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These men travel the state tuning pipe organs in churches ahead of Easter holiday

Pipe Organ tuning
Posted at 4:44 PM, Apr 13, 2022

OKEMOS, Mich. — Churches across the area like Saint Martha's Parish in Okemos are getting ready for Easter services this weekend. Scott Smith and Joe Granger are helping them with a tune up.

When Scott Smith and Joe Granger are in a church, they want absolute silence.

"We have to have silence,” said Smith, owner of Scott Smith Pipe Organs.

The only acceptable sound is the pipe organ.

Pipe Organ
The pipe organ at Saint Martha's Parish in Okemos.

For Smith, becoming a pipe organ tuner started with a dream.

“I thought I was going to be a world famous organist at some point," Smith said. "That didn’t work out, but the mechanics of the organ always interested me.”

For Granger, his old job was falling flat.

“I would drive by this little shop every day on my way to practice with a bunch of pipes up in the window and I just stopped in one day because I hated what I was doing and I didn’t really have a plan,” said Granger, owner of J. Granger and Associates Pipe Organs.

That lack of a plan turned into a career. He's been working with Smith for fifteen years.

“There has to be a lot of trust, you know? And, in fifteen years if we don’t trust each other, we don’t have trust,” Smith said.

They work together to sharpen the sound with Granger in the pipes and Smith at the keyboard.

“We’ll take a temperament on the whole instrument and then set a temperament on a whole tuning rank and then we’ll tune that rank completely top to bottom and then we’ll tune every other pipe in the organ to those pipes,” Granger said.

Tuning the pipe organ
Scott Smith works at the keyboard while tuning the organ.

Both are in charge of getting each note to hit the right pitch.

“Not just the person doing the tuning, the person sitting at the console has to hear if it’s in tune or not because it may be in tune to me up there, but there are sound phenomena that may not be out in the room just right and he’ll be able to tell me that,” Granger said.

Even something as small as a two degree temperature change can cause them to start over.

“The pipes are fragile and they’re essentially made of solder," Granger said. "They’re very very sensitive to temperature change. Even just breathing on a pipe can take it out of tune.”

Inside the pipe organ
Granger works inside the pipe organ.

But as long a they stay patient the sounds go from off key to beautiful.

“It’s just like getting to know a person," Smith said. "You kind of have to roll with the punches because this is an inanimate object. It’s not out to get you, but it will overcome you if you let it.”

Smith said, even though every day is a workout, they love what they do.

“Many nights when I go home I’m sore or tired or my brain is drained," Smith said. “There are people who are envious of the fact that we love what we do and almost think that we’re a little silly. Well, yes we are in love with what we do, but we found our niche.”

Granger and Smith said they travel 45 days straight before Easter and Christmas tuning pipe organs. They tune between 60 and 65 every year, and both say they plan to keep it up for many more years.

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