Thursday, June 13, 2013

Toot Sweet


How’s your Walkman working these days?
No, that’s not an antiquated expression I am using to indicate your iPod or MP3 player.  I actually mean your Sony Walkman portable personal cassette player from the early 1980’s. I had one, and I was one of the last people I knew to get one.  It died eventually.  I think I then bought a DiscMan, though I am not certain I ever owned one of those.  Almost eight years ago, I got an iPod, which I still have.  It mostly works, under the proper circumstances.
Why am I asking about electronic technology from the age of big hair and Uncle Ron?  Because odds are, you do not have any of it anymore.  We did.
The astute observers will notice something missing at Mass this weekend.  There is a big empty space behind the altar in the choir, and a quiet that cannot be explained simply by the choir’s being on summer vacation (which they are since last weekend).  The organ console is gone, and all those beautiful pipes are silent.
That technology that powered your early 1980’s personal cassette player was the same as the electronics that made our organ function.  Of course, the technology of the pipes is ancient – air moving through a tube of a certain size and shape to make a particular sound. They’ve been making organs for a thousand years -- lots of pipes of varying sizes and types arranged into a single instrument.  Moving the air, and opening the pipes so the pipes made music, has had various forms of control over the centuries.  Our keys and stops on the console controlled the pipes electronically, and those electronics are thirty years old: Walkman territory.
Predictably, they’re shot.  They’ve been dropping out for years, and we’ve been losing the use of certain pipes here and there (memorably during one Mass last year).  We have seen it coming; the organists and organ maintenance crew have been talking about it for over a decade.   This summer, the time finally came.  We sent it out to be rewired.
If you have ever noticed while in the Monsignor Stricker Room that a white pipe, about two and half inches in diameter, runs along the ceiling.  That is the conduit for the wire bundle that linked the console to the organ.  The new connector will be less than one-eighth of an inch thick.  That’s the new technology.
The organ also had some idiosyncrasies that I have been hearing the organists complain about for fifteen years.  One of them was that it had three manuals – keyboards, like on a piano.  But only two of those manuals were connected to anything!  The third one was dead.  It was made that way.  I am convinced the original organ builders did it because they wanted us to add more organ – more pipes – at some later date, and the dead manual was to make us feel like we are missing something.  Have you felt like we were lacking in the pipe department?  Me either.  So we will connect that manual in a way that will make the pipes we have more versatile.
The console will be back in August.   Meanwhile we have the piano to support our singing – and it will have to be our singing, because the choir’s away.  We had a few funerals this week and it worked well enough.  We have one wedding scheduled for late June, and the bride and groom are being very good sports about it.  We will try to put together a suitable musical ensemble for them.  The 7:30 Sunday Mass people won’t even notice!  But the rest of us will muddle through.  
Our pipe organ is the envy of many parishes and pastors, and for good reason.  But the guts were worn out.  While the electronics are being updated, you can always listen to music on that Walkman.
Monsignor Smith

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