So many things we own today become quickly outdated and replaced by newer technology, with new designs and with many fancy bells and whistles. But there are still businesses that are using skills and techniques that have been used for centuries. Fowler-Hebert Organ Company is one of those businesses, and it’s located right here in Eaton Rapids. They sell and repair pipe organs, large and small, and are the largest business in the state doing this kind of work. Fowler-Hebert offers full service from routine tuning to creating a totally new instrument.
“Pipes haven’t changed in a thousand years,” said owner Scott Lumbert. Pipe organs were developed in third-century Greece, and pump organs came into popularity in this country in the 1800s. The pipe organ produces its melodic sound by driving pressurized air through pipes of various sizes when keys are pressed on a keyboard. Music is produced by hundreds, and sometimes even thousands, of pipes that range from the size of a pencil to some that are 30 feet tall.
Woodworking, metalwork, leatherwork, and art are all involved in the building and restoration of pipe organs. Of course, they also build the electric components as well as the musical instrument. The Fowler-Hebert craftsmen are tasked with retrofitting organs with state-of-the-art, solid-state controls which allow more musical options to the organist.
Typically, an organ needs to be refurbished after 50-60 years of service, and when that is done it will give another 50 or more years of service, Lumbert explained. Restorations can take years to complete, depending on the job.
“You have to love what you’re doing or there’s no point in doing it,” Lumbert said. “You’re not going to get rich doing this.”
The business was started in 1978 in Lansing by the late Brian Fowler. In 2017, the company merged with the Hebert Organ Company. Scott Lumbert, who worked and trained with Fowler for 20 years, is the current owner.
The business was relocated to Eaton Rapids in November 2018. The building here doubled their workspace and allowed them to designate special work areas for the various techniques they employ. A leather shop, metal shop, a voicing room, a painting area, an electronic area, a showroom, and several pipe storage rooms are some of the areas.
There are seven full-time employees at Fowler-Hebert, all true craftsmen in the art of organ building and restoration. Most know all the components of the job, not just their specialty. His younger employees will help to make sure that the knowledge and skills needed continue for many more years, Lumbert noted, as there aren’t many businesses that still are doing this kind of work.
A visit to the voicing room is one of the final steps in the process of building or restoring an organ. Here is where the sound that the pipes make is analyzed and adjustments are made. A good ear is needed here. A final voicing is done at the church where the organ is placed.
“I can play Mary Had a Little Lamb,” Lumbert said regarding his playing skills on the organs he builds. “I understand how to play just enough to make an instrument work well on Sunday morning,” he joked.
Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 517-485-3748. They are located at 215 Dexter Road, near the Eaton Rapids Public Safety Building. They are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.