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Curator's Column

Updated: Jan 24

Restoring a historic pipe organ is in many ways similar to restoring a historic house or perhaps a historic automobile.  There are times of great excitement, times of frustration, and plenty of plateaus in between.  To the casual observer, pipe organ building and restoration may appear to have lots of plateaus – lots of day to day work, much of it repetitive, and then suddenly a great flurry of activity as a chest, division, or chamber comes together in a flash. 


Often the saying “I’ve hit a plateau” carries a negative connotation.  There is a significant difference, however, in being on a plateau and being in a rut.  Plateaus provide a wide expanse of space for forward movement, as well as lateral movement.  It is on these plateaus where most of the work is accomplished and where the stage is set, the pieces are assembled, and plans are made for the big push to the next level.  


Crossing a plateau can be a tricky thing.  If the plateau is large enough one can easily lose sight of the goal and wander aimlessly, spending precious time and resources without gaining any ground.  When we are on a plateau here at Boardwalk Hall, there are several things I must keep in mind.  The first is that lateral movement is not a bad thing – there are a plethora of smaller projects that may not be exciting but are critical to the everyday function of the instruments that must happen in addition to the more exciting forward moving projects.  Secondly, veering off track does not equal failure.  Life here at Boardwalk Hall is full of surprises.  This is a busy building with lots of events happening.  Sometimes that means we can’t make noise and need to tackle projects in the shop and not in the chambers.  Pipe organs are living, breathing machines and things can, and do, go wrong, requiring us to pull our attention from the task at hand to make an emergency repair elsewhere.  There are days when I leave work feeling like I’ve been on an out-of-control ship attempting to navigate the Panama Canal – banging into the sides of the canal the entire route.  But tomorrow is another day, and a course can always be corrected.  Finally, I am keenly aware that the resources spent, either crossing a plateau or climbing a mountain, are resources that have been given to this project and are to be respected as such.  


As we approach the end of 2023, I am reflecting on the work accomplished this past year and looking ahead to the challenges and opportunities in 2024.  By the end of the year, we will have 288 ranks of the Midmer-Losh playing – approximately 64% of the organ.  We are agonizingly close to 65%, but to reach that mark we must traverse a significant plateau: one that involves restoring several divisions and a massive blower.  We’ll tackle other smaller projects along the way and be ready for any last-minute diversions that might pop up, always keeping our eyes on the goal ahead and preparing for the next mountain to climb.

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1 Comment

Roy Jaruk
Roy Jaruk
Apr 15

I kind of think you buried the lede, since what I was looking for was how far along the restoration has gone. But I had not stopped to consider that with a rig as huge as the Boardwalk Auditorium Organ, it is inevitable you will need to rebuild similar sections and it will go quicker if you can do two or more sections at the same time, rather than have to set up and break down the shops by proceeding linearly. I am eagerly waiting for the organ to be restored to her original glory. And, like many another fan I suspect, I want to hear the 64-foot Diaphone-Dulzian stop at full bore. Back when the organ was newly built, that…

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