Sapporo – a Wedding Chapel, Japan

On 22 December 1998, we received a delegation from the Sapporo Tourist Association which had been charged with finding a pipe organ for their new wedding chapel then under construction. Having cleaned the office and laid out little piles of information and gifts, we welcomed the delegation at about 11.00am and offered them coffee and biscuits. We then took them round the works and returned to the office to discuss their requirements over lunch.

Starting from our brochure, a number of possibilities were discussed and assessed for suitability alongside the drawings of the building that they had brought with them. Two manual organs were too expensive, continuo organs were too small to play the Mendelssohn Wedding March. The best that was going to fit in the space was an organ similar to the one we built for Stavanger Cathedral a few years ago. That was settled as being the basis for their instrument and then came the surprise. The organ would not always be played by an organist and had to have the facility of playing itself. Up to that point we had been assuming a mechanical action organ, and the idea of a player mechanism was not one we had considered.

We were reluctant to revert to electric action, for a number of reasons, not least that of reliability and maintenance some few hundred miles away from any organ builder. But the idea of combining mechanical action and a player mechanism was a challenge which sounded worthwhile.

After a little discussion, the president of the Sapporo Tourist Association stood up, shook hands and ordered the organ. Until relatively recently in Japan, some significant contracts running to millions of pounds would be agreed in this manner. Until then, our record for the time elapsed between submitting a proposal and receiving an order had been two days but this was less than two hours. Agreement having been reached, the party departed in their hired coach and went to look for a supplier of pews and other furnishings for the chapel.

The contract was soon confirmed with a letter, and we had agreed the price and specification without really knowing how this would be done, but a telephone call to SSL at Brandon confirmed it could be done. Relief all round. That was the easy bit. It was agreed between Bethnal Green and Brandon that the key action would be mechanical with heavy duty pull-down magnets for the player mechanism, the drawstop action would be electric and the player mechanism would be using a MIDI system with the tunes on a computer floppy disk.

Unfortunately, there was not much time between the projected completion and shipping dates. This, together with the likelihood that the assembled state of the instrument in the workshop might not be complete enough at any one time for considered performance, suggested that there could be difficulties in engaging an organist at a specific time to achieve a guaranteed result. Certainly it was felt necessary to deliver the instrument complete with recordings, for this was the very purpose for which it had been ordered.

View the Specification of the Sapporo organ (completed 1999)

Project Leader Geoff McMahon
Technical Design Geoff McMahon
Construction Leslie Ross (Works Manager),
Mike Smith (Workshop Foreman)
Site Assembly John Mander, Nicholas v. Bandemer
Tonal Preparation Michael Blighton
Scaling John Mander