The wonderful sound of Johannus organs can be heard all over the world, from America to Australia, and from Sweden to South Africa. Every single one of these many thousands of organs was devised, developed and built in the heart of the Netherlands. Through a series of interviews, we’re going to introduce you to the people behind these wonderful organs – the people who, along with their colleagues, make up Johannus. Please allow us to introduce final tester Cornelis Elzerman.
Final tester Cornelis Elzerman is the last employee to touch a Johannus organ before it’s packaged up and sent out into the world. “You have to be very focused to do this work. The organs have to be absolutely flawless when they leave us – fixing a fault when the instrument is with a foreign customer costs a lot of time, energy and frustration.”
Every day, Cornelis works through a checklist of 20 main points divided into dozens of subcategories. Has the organ been built as ordered/commissioned by the customer? Are all of the components correctly assembled and connected? Does the organ operate at the correct mains voltage and have the appropriate power plug for the destination country? Does the organ run on the latest software version? Are the stop names all correct? Is the spelling correct? Does the stop text match the sound that the organ produces? Do all the stops work in combination with the couplers, tremulant and with the volume, and do all the other possible function combinations also work properly? Are all MIDI and audio inputs and outputs assembled, connected and working? Are any parts or functions missing?
Each organ comes to the “final station” where Cornelis subjects it to an extraordinarily thorough inspection. “You have to be very focused to do this work, particularly when it comes to listening to the organ to determine whether it’s producing the right sounds for specific stops. Are you seeing what you hear, and hearing what you see? For example, the number of organ stops is determined by the model, but there are a number of organs that are adapted in accordance with their country of destination.
This requires additional vigilance. My checklist shows the style in which the organ has to be delivered. Is it an organ in the German-Baroque style, intended for our eastern neighbors, or is the organ headed for France, and in the French-Symphonic style? An organ destined for Germany has a Quintatön 8’ in a particular position, while the same model intended for France has a Gambé 8’ in that position. Both are soft stops, but they are very distinctive, each one having its own characteristic sound. I know exactly how a Quintatön 8’ and a Gambé 8’ should sound on these organs, so they have to be right.”
Better to test too often than too little
For an outsider this may all seem a little excessive, but the final test is incredibly important, says Cornelis. “Imagine that an organ is delivered to a customer in Africa or Asia, and a few weeks later it malfunctions. Apart from the fact that this is annoying for the customer, it can also take hours or even days to fix the defect.”
And as Cornelis likes to say, that’s why it’s better to test too often than too little. “Sometimes you discover the strangest things. A while ago, there was an organ that malfunctioned if you held down a pedal key while switching on the organ. Incidentally, we also discover what we call ‘ghost keys’. In this case, when you press a certain combination of keys, the organ produces very odd sounds. These are unique things that you’ll only find by carrying out extensive checks. Most of the defects can be easily fixed with a small software adjustment.”
How much time does Cornelis devote to each organ? “It’s difficult to say. All of our organs are inspected by two final testers. An entry-level organ might take around an hour and a half, while a larger organ will take longer. However, it also depends on the number and nature of abnormalities you find.”
Organ building is a team effort
If everyone in the production chain does their work as well as possible, Cornelis and the other final testers have a purely monitoring role. “However,” says Cornelis, “Because organs are built by humans, things sometimes go wrong. I like that each one of us, in fulfilling our own role, contributes to the final product. Building organs is truly a team effort. All kinds of knowledge, skill and experience are united in this one instrument.”
Every now and again, a customer might come to Johannus to be present at the final test. Cornelis understands this completely. “For some customers it can be a huge investment, so it’s only natural that they might want to be there at the inspection. For the organist, it’s often the first opportunity to ‘meet’ their new instrument. Personally, I really enjoy having this contact with the end user. It enhances the feeling or emotion that comes with the work you do, because you and your customer share a passion for the organ.”
The organ as a unifying factor
And that’s exactly why Cornelis has so enjoyed working at Johannus – now part of the Global Organ Group – for the past twenty years. “The organ is the factor that unites all of the people who come here. Whether they are dealers, colleagues, customers attending open factory days or young organists participating in the Feike Asma Concours, they all love the organ. I also understand their language very well. I accompany the congregational singing on Sundays, and as a child I enjoyed going to organ concerts by Klaas Jan Mulder, among others. I learnt to play the organ from Peter Eilander. Twice per week, I took the bus from Barneveld to Twello. The journey was two hours there and two hours back, with an hour in between for the lesson.
This is partly why Cornelis really enjoys meeting up and coming talents at the annual Feike Asma Concours, which he also helped to organize for many years. “You see little kids coming along with their older brother. They’re looking around and are deeply impressed by everything they see and hear. And then a few years later you come across those guys again, only now they’re participating themselves. We sometimes hear from former participants who have gone on to the conservatory and are now professional organists. I think it’s great that we might have played some small role in their development.”