BUSINESS

Greencastle organ company opens doors to tell its story

PAT FRIDGEN
Lawless and Associates Pipe Organ Company is working on this organ for Seton Shrine in Emmitsburg, Md. The entire workforce consists of, from left: Irv Lawless, president; Trevor Timmons, shop foreman and technician; Cindy Bachtell, office manager; and Dan Chase, technician. They invite the public to an open house at their Greencastle location on Saturday.

Who knew Greencastle had an organ company? Not way back when, but now.

Lawless and Associates is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and is also holding an open house on May 5.

“We are just amazed with the number of people in Greencastle who don’t know we’re here,” said Irv Lawless, owner and president of the company.

The facility is tucked away at 501 S. Cedar Lane, next to Danco. However, it is visible from South Washington Street if people simply glance to the west near the Rescue Hose Company Special Events Center.

The staff of four builds and repairs pipe organs, filling the void when Moller Organ Company in Hagerstown, Md. closed in 1992. Moller’s own history began in Greencastle when M.P. Moller started the business in 1877 on Franklin Street. It remained in town for four years, and eventually became the largest organ company in the world.

History

Lawless, 70, has 46 years in the business. He grew up in the Washington DC area, and migrated west as job opportunities arose.

His interest was sparked as a youth when he was preparing for an organ recital. A key stuck and he fixed it. He became fascinated with the complex musical instrument.

“One thing led to another and I ended up in the organ business,” he said.

Lawless majored in music at Shenandoah University and performed installations for a reknown company, Aeolian Skinner, for 20 years. He joined Hagerstown’s Moller in 1987 when they recruited a new team. A few years later, after more than a century of esteemed service, Moller closed, a byproduct of economic times.

Lawless then became his own proprietor and today has three employees: Cindy Bachtell, Trevor Timmons and Dan Chase. The crew meshes well. As Lawless said, “It takes a particular mentality to work in this business.”

They have 80 contracts, mostly with churches, and build from scratch, maintain or refurbish pipe organs. One prominent client is the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. They also built an organ for St. Paul Methodist Church in Chambersburg, completed an organ at Camp David, and have had projects at Mercersburg Academy and Wilson College. Customers hail from surrounding states. One called from quite a distance.

“Bermuda had the worst organ I ever took care of,” said Lawless, “but I go whenever they ask.”

Construction can take up to 18 months, and the associates work with wood, leather and various metals for the pre-assembly. Pipes range from 32 feet to three-eights of an inch. An organ can have as few as 1,300 or as many as 11,000 pipes.

As Lawless and Associates claims on its webpage, “A pipe organ is a living, breathing instrument that is used for worship, praise, honor or memorializing. It is a graceful and glorious instrument and will last for hundreds of years with proper care. Each pipe organ is unique and has it’s own personality and specified use.”

The number of competitors has dropped somewhat, but customers still have a choice of companies, important because each produces organs with a unique sound. Experts know which tones are better. The number of organists is more of a concern.

Lawless believed 300 students are currently majoring in organ, and are some of the best performers ever. Because of the low salaries churches can offer though, most play only as a sideline.

   Take a look

The open house runs from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday. Visitors will be treated to demonstrations, displays and hands-on experiences. Music will fill the air. Signs will be out on South Washington Street, pointing in the right direction.