Wild Air

Renovating the Human Soul

April 8th, 2012
A Wreck of time…

As I write this, it is Easter afternoon.   It has been a full day.   Tina and I have been priviledged to have our grandson, age almost 8,  overnight.   This morning, we did the Easter Bunny thing, hunted for eggs in the backyard, and headed off to church.   Spring was so early this year that in early April it has nearly given way to summer already.   Today, the sky was bright blue, and the air was warm but still crisp.  

All day, I have been thinking about the past week.   Many of our largest customers requested spring tunings early this year, and we have been busy.   On Friday, we took time out to attend Good Friday evening services at North United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, where our good friend, Martin Ellis, is organist.   North’s Cathedral Choir, under the direction of Mark Gilgallon, sang the Duruflé Requiem.   This music is always an intense experience, but in the darkened sanctuary of North, with Martin at the console of the great Kimball organ, on Good Friday, it was especially so, and brought vividly to mind the Sacrifice that brought about the greatest Renovation Project in human history, the renovation of humanity itself.    

You see, we are “into” renovation projects.   We often are called upon to renew pipe organs that are nearly defunct.   These organs are sometimes injured by moisture, battered by falling plaster, and smothered with dust.   Often, the owners of these instruments do not appreciate what they have, and have trouble catching a vision for what could be.   These noble instruments are wrapped in silence and entombed in neglect.  

Yet still, the voices are there.   The musical soul of  each of these  organs still lives, waiting for a day of renewal when someone will recognize that there is, indeed, a difference between the quick and the dead.   It is our great honor to help these organs find their original voices, and to blend them with new sounds.    

There are compelling economic reasons for rebuilding an old pipe organ, but the most important reasons are spiritual.   A pipe organ is a year of sermons in a bundle.   There is the lesson of different, disparate sounds all combining into a magnificent whole.   There is the lesson of authenticity.   Changes in conditions affect each voice – in fact, each individual pipe – differently, requiring occasional tuning and adjustment to keep them singing together.   There is the lesson that comes from the imitators of the pipe organ – the lesson of the fake – that tells us that something that pretends to be something it is not is ultimately somehow disappointing and unfulfilling.   In contrast, there is the lesson that the true has the power to sweep away the dark-glass image of the false.  


The greatest lesson, though, and the one that has captivated my thoughts this Easter Day, is restoration.    

Pipe organs were made to last virtually forever.   Instead of being condemned and cast away, as electronic instruments are intended  to be continuously renewed.   It is rare that any pipe organ (unless it has been burned up, flooded, or intentially wrecked by vandalism) cannot be brought back to life, and be literally made new again.   All the mechanical parts can be rebuilt or replaced, but the soul of the organ, its pipes, remains.   Even these can be improved, repurposed, and added-to, making an instrument a “new creation.”  

The same can happen to us.   That is the real sermon in the pipe organ.   We are permanent.   We are restorable.   Our souls can be uncovered and made clean again.   We can stand tall and sing with a mighty voice.  

Last week, I received a note from a clergyman of my acquaintance.   I want to quote it here, more or less in full:  

“I once knew a young musician who had tremendous natural musical ability. He came from a broken home. … He left home at 16, was on his own, drifting, yet still connected to music. He could play several instruments, but was most adept at a piano or keyboard. He inherited, however, the disposition for alcohol abuse.    

A small church hired him as their only musician; they had an old  piano and a small pipe organ. He had never played an organ with pedals, and was pretty uncomfortable with the organ. Through a series of events, the church acquired funds to renovate the organ. A noted organist played a dedicatory concert. The young musician heard, for the first time,  the magnificent capability of the instrument. He started coming daily to practice; he self-taught pedal techniques with the help of a church member. He found a reason to work hard to maintain sobriety-his music and that organ.    The church  later acquired a baby grand piano which gave him even more impetus.  

One organ, one person, one life literally restored….an example for many. We never know how God’s mysteries will play out. The majesty and power of music can never be discounted, downplayed, or neglected. It is a gift given by God; who are we to brush that off?”  

Myra Brooks Welch had come from a musical family.   Her greatest love, according to her son, had been playing the organ.   Sadly, though, severe and unremitting arthritis had crippled her hands and had confined her to a wheelchair.   In 1921, she wrote her best-loved poem about the restoration of another instrument.   She took one pencil in each deformed hand, and, pecking at a typewriter keyboard with the erasers, wrote the following:  

‘Twas battered and scarred,
And the auctioneer thought it scarcely  worth his while
To waste  much  time on the old violin,
but he held it up with a smile.  

“What am I bid, good people”, he cried,
“Who’ll start the bidding for me?   A dollar,  a dollar, then two, only two?
Two dollars, who’ll make it three?
Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three..”   But No…  

From the room far back a gray-haired man
Stepped  forward and picked up the bow.
Then wiping the dust from the old violin, and tightening the loose strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet as a caroling angel sings.  

The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said “What  am I bid for the old violin?”
As he held it  up with the  bow.  

“A thousand dollars, then two, only  two?”
Two thousand, Who’ll  make it three?”
“Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
And going, and gone”, said he.  

And the people cheered, but some of them cried,
“We do not quite understand what changed its worth.”
Swift came the reply.
“The touch of the master’s hand.”  

“And many a man with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd
Much like the old violin.  

A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,
A game and he travels on.
He’s going once, he’s going twice,
He’s going, and almost gone.  

But the Master comes,
And the foolish crowd never can quite understand,
The worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought
By the touch of the Master’s Hand.  

Happy Easter!

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