You don’t have to be an organist yourself to design beautiful organs, and Global Organ Group’s Product Design Engineers Goos van Kuilenberg and Dirk Verschoor are proof of that. “I can’t play the organ and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to. But I think it’s wonderful to work together on creating an instrument on which others can express themselves creatively.”
Goos van Kuilenberg started at Johannus in 2013 to do an internship as part of his Industrial Design studies at HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht. And after his internship, he never left. Dirk’s history at Johannus goes back further than that. “Back in the 1980s, I drew my first organs using a pen. Not just the console, but the electronics as well, such as the circuit board and all of the components and wiring diagrams.”
A console with all the bells and whistles
While they can design organs with the best of them, they’ve never got around to actually playing them. Goos: “I love classical music and enjoy listening to Scarlatti or Tchaikovsky, but playing the organ myself? No. As a Product Design Engineer though, I do think the electronic organ is a very interesting product. It’s basically a cabinet, but with all the bells and whistles. I really enjoy placing all of the parts in the most practical way, while also creating an aesthetically pleasing result.
Even though he is familiar with the instrument from his church background, Dirk also comes under the category of “music lover (Bach, minimal music, piano music) but not an organist”. When it comes to drawing organs, he gets completely absorbed. “My father also loved technical drawing and it was one of my favorite subjects at technical school. You’re always creating something. I don’t necessarily see myself as a highly creative artist – instead, I combine technics with creativity. And that creativity enables me to put myself in someone else’s shoes. So even if I’m not a fan of modern myself, I have to be able to design a modern organ.”
Elaborating on what’s already there
The pair tackle the design work with gusto. They create their sketches, plans and ideas in Solidworks, a 3D CAD program. It’s difficult for them to estimate how much time on average they put into working on an organ. Goos: “I’ve been working on four major organs for more than a year now, but not continuously. Sometimes I have to work on another organ in between times, or we have other tasks to do, such as updating the parts library and checking whether incoming parts correspond to our design.” Dirk: “We’re getting more and more custom work too. Some customers draw their own design, and we take a look to see how we can translate and apply that to something like a Monarke organ, for example. Other customers want us to make small adjustments to existing models. Any organ that deviates from the original models has been on the drawing board here at some point.”
Dirk and Goos each have their own way of handling the designs, but the results of their work are unmistakably Global Organ Group products. Goos: “Among other things, I’ve drawn the LiVE III and the LiVE Positive organs for Johannus. I believe the trick is to keep building on what’s already there. You create a variation or do something innovative each time, of course, but you should never take too large a step all at once, or you run the risk of alienating yourself from your audience.”
Construction kit and Plexiglas
Goos regularly visits churches for inspiration, and he looks in particular at how the pipe organs are put together. He also draws inspiration from daily life in a less concrete manner, he says. “For example, I attend the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven every year. You see so many different creative concepts there, and I think you absorb things from that without realizing it. The same goes for IKEA. I love walking around there – it feels like a kind of outing for me. Of course, they don’t have classic furniture there, but their product design is extremely efficient, and that appeals to me. If I ever got to design an organ from scratch, I’d go for that DIY kit style. For instance, I’d design a compact organ that organists could assemble themselves using a hex key, and with electronic components that they could simply click together. The pedalboard construction would be very innovative, with free-floating keys.”
While we’re indulging in a bit of free association, what would Dirk’s fantasy organ look like? “In terms of structure and assembly I’d start with an existing model, but I think it would be incredibly cool to make the console entirely out of Plexiglas. You’d get a transparent organ in which you could see all of the components.”
Numerous standards, requirements and wishes
Things work slightly differently in practice, however. Dirk: “Our designs have to meet all kinds of requirements. We have to comply with numerous standards, such as the BDO (Bund Deutscher Orgelbaumeister) and the AGO (American Guild of Organists) standards. These cover all kinds of things, such as the stop layout, key width, pedal height, dimensions of the organ bench, and so on. On top of that, we also need to consider the wishes of the Global Organ Group management or new insights from our Research & Development department. It’s up to us to pull all of that together effectively.”
Goos: “You have to respect those standards as a designer, of course...” Dirk: “For example, there’s the Hinsz organ in the Bovenkerk in Kampen. At some point, a fourth manual has been built beneath the three existing manuals. According to the standards, it’s seven centimeters too low. This is immediately noticeable because when you play the pedals, you’re constantly bumping against the manual with your knees.” Goos: “Yes, they’re definitely there for a reason. But at the same time, you want to make an organ that is distinctively a Johannus instrument. Creating that recognizability is one of the challenges we’re up against.”
The most beautiful organ
In terms of design, which of the Johannus organs do Dirk and Goos think is the most beautiful? “It’s difficult to choose,” says Dirk. “Two designs come to mind. The first is the terrace console in our Feike Asma Hall, inspired by the style of renowned organ builder Cavaillé-Coll. This console has a majestic feel about it; when you play this organ, you really feel that you’re sitting at a console. The second design that comes to mind is our American Classic console. It’s very American with its sturdy appearance, but it also has many beautiful details.
For Goos, the Studio 150 is in top place. “It’s a very simple console, but it has everything you need in order to play seriously. Except for a couple of parts, the console is built from one type of sheet material, right down to the keyboard blocks. The high-quality melamine finish gives it a sleek, yet natural look. There are no frills at all on this console, but the diagonal lines in the keyboard support give it a more playful appearance while being sturdy in construction. The striking black setzer slats with a gold Johannus logo plat are a real eye-catcher and boost the organ’s appearance.