–For Discover Parkland–
Steel pipes with gold embellishments cover the bench in Paul Fritt’s workshop.
Fritts has turned his father’s small organ building business into an international success, Paul Fritts & Company Organ Builders, based right here in Parkland.
Fritts’ father was a professor at PLU. He built electric action pipe organs, which are commonly produced in masses by factories. As Fritts helped his father with many projects, he found building mechanical action organs more technically demanding.
“I set before myself a big challenge,” explained Fritts. He then hired a business partner, Ralph Richards. The two worked for Fritt’s father and eventually bought out of the company from him. Fritts was then able to focus on building mechanical action organs.
Fritts now serves as the owner and director of the business. But being the boss doesn’t mean he spends all his time in the office.
“I like to do hands-on [work]. When I started I was doing lots of things,” Fritts said. “I’ve done pipe-making, voicing, design, wood working of all types… steel work, welding, soldering in the pipe shop, all that stuff… the only thing I haven’t done to a complete extent is bookkeeping.”
His team of six is currently working on two major projects. The reconstruction of the Philip Bachman organ and the creation of an organ for the University of Notre Dame take up most of the workshop’s space. Fritts said he has a steady stream of upcoming projects. The four-story tall Notre Dame organ will be the company’s largest project to date. Construction of the organ began seven months ago and Fritts estimates another three years for its completion.
Though the shop is now thriving it has had its share of difficult times. Fritts recalls a serious lull during the last major recession.
“That period of about two years with virtually no work was kind of tough, but I was able to keep everyone busy,” explained Fritts. He also acknowledged that the organ industry is in decline.
“Churches are not buying organs as much… a lot of churches are suffering in decline of attendance, and it’s common to blame the music, so they want to do something contemporary,” said Fritts. “That doesn’t necessarily work in a more traditional-type church… but then there are plenty of churches, typically large cathedrals as well, that have vibrant music programs.”
Fritts said he couldn’t imagine doing any other profession. He doesn’t play the organ, but explained that building an organ and playing one are completely separate fields. He does however play the violin and credits his success to his musical inclinations.
Organ builders must have skills in art, math, physics, and patience. “It’s surprising that we don’t have young people knocking on our door for jobs,” admitted Fritts.
Still, the Paul Fritts & Company Organ Builders are optimistic about their future. “You have to love what you do,” said Fritts, “and I’ve always had a love for the organ.”