©Lin Yangchen, Titulaire

The Auferstehungsorgel (Resurrection Organ) is so named because it breathes life into pipes that have lain silent for many years. The musical and architectural vision for the instrument was born out of discussions between the author and Singapore’s foremost organ builder, Robert Navaratnam, and realized by the latter.

It is the only organ in high-rise public housing in Singapore. And it is one of two in the world that contain pipes made by Navaratnam (see details of wood pipes below), who served his apprenticeship at Emil Hammer Orgelbau in Hemmingen, West Germany.

A forest of pipes in their Pythagorean beauty. The asymmetric case, shaped naturally by the musical scale like the ancient Byzantine positive, is unique in Singapore. Unlike the shiny façade pipes that give most modern instruments a newly manufactured look, the common-metal pipes of the Auferstehungsorgel give it the aura of a mediæval organ. Such pipes are sometimes painted to brighten them, but they lose the patina of real metal.

The Auferstehungsorgel has a unique tonal character arising from a mix of pipes of disparate vintages and varied tonal styles even within a stop; Navaratnam is a master at improvising with available materials. Pipes of 15 distinct varieties by at least six makers are spread over two stops, including wood pipes handcrafted by Navaratnam and metal pipes spanning almost the entire range of alloy compositions from high lead through spotted metal to high tin. The 4′ Flute begins with two varieties of wood and two varieties of open metal, and ends with stubby gemshorns. The 2′ Piccolo ascends with two varieties of gemshorn, morphing into slender straight-sided tubules of varying metallurgical compositions in the highest reaches (sound of highest pipe in the organ, visible above at extreme right). These are effectively a Gaussian-distributed mutation that makes the plenum shine like tin. Despite their names, the stops are scaled (and sound) more like principals than flutes (see morphometric analysis). The organ is tuned in what the author calls stochastic temperament, with natural variations. The tuning also shifts slightly as the blowers warm up gradually and deliver warmer air to the pipes. Instead of the homogeneous blend of conventionally voiced stops, a piquant, spicy, living timbre bursts forth that reminds the author of the culture, cuisine and natural beauty of tropical Southeast Asia. This concept was inspired by the pre-restoration organ in the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in Singapore, which was the magnum opus of Navaratnam’s work in a similar spirit.

The instrument also contains material of historical and cultural importance. One pipe (above, first front-facing metal pipe to the left of wood pipes) is known to be an original from Singapore's oldest extant organ, the 1912 Bevington at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. This pipe (sound recording) was among several fatigued pipes replaced by Navaratnam during his restoration of that organ. Beside the Bevington pipe is a Walker & Taylor principal of spotted metal from 1925. Also see the historic keyboard below.

In December 2021, musician and amateur organ builder Jerry Ng made two experimental pipes of his 笛 (Bamboo Flute) stop (construction details | microscopy | sound recording | acoustical analysis) for the hitherto vacant B7 and C8 at the top of the Flute 4′. These were the smallest and most difficult pipes Ng had made to date, and the first operational bamboo organ pipes in Singapore. Ng's artistic style can be seen in the radial pattern made using a wood burner and in the handpainted “Golden Triangle” upper lip with its bold outline.

Admission of wind to the pipes is controlled by a primeval hand-actuated slider windchest that, unlike solid-state electronics, connects the player viscerally with the pipes in his care. The stop names were handwritten by Navaratnam with a manuscript pen.

The keyboard began its life in 1931 in the great organ of the Victoria Memorial Hall, now Victoria Concert Hall. It played in the grand inaugural concert in 1932, lived through the looting of the organ during the Japanese occupation, witnessed the founding of the People's Action Party in 1954, spent several years playing at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, and was retired into the care of the author for more than 10 years before its rebirth on the Auferstehungsorgel. The white keys are laminated with a French variety of celluloid that has fine lines in it to emulate ivory, with rivets to prevent warping in the tropical humidity. Celluloid was used in everything from motion picture film to dolls to ping pong balls.

The completely mechanical tracker action allows the fingers to feel each pipe and vice versa, transforming the musical instrument into a living organism. See scientific analyses by Woolley (2012) and Asutay (2013).

The organ has a spontaneous character that inspires an improvisatory style of music-making and intensifies the atmosphere of a live performance. The instrument's voice is further enhanced by the 2.5-second reverberation of the Gustav-Mahler-Philharmonie in the author's Conservatory of Music with its five-metre stairwell, concrete walls and ceramic floor and no fabric to deaden the sound. If the doors and windows are opened, the organ resounds through the neighbourhood like the Heldenorgel of Tyrol in Austria.

Flying over the spectacular pipework of the Auferstehungsorgel.

Genesis of the Auferstehungsorgel

Birthplace of the Auferstehungsorgel.

Separating the pipe rack from the toe board. Hidden under the surface of the toe board is a convoluted system of conduits that conduct air from the key pallets to the respective pipe toes. The smaller the organ, the harder it is to find the optimal configuration for so many pipes in a confined space. It took Navaratnam several days to carve through solid pine by hand, test every pipe and patch recalcitrant leaks that sprang up in unexpected places. The strong and flexible wind conductors at the back are made of paper with an aluminium foil core.

Parts of the slider windchest and the interior of the pallet box.
Photos: Robert Navaratnam

Road trip with the organ on a Comfort MaxiCab.

The Piccolo 2′ and the back panel of the case in the lift.

Installing the Piccolo 2′.

Coca Cola cans make good tuning collars as they are easy to roll into shape.

In the Auferstehungsorgel, pipes in the middle to upper part of the range are arranged in waves rather than a straight line. Practical reasons aside, they evoke the monumental 32-foot façade of the Riesenorgel (giant organ) in the Westempore at St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Vienna, where the author experienced his organological awakening on a cold winter's night in 1997.

Specification of the Auferstehungsorgel

The only indication of the 21st-century vintage of this instrument is Navaratnam’s nameplate typeset in Microsoft Calibri, complete with the fuzziness and digital aliasing of the modern inkjet printer, and affixed with peel-off adhesive.

inaugurated by Robert Navaratnam with three improvisations on 16 November 2021

Flute 4′
complete independent rank (no borrowing)

Piccolo 2′
complete independent rank (no borrowing)

Tibetan Contrabombarde 32′
D2 only
blown by mouth

Bundling up the bottom octave for the journey to their new home. The wood pipes were made and voiced by Navaratnam (see morphometric analysis), the first three and last of maple, a hardwood, and the rest of pine, a softwood, with sheepskin lining for the stoppers. The only other pipes made by Navaratnam are the Gedackt 8′ in the Rückpositiv of the organ in the Evangelisch-lutherische St. Katharinen-Kirche zu Windheim in Germany, which he made for his organ building final exam.

The three heavy maples at the bottom of the 4′ are among the tallest pipes that reach the zenith of the Auferstehungsorgel case.

The “Navaratnam Step” on the knife-edge ridge to the summit.

The Great Hall of the Pipes.

Slots and tuning scrolls in the second octave of the 4′. Slots are much more than a means of tuning; Aristide Cavaillé-Coll used them to create the distinctive sound of his legendary Montre. See morphometric analysis and discussion.

In the centre of the 4′ are Klais pipes gifted to the author by the firm's representative Mr Schumacher at 10:30 GMT on 24 April 2002 at the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore. They were shortened slightly to fill in missing pitches in the rank. They have much taller feet than the other pipes, so their tall and elegant contoured mouths tower above the front pipes. It is difficult to tell without precise measurements whether the labia are hyperbolic or parabolic sections of the pipe foot cones.

The Klais pipes were part of a Principal 8′ as indicated by the stamped letters “Princ 8” on the back. Separate dies in different typefaces were apparently used for the stop name and pitch. The colour markings were added by Navaratnam. See morphometric analysis for scaling and voicing details, and microscopical analysis of the tin-lead alloy.

The top of the 4′ is the new home for these battle-hardened cone-tuned Klais flues that previously served a tour of duty in a lofty mutation stop near the roof of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. These rather curious pipes have super-fat scaling and tiny toe holes. The A7 (upper right) stopped speaking one day; amateur organ builder Jerry Ng coaxed it back to life by straightening the upper lip and pulling it outwards with forceps.

For experimental purposes, the author substituted one of the pipes with a Cornett pipe (see morphometric analysis) from a small collection of old pipes sent to him by Sauer Orgelbau in October 2001. The Cornett is a solo mixture whose pipes were voiced as such. It was meant to imitate the renaissance-era cornet, a wooden instrument that sounded like a cross between an oboe and a trumpet.

All except the highest octave of the 2′ is constituted by two intermixed varieties, distinguished by their roman and bayleaf mouths, of lightly tapered flute-principal hybrids of unknown provenance forged in an alloy thought to be approximately 60% lead and 40% tin. Moderately large ears on the lower pipes stabilize the attack transient, strengthen the fundamental and weaken the overtones (Sakamoto et al. 2005). The languid nicking serves several purposes; see morphometric analysis for detailed discussion. The cut-ups were lowered at some point in the past, possibly to counter some of the characteristics above by encouraging overtone development.

Four pipes of unknown provenance at the top of the 2′ bear the stamped letters zimb for Zimbel, from their previous lives in a brilliant North German-style mixture. The close-up shows the microscopic grain structure of the tin-lead alloy.

The top B of the 2′ stopped speaking for unknown reasons, so the author replaced it with a Zimbel (centre, different from the Zimbel mentioned earlier; sound recording) from Sauer. The mouths of the three pipes above are at different heights owing to feet of different lengths.

The single D2 pipe of the Tibetan Contrabombarde 32′ (sound recording | acoustical analysis) came from the Trombone in the 1931 Hill, Norman & Beard organ at the Victoria Concert Hall. Navaratnam salvaged the stop and installed it in the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in 1993, where it played for about 10 years. The author bestowed on it the nickname Prodigious Fart.

total 122 pipes
tuned in stochastic temperament
pipe morphometry and materials data

pipes made by
Robert Navaratnam
Jerry Ng
Klais Orgelbau
Sauer Orgelbau
Bevington & Sons
Walker & Taylor

slider windchest with mechanical stop action

mechanical tracker action
Laukhuff metal trackers

case of pine and stained plywood with traditional slotted brass screws

The two Laukhuff Ventola blowers made in West Germany are of the centrifugal compressor design. Each delivers a cubic metre of air every minute at a wind pressure of 48 mm (1.9″) of water as measured at the toe board. They take about six seconds to spool up to takeoff thrust, humming with a soothing pink noise (blower noise in surround sound) as revealed by a fast Fourier transform of the sound pressure time series.

The lower level of the Gustav-Mahler-Philharmonie of the Conservatory of Music.

The soaring pipes of the Auferstehungsorgel.

Limited edition print. Illuminated from the author's Hua Mulan Dining Room by a woven bamboo shaded 2700-kelvin light-emitting diode of colour rendering index exceeding 90.


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