©Lin Yangchen, Titulaire

The Auferstehungsorgel (Resurrection Organ) is so named because it breathes life into pipes that have lain silent for many years. It is the first, and at the time of its inception, the only known organ in high-rise public housing in Singapore.

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. This is the only extant instrument by Navaratnam, who served his apprenticeship at Emil Hammer Orgelbau in Hemmingen.

A forest of pipes in their Pythagorean beauty. Unlike the shiny façade pipes that give most modern instruments a newly manufactured look, the dull common metal gives the Auferstehungsorgel the aura of a mediæval organ.

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 at least 12 distinct varieties are spread over two stops. The 4′ Flute begins with stopped maple, followed by pine 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 (above). These are effectively a Gaussian-distributed mutation that makes the plenum shine like tin. 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 centre) is known to be an original from Singapore's oldest extant organ, the 1912 Bevington at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. This pipe was among several fatigued pipes replaced by Navaratnam during his restoration of that organ.

This keyboard was saved by Navaratnam from the 1931 organ at the Victoria Concert Hall and taken care of by the author for more than 10 years before its rebirth on the Auferstehungsorgel.

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 completely mechanical tracker action allows the harmonic transients of each pipe to be nuanced by the fingers, transforming the musical instrument into a living organism.

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 reverberant acoustics 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.

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

Bundling up the bottom octave for the journey to their new home. The wood pipes were made and voiced by Navaratnam, the first three of maple and the rest of softer pine, with sheepskin lining for the stoppers.

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

Installing the Piccolo 2′.

Tuning the organ. In the centre of the windchest are Klais Orgelbau Prinzipal 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 to fill in missing pitches in the 4′ rank. They have much taller feet than the other pipes, so their elegant contoured flues tower above the front pipes. 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 façade of the Großorgel in the Westempore at St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Vienna, where the author experienced his organological awakening in 1997.

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

Specification of the Auferstehungsorgel

Robert Navaratnam 2021
inaugurated by Robert Navaratnam with two improvisations on 16 November 2021

Flute 4′
complete rank (no borrowing) missing two highest notes

Tuning scrolls in the middle register of the 4′.

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.

Piccolo 2′
complete rank (no borrowing)

All except the highest octave of the 2′ is constituted by two varieties (one shown) of lightly tapered gemshorn-principals of German origin and unknown provenance forged in an alloy of approximately 60% lead and 40% tin. Nicked languids dampen the attack transients, lowered cut-ups produce more high-frequency harmonics, and moderately large ears stabilize speech.

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, possibly because of insufficient wind pressure, so the author replaced it with a Zimbel (different from those above) given to him by Sauer Orgelbau in October 2001. The mouths of the three pipes above are at different heights owing to feet of different lengths.

120 pipes
tuned in stochastic temperament
pipe morphometry and metallurgy data

slider windchest with mechanical stop action

mechanical tracker action
Laukhuff metal trackers

case of pine and stained plywood with traditional slotted brass screws

two Laukhuff Ventola electric blowers
made in West Germany
wind pressure 50 mm

Live recordings

[coming soon]

The Gustav-Mahler-Philharmonie of the conservatory of music.

The soaring pipes of the Auferstehungsorgel.
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