Wild Air


Thad Reynolds


“I had no idea”
“How many pipes are there?”
Whenever we introduce church members to their pipe organ, these are the inevitable exclamations.  Most of them have seen the console of the organ, with its keyboards, pedalboard, stops, and buttons, and they believe that these parts constitute “the organ.”  Most have some vague understanding that there is more to a pipe organ than this.  Perhaps, they think, the pipe-part of the pipe organ is the 20 or 30 or 40 pipes, painted with gold, or silver, or whatever latex color adorns the sanctuary trim, that somehow affect the organ’s sound in some way.  There are many, of course, that understand that the pipes actually produce the music, but even for them, the inner workings of their pipe organ remains mysterious.  
Only a very few ever get the chance to really meet the wondrous musical machine that provides the stirring music of worship decade after decade.  The real working parts of the organ are often shut away or walled up in some dirty, inaccessible place.  Somebody (hopefully) comes in occasionally to “tune” the pipes (what do they really do up there, anyway???), but, apart from that. the mystery remains.
Finally, in the fullness of time, the organ begins to fail.  It starts off innocently enough.  A note or two fail to speak, or, perhaps continue to hang on after the organist releases the key.  Maybe there is a slightly windy noise when the blower is running.  Or, perhaps, some of the keys and other controls on the console fail.  The church trustees may respond with shock, or disbelief, or, worse, not respond at all.   After all, the pipe organ has been playing for fifty or sixty or seventy years – longer than most of the decision-makers have been alive.  And, (another commonly-heard remark), “the organ sounds just like it always has.”
It often takes a very public embarassment (see Curtis Davies’ post, below) to convince everyone that something finally needs to be done.  
Because we live in a “Dixie Cup” world, often the first thought is to replace the old organ with a shiny new digital (electronic) organ.  After all, the well-trained  salesman informs us, electronic organs never need service, can be set up in a day, and sound “as good as a pipe organ…  Well, most people can’t tell the difference.”  This is a time of great risk.  St. Cecelia and all the muses hold their breath, waiting to see if another great pipe organ with decades or even centuries of music left in its pipes, will be lost to false economy and people who “can’t tell the difference.”
The parish of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Shelbyville, IN was just such a church, and, clearly, its parishoners CAN tell the difference. How they arrived at the decision to preserve the old organ as an important part of their new Reynolds Associates pipe organ, and how the process moved forward is the subject of this series of blog postings.  Already, as work on the new organ begins, this parish has developed an intimate knowledge of their 1912 M.P. Moller organ.  How they did this will be the subject of the next posting.  Suffice it to say, their hands-on involvement got their hands awful dirty!   

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