CLASSIC TURNS 40!
On February 24, 1976 a young Henry Wemekamp took what had been a couple miscellaneous projects for a friend and established The Classic Organ Company Ltd, a new company building control systems for pipe organs.
The height of technology... when I was in kindergarten
Home Organ of John Coenraads Pipe work in Coenraads organ
(John wrote the earlier blog post "Henry: The Years BC")
One of the earliest instruments Classic worked on was the KTOS (Kingston Theatre Organ Society) Kimball in the summer of 1977.
The Kimball Organ, photos taken during 1991 rebuild
In September 1977 the official order was received and Henry set out to design and build a fully electronic control system. There were many technical challenges, including a constantly changing specification from the customer, but when it was delivered in April 1979 it included a microprocessor-based combination action computer with 8 memory levels, perhaps the most sophisticated system installed in a theatre organ at the time.
This organ was featured in the November/December 1981 issue of Theatre Organ, you can read the article here:
There have been many updates and changes to this organ over the years, including a major rebuild and expansion in 1991.
Attila working on the console, 1991
In 2004 Classic received the Fred Gollnick Award in recognition of its long-term support the KTOS organ, and in 2016 Classic still provides technical support for this instrument.
The organ at Church of the Redeemer, Kingston Ontario
Another early instrument was The Organ Grinder, a pizza parlour organ on The Esplanade in downtown Toronto in 1977.
We think Henry is the person on the left Before the micro-processor
At the Hartford AIO in 1990 Henry débuted the Console Control Computer a single computer board which not only functions as the brains for an organ's entire control system, but had fully integrated MIDI support. This computer has been updated and its capacity expanded over the years, as new technologies became available, but the basic board is still in use to this day.
One of our test sets
In the early 1990's The Classic Organ Company briefly merged with Artisan Organs Ltd, creating Artisan Classic Organs. This partnership however was not to last. When the founders of Artisan Organs, left Henry established Classic Organ Works, as a subdivision company of Artisan Classic Organs.
With the continuing development of computing power, in 2002 MIDI Works was established and shipped its first entirely MIDI-based organ system. MIDI Works continues to grow, focusing on home organ installations, primarily with Hauptwerk. It is quite popular with organists who don't want, or are not necessarily able, to go to the local church whenever they whan to play.
Beta testing Hauptwerk, June 2004
Example of one MIDI Works installation
In response to a perceived need, in 2005 Classic designed and built a wireless MIDI transmitter and receiver. The idea being in large churches the ability to run MIDI cables over long distances can be difficult. Turns out most organ builders weren't particularly interested, however the wider music scene was. Ten years later the MIDIjet Pro is being used by some of the biggest name touring acts in the world, including U2, Peter Gabriel, Ke$ha, and Rolling Stones.
MIDIjet, transmitter and receiver
Looking to the future, Classic has just started shipping the Maestro system in the past year. This features an off-the-shelf Intel processor and enables the builder or organist to access the system remotely. Right now there is enough flexibility in the configuration that if a builder wanted to do something simple like swap 2 drawknobs they could do it themselves, without haveing to contact us. This flexibility and ease of configuration will continue to develop over the next few years.
The Maestro console box which was installed in Timothy Eaton Memorial Church, Toronto Ontario
Over the years many people have come and gone from Classic.
Classic Organ June 1999 (almost 17 years ago)
Here are a few people who make Classic work today:
Attila started working here so long ago, the original documents have been lost. We do know he started part time when he was in high school, Attila's godfather was doing some wood-working for Henry, but beyond that nobody is quite sure, and Attila isn't talking. Out best guess is sometime in the late 70's early 80's. Today Attila spends most of his time working on hardware, and the occasional control system. He is also a bit camera shy and wouldn't let me take a picture of him.
Cathy started working here 18 years ago, when she was young and single. Now she is a married mom and is wondering if telling stories of your youth to your own child makes you old. She does most of the applications engineering for the control systems, along with writing the blog and newsletter.
Cathy at our R&D Console and with an iguana
Art is old. At approaching 80 years old, most of us wonder if he will ever retire, but then, since he only works 5-6 hours a day and doesn't come in if the weather isn't nice, I guess he is 1/2 retired now. Art works on hardware R&D, he is also our theatre organ enthusiast. A few months back he achieved a 60-year dream of playing the Wurlitzer in the Blackpool Tower ballroom.
Art hard at work
Art hard at play
Darryl started here almost 10 years ago. He plays in a band called "Fairest and Best", I'm not sure if he is the fairest, or the best, you will have to ask his wife. He takes care of the MIDIWorks side of things.
Darryl's Mug Shot
Harry runs the shop, he's been here 9 years. If you need something built he's the guy to talk to.
Henry writes the cheques and know arcane information such as "how exactly does a TG-114 work?".
Classic has always had a family kind of atmosphere and many of the kids of our staff have worked here from time to time, although perhaps we do tend to start them a little young...