Organ Restoration Update

by Dr. Kristin Lensch


After five months of work on the organ restoration, I’m delighted to offer an update on its progress. 


First, I can assure you that every pipe was recovered from the horrifying theft we experienced in May. Some of them were badly damaged but can be repaired and brought back to their original state. Spencer Organ Co. dealt with the insurance issues, which caused a minor delay, but the project is approximately 30% complete, bringing us to a completion target of late fall 2024. As you’ll see, preserving and making an 88-year-old instrument like new again is extremely labor intensive. 


We have two specialists overseeing the project: 

      • Joseph Rotella, president of Spencer Organ Co.; and,
      • Jonathan Ambrosino, tonal designer and leading expert on Aeolian-Skinner instruments.


Joseph and his craftspeople are handling the restoration of all the inner parts and mechanical issues, and Jonathan is overseeing the finishing of the pipework using measurements to the specification of authentic Aeolian-Skinner instruments. He’ll also do the tonal finishing—adjusting the way the pipes sound individually and collectively in the room.


So far, Joseph has cleaned and shellacked the racks that hold the pipework, and the pouch rails have been stripped and prepared for re-papering and leathering (every pipe in the organ has a pouch under it to control the air to that pipe). With apologies to those who might experience trypophobia, in the pictures below, you can see many of the pouch boards with their pouches already removed – the first of many steps to re-leather the organ mechanism – and the new pouches to be attached.












They have also begun washing all of the pipes. After carefully dipping them in a water bath containing a mild cleaning agent, they dry, brush, and prepare them for re-assembly. Some of the pipes have been stripped and refinished. As I mentioned in my presentation a year ago, some pipework was switched from one chamber to another. In order to put it in its original location, some new chests and pipe racks have been made.


Although most of Jonathan’s work will be done once the pipework is put back in place, he also oversees the work on the pipes that will affect their sound. One example is the Swell Trompette, a stop in desperate need of a trip to the spa. Its fatigued 88-year-old tuning scrolls have been cut out, and a fresh piece of metal has been soldered in. Around the newly-soldered metal insert you see the white sizing, used in all pipe-making to ensure that the solder stays where it should be and produces a clean seam. This will later be slotted (duplicating the original 1935 dimensions) and voiced (i.e., tonally adjusted) appropriately. You’ll notice the two-toned appearance of the pipes, resting upside down here. So, in actuality, the lower part of the resonators is zinc, and the top parts (with the newly soldered scrolls) are spotted metal.


Lastly, the blower, which is the engine that produces the wind for the entire organ, has been retooled and cleaned. It will be reinstalled by the time we return to the nave in December, which will allow us to play the pipes that have remained in place. Remember, most of the pipework in the north chamber was cleaned and restored 20 years ago when the chamber’s structure was rebuilt due to termite damage. 


We will use the organ for hymns, but rarely to accompany the choir. The north chamber does not have louver shades that control the volume level, which is absolutely necessary to accompany the shifting louds and softs of choral singing. Conversely, the entire south chamber, which has been removed for restoration, is fitted with them. The organ is designed that way, historically and aesthetically, so that it has one division that speaks unfettered, giving great support to congregational singing. 


Won’t that be a glorious day when we return to the newly renovated nave and sing hymns together, accompanied by a portion of our grand and historic instrument?