February 2019 TAO Feature Article

Muller Pipe Organ Company Centennial
John W. Muller
Mark A. Muller
Scott G. Hayes
Website

First Generation

Joseph (1855–1911). Joseph Muller emigrated from Germany as a young man and settled in the Boston area. Details of his life are limited, but we know he was employed as a cabinetmaker by the Emerson Piano Company and then by Ernest Skinner.

Second Generation

Emerson Piano Company, ca. 1900 (Joseph Muller third from right)

Henry (1890–1960). Henry William Muller was a precocious lad, completing eight years of schooling in just six years. His initiation into a gang of unruly lads (whose goal was to steal the night stick of the local beat cop) proved to be intolerable for his father, so Joseph secured the 15-year-old an apprenticeship with E.M. Skinner. Henry’s first job was sweeping floors, but he subsequently assisted in the reed department and learned to tune. His good ear afforded him the chance to travel with Skinner on tonal finishing projects. Eventually Henry earned the position of installation foreman and helped install some of the most famous Skinner organs of the time, including those at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and St. Thomas Church, both in New York City.

Henry enjoyed his job with Skinner, but being months on the road was taking its toll. In 1918, he was working on the Skinner organ at Trinity Episcopal Church, Toledo, Ohio, when Hans Steinmeyer, also a former Skinner apprentice, offered to sell his service company to Muller. Hans, son of the German organbuilder of the same name, was needed to manage his family’s company and convinced Henry to buy the service business with the promise that he could earn 15 dollars a week!

Henry decided it was a good opportunity. He married his sweetheart and they moved to Toledo. He established his new company as the H.W. Muller Pipe Organ Company. In the years that followed, several Skinner organs were installed in Toledo and the surrounding areas. H.W. was most proud of the 76-rank instrument at Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral. (Muller has been chosen to restore this instrument pending successful completion of fundraising.) Installed in 1931, Martin George Becker performed the tonal finishing with Henry’s assistance and they remained friends following the project. After his retirement, Mr. Becker sent his voicing tools to Muller’s son Robert, and many are still in use today.

Third Generation

Emerson factory interior (Joseph Muller, center)

Bob (1922–1995) and Bill (1924–1975). Henry’s sons Robert (“Bob”) and William (“Bill”) joined the company after serving in World War II, and the name was changed to H.W. Muller & Sons Pipe Organs. When Skinner became a consultant for Schantz Organ Company (1947–1948), Muller became affiliated with the company. This association continued for many years, with Bob as a sales representative in ten counties of northwestern Ohio, and Bill as a tonal finisher for sales made through Muller and the factory.

In 1957, Muller & Sons purchased a workshop and moved operations out of H.W.’s residence and garage. The service company’s expansion into rebuilds and renovations was significant by the time of Henry’s death in 1960 (Skinner coincidentally died the same year). At that time, a contract was signed with Trinity Episcopal Church of Toledo for releathering and augmentation of that early Skinner instrument. Work in subsequent years included releathering projects of other area Skinner organs, plus instruments of other builders. In 1975, the company name was changed to Muller Pipe Organ Company following Bill Muller’s premature passing.

Fourth Generation

Mark (b. 1954) and John (b. 1957). Bob’s sons Mark and John joined the company during the mid to late 1970s. The first major project under their direction was completed in the late 1980s at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Jackson, Mich. This 1926 Skinner had been significantly altered by another company in 1957, and only 15 ranks were extant. Mark worked closely with organist-consultant James R. Metzler to formulate a new specification that would be compatible with the earlier work of Skinner but with a more modern, American Classic focus.

Mark’s association with Metzler repeated about ten years later at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Little Rock, Ark. With this instrument, Metzler sought to recreate the famous rebuilding of the Skinner at All Saints Episcopal Church, Worcester, Mass. Muller completed installation of the IV/82 organ in 1999. Still the company’s largest instrument to date, the project’s tonal finishing was directed by David R. Beck, who began his career with Muller. The eclectic Americanism of the Little Rock instrument signaled to the wider community Muller’s capabilities as a builder of fine instruments.

Fifth Generation

Unknown Organ Intallation (Henry Muller, back row, middle)

Jack (b. 1980). While Mark continued to operate in the original Muller territory, John spearheaded the company’s expansion and relocation of its factory, now situated about 25 miles northeast of Columbus in the small farming community of  Croton, Ohio (Hartford Village). Here, Muller assembled a strong team of organists and craftsmen at the factory. Organist Stan Osborn joined the staff full time in the mid-1990s and has become especially skilled with electronics. Continuing family tradition, John’s son Jack joined the firm in 2001 as a cabinetmaker and now is shop foreman and principal architect. Organist Scott Hayes joined the staff full time in 2002, honed his skills as a tuner and voicer, and became tonal director of the company. In collaboration with Mark Muller, this team undertook new instruments, large- and small-scale restorations and renovations, and provided high-quality service work.

New instruments during this era included the IV/77 organ for First (Park) Congregational Church of Grand Rapids, Mich. Upon inspection of the existing instrument, we had found an instrument too large for the available space, making tuning and maintenance difficult, if not impossible. A hallmark and guiding principle of Muller’s work has always been accessibility and ease of maintenance, so we recommended the complete redesign and replacement of the chancel organ. Using the existing footprint (including casework designed by Ralph Adams Cram), the new tonal design incorporated the highest-quality pipework of the former instrument, including some 1930 Skinner stops from the original organ, and created a unique organ in the American Classic scheme. All components of the organ are now easy to access for maintenance, and the organ speaks with a clear voice throughout the large space.

Other projects during this time included significant renovations. The first project voiced by Scott Hayes was the 1950 Möller at First English Lutheran Church in Mansfield, Ohio. The new tonal design integrated the best existing pipework with new, appropriately voiced and scaled pipework. The console was completely renovated and retrofitted with hand-carved inlays of the Luther Rose.

Muller also became known for high-quality restorations. The opportunity to tonally restore the 1902 William Schuelke organ for St. Mary Church in the German Village neighborhood of Columbus resulted in the rediscovery of this important instrument. After years of neglect, this II/38 instrument had been widely disparaged by local organists. John Muller closely examined the pipework and determined that after restoration, the organ’s pipes would sing as they had not for generations.

Unknown installation, ca. 1970 (Bob Muller, middle)

In 2006, Muller was commissioned to reconstruct Skinner Organ Company’s Opus 647, built in 1927 for Morley Music Hall at Lake Erie College, Painesville, Ohio. This organ was in a serious state of disrepair, having been through a series of renovations that retained only about half of its original voices. Muller suggested returning the organ to its original specification, using as many reclaimed Skinner stops as possible plus newly constructed replicated pipework where necessary. Scott Hayes visited many Skinner and Aeolian-Skinner organs, and his extensive research influences Muller’s instruments to this day.

During this time, Jack Muller became known for his skill as a designer and cabinetmaker, and he has developed the capabilities of the woodshop into one of the finest in the country. Now joined by Jesse Braswell and Brad Ashbrook, woodshop production includes consoles and casework, plus windchests and other components.

The opportunity to showcase our craftsmen presented itself when Muller was commissioned to build a III/54 organ for St. Paul the Apostle Church of Westerville, Ohio. Dedicated in 2014, this organ was the culmination of nearly a decade of work on the part of St. Paul Church, and for over a year became the focus of the Muller staff. Following the tenets of our company, the instrument is a creation of visual beauty, tonal integrity, and mechanical reliability.

Muller continues to expand and perform pipe organ projects of all types, from single stop additions to grand new instruments. Organist Luke Tegtmeier joined the firm in 2015 as a tonal associate and is now also our service manager. Mike Hric joined the staff in 2017 and is cross-training in several areas. Recent projects include the new II/11 instrument for St. Francis de Sales Church, Beckley, W. Va., the restoration of the Tellers at St. George Catholic Church, Erie, Pa., and the renovation and relocation of several instruments, including a Schantz for Dublin Presbyterian Church, Dublin, Ohio. Muller has been chosen for several significant projects pending completion of fundraising, and has begun construction of a new II/22 organ for St. Patrick Church, Columbus, Ohio.

As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of our company and our five-generation heritage, we pause to remember and appreciate our forebears who instilled in us the importance of following traditional organbuilding practices. We are thankful for our current associates who embrace this tradition while integrating technological advances to achieve the highest possible quality in workmanship. Over the years, we have thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated collaborating with many fine musicians, clergy, and committee members. As we begin the next century, we are committed to crafting and restoring instruments with uncompromising attention to detail, answering the needs of those whose love for pipe organs remains as strong as ever.

John W. Muller
Mark A. Muller
Scott G. Hayes

Company website

Cover photos (clockwise from top left): Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Ft. Wayne, Ind. (III/38); St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, Westerville, Ohio (III/54); Morley Music Hall/Lake Erie College, Painesville, Ohio (IV/64); St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, Beckley, W.Va. (II/11); First (Park) Congregational Church, Grand Rapids, Mich. (IV/77); St. Joan of Arc Parish, Toledo, Ohio (facade: phase I); Trinity Episcopal Parish, Little Rock, Ark. (IV/82); St. Mary’s Church, Columbus, Ohio (II/38)

During the St. John the Divine installation, Henry grew weary of walking down the many steps from the organ chamber to the main floor. He decided to “ride” the block and fall (used to hoist parts) down to the main floor. He jumped out and grabbed the rope, realizing too late that nothing was attached at the bottom as a counterbalance. Quick thinking and brute strength were the only things that saved him as he grabbed the other rope to stop his descent before hitting the ground rather abruptly, as the story was told!

Henry maintained his connection to Skinner long after 1919. Skinner would often make the trip to Toledo to service, with Henry’s assistance, the 1916 organ at the home of Ernest Tiedke (1872–1950). A vivid memory from Bob’s youth was tagging along with his dad, then being ushered out of the kitchen after the tuning was done, and as a serious game of pinochle commenced among both Ernests and Henry.

One chilly morning in the mid-1970s, the work vans were warming up while the crew enjoyed a cup of coffee. Suddenly, they heard a door slam and one of the vans backing out. Realizing that everyone was still in the shop, Bob ran out, hopped into the remaining van and followed “in hot pursuit.” He chased the stolen vehicle to the local shopping mall (all the while dodging items that the thief threw out of the van to try to dissuade him), at which point the thief jumped out of the van and headed into the mall. Bob followed. (In the meantime, the stolen van, which had not been put into park, continued between two rows of parked cars, over a curb, and across several lanes of traffic without running into anything, until it was stopped by an ambulance driver who was taking a breakfast break in the mall parking lot.) A local radio station was broadcasting from the mall and the thief had stolen the van in hopes of getting a chance to talk on the air. Once inside the mall, Bob caught the thief and pinned him down on the floor with a knee until security arrived. As it turned out, the thief was easy to spot because he was naked: the shop was located across from the state psychiatric hospital and the thief was a patient on his way to shower when he saw the vans and his opportunity—and the chase was on!

Dublin Presbyterian Church, Dublin Ohio (II/16)

St. George Catholic Church, Erie Pennsylvania (II/23)

First United Methodist Church , London, Ohio (III/28)

 

Photography: Jesse Braswell and Steven M. Elbert

Speak Your Mind

*