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  • Tuning a pipe organ (MormonTimes article)

    http://www.mormontimes.com/around_ch...hurch/?id=5979





    Dick Mitchell, an organ specialist from Salt Lake City, landed in the profession in 1958 while working with his
    father, a member of the general music committee for the Mormon Church.
    There, he was introduced to the Tabernacle caretaker, who invited young
    Mitchell to work at the Utah sanctuary in 1961.[/i]









    HELENA, Mont. -- He extends his arms and fingers as a
    concert pianist might, both stoic and proud, but when Jon Lester
    presses the keys, he winces under the sounds that bellow from the
    massive pipes rising around him.




    The trumpets and reeds are off.




    The harmonic flute comes too high.




    The tuba blows out of harmony with the oboe.




    Lester
    apologizes for the dismal din, but says toleration and patience are
    necessary traits when tuning a pipe organ, like the one he's tending on
    this day at the Cathedral of St. Helena.





    "This is a very complex,
    hand-built instrument," he says, his fingers tracing the keys. "There
    are a lot of little things that have to be adjusted."




    Lester is
    part of a team of specialists contracted by the Wicks Pipe Organ Co. of
    Highland, Ill., to reinstall, adjust, and ultimately tune the
    cathedral's nearly 100-year-old instrument.




    Lester, who knows a
    bit about pipe organs and those who play them, mounts a steel ladder
    and makes the climb to a hidden alcove above.




    Squeezing into the
    space, he opens the relay box and describes it as the organ's nerve
    center. The swell box sits nearby, as do the bellows, and two stacks of
    pipes rise like nesting dolls placed side by side in procession.




    "We've
    got several different kinds of pipes here," says Lester, examining each
    of them with the brush of his fingers. "Metal pipes, wooden pipes and
    big, loud reed pipes. We have to take all the funny noises out and
    start smoothing out the sound."




    This organ was ready in 1914 when
    parishioners gathered in the cathedral for the first time on Christmas
    Day to celebrate the Eucharist. While Bishop John Patrick Carroll
    wouldn't consecrate the cathedral for another 10 years, the sanctuary,
    at least, had its music.




    Behind gilded brass gates, working under
    the watchful angels captured in biblical scenes above, Greg Lester
    cleans his mixing mops, blocking and tuning the pipes. Nearby, Dick
    Mitchell, an organ specialist from Salt Lake City, works to harmonize
    the system, ensuring the stack of pipes and valves are synchronized
    with the keyboard.




    Mitchell landed in the profession in 1958 while working with his father, a member of the general music committee for the Mormon Church. There, he was introduced to the Tabernacle caretaker, who invited young Mitchell to work at the Utah sanctuary in 1961.




    With
    more than 50 years in the field, Mitchell has seen his share of pipe
    organs, including the Wanamaker Organ in Philadelphia, which boasts
    30,000 pipes. The cathedral's own organ may be modest in comparison
    with 2,800 pipes, but Mitchell believes it plays heavenly sounds and is
    worth the estimated $500,000 cost to restore.




    "This is a
    medium-sized organ in a glorious building," Mitchell says. "We took the
    old organ out and salvaged as much of the pipe work as we could.
    Everything else behind the instrument is new."




    The morning moves
    on when Dale Fleck, grinning eagerly, pulls up a bench and places his
    fingers on the keyboard. The cathedral's director of music has been
    waiting years for this moment to come, to play the new organ and test
    its new parts.




    Fleck hammers out a hymn, something lofty and
    light. He works the keyboards and stops, and stomps the pedals like Oz
    working his magic behind those concealing curtains.




    The marble
    columns tremble, the chandeliers sway. The sounds, as if from heaven
    itself, pour down from the pipes above. While the tuning is rough,
    Fleck admits, it's coming along nicely.




    Almost ready, he says.




    "The
    innards that make it work -- the reservoirs, the chess, the action and
    the council -- it had totally disintegrated," Fleck says. "We started
    with renovating and replacing all those parts. But the project grew and
    took on a whole new life."




    Valued at $1 million, the instrument
    has dominated the cathedral's altar since the day it opened, washing
    parishioners in glorious sound for nearly 100 years.




    Yet up
    against the workings of time and the constant blast of air through its
    bellows, the instrument needed mending. The music had taken its toll.




    While
    the diocese began renovating the cathedral in 2003, it wasn't until
    last year, Fleck says, that a capital campaign raised the money to fix
    the cathedral's artistic offerings, such as the bells, the Bavarian
    stained-glass windows, and the pipe organ.




    "The organ, to some
    people, was probably insignificant, but it has turned out to be very
    significant in the overall scheme of things," Fleck says. "I would defy
    anyone to this day to tell what's old and what's new."







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