Tuned Percussions

Tuned and UnTuned Percussions for the Theatre Pipe Organ

by James Grebe updated 10/24/14

We often think of tuned percussions in TPO's as almost an afterthought. The first use of multiple tuned percussions in a single organ was not even in a TPO, but a church organ in the Baptist Temple in Philadelphia in 1911 by Robert Hope-Jones before he joined WurliTzer and before Opus #1.

A little history about JC Deagan, most famous of the percussion makers.
John C Deagan was born in Hector New York in 1853.
While in the navy in the 1870's he studied music at the University of London. In a series of lectures given by Hermann von Helmholtz, he became interested in the science of sound. After his service, he began experiments and his first product was an improvement on the crude glockenspiel. He succeeded transforming the rough pieces of metal into a set of perfectly tuned bells and they soon became standard equipment for orchestra after 1880.
Later he developed many other instruments such as Xylophones, organ chimes, aluminum chimes, aluminum harp, Swiss hand bells, and orchestra bells.
He developed the marimba from a crude novelty item from the jungle into an accepted musical instrument. You may ask the differences of these instruments: A xylophone uses wood bars that has some resonator tubes under it. The marimba also uses wooden bars but a more complete set of metal resonators. The vibraphone uses metal bars with a full set of metal resonators and feature a disk that is inset in the resonators that are rotated by a small motor giving a vibrato sensation to the sound and operated by a pedal. He then developed from that original marimbaphone into the metal bar vibraharp, the drawn tubular cathedral chimes for use in orchestra and organs and then the steel bar Celeste and wood bar harp for pipe organ use.

He made radical improvements on Carillons for churches and public buildings with dampers to eliminate tone intermingling and controlled electrically and playable manually or by use of perforated rolls under the control of a clock.
Beginning in 1898, he gave his full time to the manufacture of his invented instruments with his St. Louis connection. He began his company here in St. Louis as a 1 man operation. He then moved to San Francisco and finally to Chicago. In 1913 he incorporated in 1913 as J.C. Deagan Musical Bells, Inc. In 3 years he dropped the Musical Bells from the company name. He was the company president from then til his death. In 1914 he supplied the US Government with a set of tuning forks for radio and other research. Most of the percussions in organs in the Chicago area featured Deagan percussions due to the closeness of the factory.

A year later he developed the Deagan-o-meter for not only hearing but demonstrating musical pitch. J.C. died on April 287, 1934 and the company was bought by one of his employees, Gilberto Serna who worked for Deagan for 15 years and was trained by it's very own master tuners. Serna went on to establish the Century Mallet Instrument Service and now today is owned by Andreas Bautista. Andreas Bautista tells me that Yamaha has most of what is left of the actual records that were from the original company but that many were just pitched when Deagan died, a sad thing that happened with many old companies.

A few thoughts on the tuning of percussions. At the factory, Deagan percussions are tuned at A-440 pitch at a temperature of 70 degrees F and in equal temperament. The instruments being tuned are placed in the room at least 24 hours before tuning to acclimate them stable. Below A-5 (880 Hz) there is no stretching but above A-5 each higher note is tuned ½ Hz progressively up the scale, so at A-6 it is 6 Hz sharp compared to A-5 and going up to A-7 it is 12 Hz sharp in tune. As in tuning pianos , “stretching the octaves”, is also true in percussions.
One of the facts I have not been able to find out is if WurliTzer or any other TPO manufacturers used Deagan percussions solely or alternated between Deagan and other companies or even made their own tuned percussions

Sources: Henry J. Schulter, 1947, James Grebe Archives, J.C. Deagan Co, National Cyclopdia of American Biography, Andres Bautista

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