument that ideally served its task, the work of David Tannenberg seems anything but primitive as I found when I researched and played his organ built in 1802 at Hebron Lutheran Church in Madison, Virginia this summer.

Posted May 24, 2021 19:34


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