The Face of Johannus, ep. 5: Jelmer is a walking encyclopedia for customers and dealers around the world
Perhaps a Monarke recently delivered to America has suffered a lightning strike. Or the pedal of a thirty-year-old Johannus down the road has given up the ghost after years of faithful service. The Global Organ Group’s Aftersales Engineer Jelmer Slotegraaf hangs up after a call from an overseas dealer (“Good evening, bye-bye!”) and then takes a call from a local private customer (“Goedemorgen, zegt u het maar”).
He recently had a customer on the phone about a 42-year-old, two-manual Opus 6N – built in the year that Jelmer was born. The customer wanted a user manual, and naturally, he had one. “We have the documentation for all the organs we’ve ever made, including the complete diagrams illustrating the electronic construction.”
For dealers around the world, private individuals and colleagues, Jelmer is the ultimate fount of all knowledge, freely walking around and multilingual to boot. He came to work at Johannus as a production assistant in 1998 after completing his studies in computer interface technology. This meant building organs of every shape and size, including all the wiring and circuitry. After that, he got to work as a software developer. He already knew all about the body of the organs; now he was learning how to read and control their brains. When a position became available in the aftersales department in 2008, it didn’t really appeal to Jelmer. “No, not at all. In the morning I was still adamant that it wasn’t for me. But by the time the afternoon rolled around, I was there.”
All the details of every organ ever made
Since then, as an Aftersales Engineer, he has supported customers and dealers all over the world with their queries about any and all technical details concerning all of the organs ever produced by any of the Global Organ Group brands. He carries out the lion’s share of the conversations in English, with a smattering of German here and there. Within the Netherlands, of course, he simply speaks his native language.
“This morning I talked to someone in Singapore via Skype, followed by a dealer in Australia. I’m regularly in touch with the latter, and that’s great, because you build up a rapport with each other. There are about a hundred dealers around the world, forty of whom are in Europe and another forty in America. The rest are scattered across the other continents. I speak to most of them at least once a year. This could be about anything – someone might have a technical question, another might want a digital user manual, or there is a defect that needs to be dealt with or a part to be sent.”
In the past 20 years, Jelmer has noticed that Johannus organs can withstand just about anything, except for a lightning strike. “They already have an extremely long lifespan, and that’s still improving. Once upon a time there were three or four circuit boards in an organ, and nowadays that’s all concentrated on one board. This makes the organs a lot less sensitive to faults nowadays; previously, the connections between the boards were a source of problems.
Lightning never strikes the same place twice
In his career, Jelmer has never come across an organ that was a total loss. The most extraordinary case in his experience was an organ whose electronics had to be completely rebuilt... twice. The organ hung in a church tower in America that was struck by lightning. Although the lightning was channeled down the lightning rod, the rod ran through the same wall on which the organ was hanging, on the inside. “A strike like that creates a large magnetic field, and the organ couldn’t handle it. One year after we’d completely renewed the organ’s electronics, the same thing happened. We rebuilt the electronics again, and this time we moved the organ as well. That turned out to be a good decision – shortly afterwards the tower was struck by lightning a third time!”
Jelmer always gets on well with his customers and dealers. “If something has to be replaced or repaired, I try to assess the customer’s own abilities. Have they previously tinkered with the organ? If so, then I can feel confident about sending them the requested part and letting them deal with it themselves. If necessary, I can provide remote assistance by means of video calls. A little while ago, I made a couple of DIY videos for a private customer in Brazil. I actually do this quite often for customers. If a customer has no technical proficiency whatsoever, and there’s no dealer or technician nearby, then we’ll Skype with them and carry out the repair together, wire by wire. We always get there in the end.”
A handwritten thank-you from England
The organ’s age doesn’t matter much to Jelmer. He can actively repair any organ dating from 1990 onwards. He once personally made a testing cabinet for Johannus, so that each of the components could be tested separately. No matter whether the problem is large or small, Jelmer helps everyone. “I once received a handwritten letter from a customer in England. There was a problem with his organ, which was already about thirty years old. I discovered what the problem was – a very small part had to be replaced. It was a tiny thing costing less than thirty cents. I sent it to him and then received a letter in which he said that this went ‘far above and beyond’ what you would expect in terms of service, and so on. It was very nice to hear that of course, and I framed the letter.”
Will Johannus organs continue to be heavily influenced by technology in the coming years? According to Jelmer, that’s hard to predict. He thinks that artificial intelligence will play a role. “I can imagine that we might be able to reproduce the original sounds of organs that no longer exist, based on old sound recordings. Say you have a lot of recordings of a particular organ. You can feed these into a system and with the help of machine learning, recall the authentic sound once again. We could then process the recording into a sample set for use in the Johannus LiVE.”
What else? He doesn’t expect to see any robots in the production department in the near future. “Our organs are much too diverse for that – it would be incredibly expensive to keep reprogramming the robots.” What about voice-controlled registration? “I can’t see that happening either. Registration is a tactile experience – reaching for a stop in a distant corner of the console is all part of the musical performance.”
Previously published:The Face of Johannus, ep.1: Dirk saw Johannus grow to become the global market leader The Face of Johannus, ep.2: Once Gerald has delivered the parts at the Johannus factory, Dirk-Jan is the first to start working on them The Face of Johannus, ep.3: Cornelis subjects the organs to a meticulous final inspection
The Face of Johannus, ep.4: Martin is not keen on sales pitches; instead, he speaks the universal language of music with clients