Art Critchley, His Career at Classic
As a Professional Engineer, Arthur had run his own business, Key Video Ltd. (KVL), for 21 years, designing and building audio-video switching equipment for the broadcast industry but business declined following the world-wide change to digital TV systems, requiring new and expensive equipment that was beyond his company’s financial pocket.
Arthur W. Critchley, July 2001
In 1998, he cast around for alternative design work and one of his clients was Classic Organ Works for whom he did some small design jobs involving printed circuit boards. However, after a while, his accountant was not happy with KVL having only one major client so, in 1999, Classic offered Arthur a job as a Project Engineer to handle organ jobs.
Art at his desk, February 2016
He was thrown in at the deep end by being asked to sort out a large organ project, C470, for the Episcopal Church of Bethesda by the Sea, Palm Beach, Florida, to see how he would make out. The organ was a huge dual-console affair of 187 drawknobs and more than 100 ranks, and involved using the company’s proprietary OrganWorks graphical database software to compile the engineering details from the builder’s descriptions. It took him several days as one of his problems was using Windows with its limited filename capabilities after being used to MacIntosh software. But he persevered and came up with some drawings and lists before the job was handed over to somebody else to complete. Arthur went on to handle smaller organs from start to finish and also created mechanical items and printed-circuit boards.
The Episcopal Church of Bethesda by the Sea Interior, pipe chamber
His next big job was to engineer a metal box (for the CCU) that would be fitted into an organ console and include most of the electronic circuitry necessary to allow it to replace the various interface boards required to handle stops, keys and expression shoes. All input switches and magnet outputs were arranged on a large pin board that formed the lid of the box. This ‘Grey’ box included the proprietary CCC-2 computer board that was the heart of all then-current organ jobs. New interface boards for input switches (for keys, stops) etc., plugged onto the rear of the pinboard panel. Output boards were designed to drive stop magnets, lamps, displays, etc., and similarly plugged onto the rear of the panel. The box sent serial control signals to the chambers via a 6-pair cable. So the ‘grey’ box eliminated much of the complicated error-prone inter-board wiring that organ builders did not like to handle. The only electronic connections they had to worry about were to and from this box.
C833 Westminster Presbyterian Church, Rockford IL
Inside the console grey box
After the console box was perfected, a similar box (the PCU) was designed to go in the organ chambers and drive pipe magnets and expression shades. It used the same output interface boards behind its pin board panel with a new decoder board inside the box. In a large organ there could be several such chamber boxes. All these boxes had one thing in common — they required a memory chip installed that contained all the parameters for that particular organ and all used the same hardware in various quantities.
C751 Vassar College,
Chamber grey boxes, 5,700 pipes, all direct electric
Having got the boxes and interface boards sorted out, Arthur turned his attention to many other types of printed-circuit boards that were needed. Until then, all boards had been made using through-hole components, an arrangement that was later named the Legacy System. Surface-mount devices became available so many boards were redesigned while new types of boards were designed for an improved control system. There was a basic problem with the Legacy System, which meant that Classic had to make any changes by request and these would often take time to engineer, slowing down the job turn-round time. Eventually, a completely new control system was designed by the software engineers to overcome such problems and named the Maestro System. The newer Maestro CCU box incorporated a standard Mini-ITX single-board computer that did all the usual coupling as well as other functions formerly handled by the chamber boxes. A solid-state memory contained all the parameters for the whole organ so the PCUs became slaves to the master box. The Maestro system allowed the organ builders themselves to modify the organs’ parameters, as they were accessible from afar via the Internet. Many other new features were incorporated such as control via tablets, better displays and wireless control via Ethernet.
Among Arthur’s many jobs was the writing of the master copy of the Organist’s Reference Manual, compiling brochures and writing articles. One of his jobs was to engineer a wholly electronic organ for St. George’s Anglican Church in Ajax. (C750, May 2005). It used Walker tone generators driving 18 audio channels and the console, designed by Arthur, was built by Henk Berenschott.
Another of his church organ jobs, C911, was the 2009 rebuild of a Wicks organ at Christ Church, Brampton, and a short video of this can be seen on You Tube. This rebuild started out as a Maestro project but had to become a Legacy job due to unavoidable delays.
C750 St George's Anglican, Ajax ON
Art doing final touches on console before delivering
Along the way, Arthur, who had once been a Cinema Organist in England, was given jobs involving theatre organs. One was for a 3/30 Wurlitzer in the Meijer Theatre Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan (Job C701, 2002), but perhaps his favourite was the Kingston Theatre Organ Society’s 3/28 Kimball (C147) for which he did the engineering involved in its second rebuild in 2011.
C147 at concert after rebuild of KTOS organ
Around 2006 he acquired a used Devtronix theatre organ and completely rebuilt it using parts from Classic and the Hauptwerk organ control system. This was job C600 and details can be found in the Portfolio section of the OrganWorks website. It was lent to the Stratford Summer Music Festival during August 2014 when three concerts were performed by the long-time organist of Radio City Music Hall, George Wesner.
Art and his personal theatre organ
But all good things come to an end, and Arthur officially retired in December 2016 at the age of 80, although does still show up here from time to time.