Cape Town City Hall organ hits the right notes

The organ, built by Messrs Norman and Beard of London & Norwich in 1905

The organ is a key feature of the City Hall and is being carefully maintained and preserved as part Cape Town’s rich cultural heritage. 

As part of the upgrades to the iconic City Hall, one of Cape Town’s oldest public spaces, the restoration of the impressive organ is in full swing. 
 
The impressive organ, built by Messrs Norman and Beard of London and Norwich in 1905 (the same year that the City Hall was designed), is still a key feature of the City Hall. Most of the material, fixtures and fittings used to build the hall were imported from Europe. 
 
The specifications of the City Hall organ were drawn up by Sir George Martin, organist of St Paul's Cathedral in London. The workmanship and materials are of high quality, and the woodwork of the organ is made from mahogany, teak and pine.
 
Sir George Martin spoke of it as ‘a magnificent instrument in every gradation of tone, from the softest stop to the most powerful tuba being found in the organ, and all under the most perfect control’, adding that ‘the instrument must be regarded as an artistic and mechanical triumph’.

The City of Cape Town has a responsibility to preserve and protect our unique history for future generations.

The project for the repair, retuning and servicing of the organ thus forms part of the three-year scheduled refurbishments to the City Hall. In this regard, the City recently commissioned Cooper Gill & Tomkins, a South African-based company, to restore the organ.
 
The Norman and Beard organ, which consists of 3 165 pipes varying from 10 m to 19 mm, is a masterpiece. It is therefore not surprising that it takes specialist dedicated craftsmen to keep the organ working optimally. 
 
The team members who recently worked on the organ and who will undertake its ongoing care are Mr Harold Lemmetjies and Mr Charles Hart. These specialist craftsmen have lovingly applied their skill to ensure that Capetonians enjoy the true sounds that this splendid instrument can produce.
 
Mr Lemmetjies, who started at Cooper Gill & Tomkins in 1982, never thought that this would become his career. It was something he stumbled across while searching for another job. He enjoyed the rewarding work and his practical skills, including being handy with leather, soon made him the go-to man when leather repairs were required on bellows and many other pneumatic working parts.
 
Mr Hart started his apprenticeship in 1986, which lasted for five years. His passion for singing in the local choir led to his exposure and eventual interest in organs. He says the complexity of organ mechanisms, such as tracker, electro-pneumatic and in particular the tubular pneumatic of the City Hall, make the work very interesting as well as challenging.
 
‘This restoration initiative supports a key objective of the City’s Organisational Development and Transformation Plan – that of optimising the use of City assets to become more resource-efficient. In this way, we can better serve our residents, while protecting heritage.
 
‘Cape Town is fortunate to have such dedicated local expertise, not only to help us preserve our assets, but additionally to pass on this niche skill-set to next generations,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Assets and Facilities Management, Councillor Stuart Diamond.