Monday, July 20, 2015


The largest pipe is six inches in diameter and is ten feet and two inches tall.  The base is five by ten feet.  For proper display and performance, the instrument needs a minimum of fourteen feet in height.


The instrument was designed and voiced by certified pipe organ builder, Xaver Wilhelmy.  Since the pipes are glass, including the mouth, languid, upper lip, beard, foot, and toe, this required unique voicing techniques innovated by Wilhelmy.  This instrument is the first, and remains the only pipe organ in the world with pipes made from glass in every part. 


Xaver Wilhelmy, certified pipe organ builder
and Nelson Blosser, assistant, May 2004.

Xaver Wilhelmy's crew included the following six individuals working full time for eighteen months:
  • Nelson Blosser
  • Corkie Collie
  • Dyer Cornell
  • Jae Aoh
  • Jason Soper
  • Tyrone Palmer


Techniques used in creating the Sound Sculpture include hot glass techniques, and enhanced robust stained glass construction techniques. Xaver Wilhelmy keeps saying "it's really quite simple" but the truth is... it isn't really simple at all.  Building a pipe organ pipe from glass is extremely precise business.  Glass likes to break along it's own fissure lines, and it isn't the easiest thing to remove a milometer of glass where needed.  But it can be done, and has been done by Xaver Wilhelmy and his crew at


  • The body of the pipes were created with hand cast glass of Spectrum Glass Company made in Washington state, U.S.A..
  • The red, white and blue glass were created by the Bullseye Glass Company of Oregon, U.S.A..
  • The base windchest of the instrument was created with black walnut wood of Virginia, U.S.A..
  • The windchest has glass access panels, created of float glass.
  • The keyboard controller was also built of black walnut wood of Virginia, U.S.A..
  • The solder came from Organ Supply Industries of Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.. 

A note from the artist:

"What is not too obvious is, that the cloudy glass parts are made of single large sheets, so the cloud patterns wrap around the pipe feet and the bodies similar to matching veneer on furniture. If one piece cracked, we cut and prepped an entire new section!"  -Xaver Wilhelmy

Although the pipes are glass, they are structurally quite strong.  They are not delicate, but that does not mean they should be abused, just treated with the same respect and delicacy that one would with tin-lead pipes.  As with any organ pipes, they should be handled only with cotton gloves.  There need be no fear that touching one will result in shattering glass, or that shipping them would result in a crate of expensive broken glass.  The rigorous research and development process yielded strong durable pipes with all the luminous qualities of fine hand crafted art glass.  They've already been from East coast to West and back again, so traveling in a box truck has proven to be a safe mode of transport.

World Trade Center

The American Flag Sound Sculpture was created as part of a proposal for the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition.  The proposal was created by Xaver Wilhelmy and Bob Kirchman of The Kirchman Studio.


This sound sculpture has been displayed in Arlington, VA, Washington D.C. 
and in Los Angeles, California, as well as various locations near
Wilhelmy's home in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia,
where he and his crew built the instrument.

The Sound Sculpture is pictured in the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites lobby in Los Angeles in 2004 and could be heard throughout the five story lobby area.  The instrument was displayed as part of a convention for individuals who play the pipe organ. For this event, the instrument was driven in a box truck from Virginia to Los Angeles in a box truck in crates that were designed and built specifically for the instrument.

Certified Pipe Organ Builder Xaver Wilhelmy

Xaver Wilhelmy trained as a pipe organ builder at Rieger-Orgelbau in Schwarzach, Austria, continued his education in Ludwigsburg, Germany, then joined Fehrle en Roeleveld Orrelbouers outside of Johannesburg, South Africa.  He then joined Taylor and Boody of Virginia, U.S.A. and now works with Geshenke of the Virginia, U.S.A..  Wilhelmy has worked on pipe organs around the world and has brought many old gems back to life including the pipe organ at Old Post Chapel in Arlington National Cemetery.
  • Wilhelmy won the Austrian Creativity Competition for work related to Art, Music, and Architecture in 2006 for his work creating the first glass organ pipes in the world.
  • Xaver Wilhelmy has also trained as a piano builder, a guitar maker, as well as a stringed instrument builder including violin and cello.
Wilhelmy currently lives with his wife and dog in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.  His business website is 


Xaver Wilhelmy designed the American Flag Sound Sculpture following the events of September 11, 2001.  Work on the instrument began in January 2002 and was complete 18 months later.  The design was part of a memorial proposal for ground zero.  In the proposal, one pipe would have been created for each victim of the events of that day - over 3,000 pipes - one pipe for each person to remember their life interactions in sound and music.  Wilhelmy wanted his work to be a comfort for those who mourned loved ones.

Sadly the memorial proposal was not approved or these fourteen pipes would be part of a much larger existing display of light and sound in memory of the fallen.  However, the resulting instrument represents a feat of engineering and innovation unparalleled in the history of pipe organ building.  After 500 years, there is more to learn, discover, and innovate, and Xaver Wilhelmy is leading the way.


The American Flag Sound Sculpture

This is the first rank of glass pipes in the world, and continues to be the only instrument with pipe organ pipes made from glass in entirety including body, mouth, languid, upper lip, beard, foot, and toe.

There are, at the time of this writing, two other Wilhelmy glass pipe ranks existing in private collection.  The Wilhelmy Trompetteria includes a Trumpet 8 and Clarion 4 made with glass resonators, and part of the wind chest is also glass.  The American Flag Sound Sculpture is entirely unique in the world. 

Offering for sale one pipe organ consisting of 14 glass pipes, base/wind chest, and keyboard controller. 

This is a stand-alone instrument, but it can also be made to augment an existing instrument.  Please ask for a quote to have this instrument added to your existing pipe organ.  For that matter, please ask for a quote for a set to your specifications. 

If you have questions, please contact Carmen Shenk at CarmenShenk at gmail dot com.  
All inquiries are confidential.

The Sound Sculpture was made in response to a dark moment in our nation's history and they should be out there where their light and voice can be a respectful memory of those events and memorial to those who lost their lives.



  • Governor Mark Warner: "Impressive and inspirational"
  • John Whitehead, Park Avenue Tower: "It's pretty spectacular."
  • Laurence A. Levy, Twin Towers Fund: "Your creativity is remarkable and it is clearly evident the time and effort you put into your work."
  • Desiree Thompson, Director of Presidential Correspondence for George W. Bush: "The President continues to be inspired by the compassion, generosity, and patriotism of the American People."
  • Jonathan M. Tish, Chairman & CEO Loews Hotels: "Your work is quite beautiful, and I wish you much success"
  • Anita Contini, Lower Manhattan Development Corp.: "fascinating and beautiful"
  • Howard G. Becker, Director Department of Defense Washington Headquarters Services: "They are truly a work of art and are deserving of a Memorial Hall."    "unique and beautiful" 
  • Allison Jaffin, NYC & Company, "They are truly beautiful"
  • Yoska Meinokat of Singen, Germany: "The glass pipes are really impressive! I have never seen anything like it."




I am the current owner of the Wilhelmy American Flag Sound Sculpture.  I am Carmen Shenk of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

The sound sculpture was a wedding gift to me from the previous owner, a couple who live in West Virginia who wish to remain anonymous at this time.  They purchased the sculpture from certified pipe organ builder and master craftsman, Xaver Wilhelmy. 

Hear the American Flag Sound Sculpture.

This 11:26 minute video features three ranks of glass pipe organ pipes, all designed and built by Xaver Wilhelmy.  These three ranks of pipes, along with many individual glass pipes made by Xaver Wilhelmy are the only completely glass pipe organ pipes that exist in the world.  This video demonstration takes place in a private home in the fall of 2011.  The American Flag Sound Sculpture is located to the left of the musician and pipe organ, and the Wilhelmy 8' Trumpet stop and the Wilhelmy 4' Clarion stop are shown to her right.   

As you watch, you'll see a title screen before each song that lists the stops used in that song.  You'll see the musician playing the keyboard to her left, this is the controller for the American Flag Sound Sculpture.  These bass pipes have a rich bass sound, and were voiced by Wilhelmy to sound much like the "Prinzipal" stop on a pipe organ.  In this case, the air pressure was lowered to 55mm, and they sound more like a rich cello stop.

The Wilhelmy 8' Trumpet and the Wilhelmy 4' Clarion were built into the wall to the right of the musician.  The copper support beams are meant to echo the design of the existing pipe organ case.  These pipes have a conical shape and were made with baroque Spectrum art glass.  These two ranks of glass pipes are not made with the same techniques as the American Flag Sound Sculpture, rather, Wilhelmy created them using hot glass techniques.  There are more Wilhelmy innovations in the wind chest that support these pipes, and they are too numerous to mention.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Voice for the Silent

One day Xaver Wilhelmy was sipping a gin and tonic at the top of the World Trade Center. When he returned, it was "Ground Zero" and there was a smoking pile of mangled devastation. In time he would also return to experience the memorial. Talk about contrast.

The loss of those days was... and continues to be... staggering. The hugs not shared, the words not spoken, the silence, the loss.

Xaver Wilhelmy is a pipe organ builder who specialized in voicing - the math and physics of creating sound. In the aftermath of September 11th, he wanted to create a unique sound for each voice lost that day. He wanted to make them of glass because of the interplay of light and color that is complex and ever-changing, just like the human spirit. Nothing inspires and heals like music and beauty, and he wanted his work to comfort those who mourn.

Never-mind that organ pipes had never been made of glass before, he didn't let that stop him. He designed prototypes at his dining room table.  His young daughter chose the colors.

Then he began the Wilhelmy American Flag project. It took him and his crew (the seven of them) 18 months of working full time to create this instrument. He quit counting when the cost passed $265k. This wasn't a rich man's hobby, it was sacrificial. He was a man on a mission.

We haven't known how to share this instrument with the world. It's in storage. Waiting. Just waiting. We pray that the time will come when *somehow* it is able to do what it was designed to do... but we don't yet know the place where it will shine, or the people who become its next caretakers. All we know is that it was created to be a voice for those who lost theirs. We wait in faith, and I continue to share my remarkable husband's work and heart with the world in every way I know how.

Life is sacred. Every life. Every voice. Yours.

Today, hug someone a little extra tightly. Life is short. Speak your truth. Say "I love you". Laugh. Sing. Shout out. 

Your voice matters.
Your voice matters.

-Carmen Shenk

In his own words:

Having had the good fortune of completing an apprenticeship in pipe organ building at Rieger-Orgelbau under Caspar Glatter-Goetz some 30 years ago, the encouragement at Rieger to be creative and scientifically sound has stayed with me all those years.

     So, after those outrageous attacks on civilian lives of 96 nations on September 11th, 2001, my mind was occupied as to how one could possibly remember the sudden loss of so many people. With those heinous acts all the interaction of their individual characters, voices, strengths, and delicate nuances stopped.

     Would these people be memorialized with granite, chiseled name lists, and running water, like so many memorials of recent history?

     New York City has always had a special place in my heart, since I worked there for Rieger several months in the mid-eighties, and the field in Pennsylvania, where the one aircraft was brought down by its courageous passengers, as well as the Pentagon building I also have heart-connections to.

     With my private time towards the end of 2001 spent by envisioning the heavenly Jerusalem as described in the book of Revelation in all its colour, materials, and design; and with pondering for over 17 years by then as to how to incorporate glass in a contributive way into pipe organs, the obvious answer crystallized:

     Remember the voices. Create strikingly beautiful glass organ pipes with never-repeating patterns and details of all pitches to complete a 48 stop pipe organ (which would have around 3,000 pipes - one for each life lost) within a circular, glass-domed concert-memorial hall of intimate size, about 24 meters diameter.

     Here, the voices and individual characters of the victims could be remembered in musical interaction, visual beauty, and meaningful architectural harmony. Due to the predominance of glass, any visitor would be exposed to an ever-changing display, governed by the external weather and time of day of the visit.

     With today's technology, the instrument could be played 24/7 via the internet by musicians around the world - bringing the 96 nations together, whose citizens were amongst those killed.

     Organ pipes have their components named after human anatomy, like "foot, body, ear, beard, mouth," etc., so to dedicate one pipe to a single person was a natural thought.

     In January of 2002, I started making the first prototypes, adjusted their voicing, and smoothed out the production process for about half a year.

     By October of 2002 it became apparent, that we needed to create a set of glass pipes, that could demonstrate the beginning of design possibilities.

     With the attacks having been made on U.S. soil, I decided to let the American Flag "wave" across this 14-pipe facade, with the image effortlessly alternating between the front and the back of the pipes.  This set is based on a Principal 8', 150mm diameter low C, with a nice German "Strich", and it has tuning devices in glass fitted as well. It is voiced at 80mm, but we found it to create also a very warm cello sound at a wind-pressure as low as 58mm, which was used for a youtube video demonstration. 

    It took us 18 months to complete this set by June of 2004, and at times, I and my six employees worked full time on this project. The glass is hand cast in Washington and Oregon State, with the image of the American Flag being followed "to a T" and fused in a glass kiln we had custom made for that purpose. To give the image "life", we not only gave the left edge a gentle arch, but its size diminishes by 7% from left to right, with all stars diminishing in size as well as the stripes to maintain a pleasing optical proportion. The right edge playfully wraps around the third to last pipe on the right towards the front.

     We also designed and built a Trumpet 8' and Clarion 4' division with the resonators from Low C to tenor e being of copper and glass, with the rest of the notes being made of all glass, tapered and round. The windchest feeding these innovative, "cut to length" glass trumpet pipes houses almost more innovations itself, than one can find in the pipes.

     We like to have fun.

     With the introduction of glass in pipe making, the choices for organ fronts don't have to be silver, gold, or wood anymore, but anything your imagination allows! From fresh colours, via chameleon-like blending with textures and colours found within the architectural setting, all the way to total translucency the possibilities of integration of the contemporary pipe organ is limitless.

     Imagine no boundaries - we did :-)

-Xaver Wilhelmy
July, 2015