Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Restoring a Reed Organ - Part 1: The Gift

We usually spend our summer holidays in Orrville, ON at my parents’ home on Duck Lake.  Summer days are spent sitting next to the water, catching up on reading, and by the occasional swim, walk, or visit with relatives.  This summer, a new diversion is about to be added; the restoration of a Mason and Hamlin reed organ.  Now, you may ask, what does the Canadian Churchman know about antique reed organs?  Well, I’m learning.  However, when I first saw this particular organ I knew less than next to nothing about them. 

This gem came to my attention during the March break this year when we visited our dear friends Bill Bartram and Janet Bartram-Thomas, at Dalighiri, their getaway home near Collingwood, ON.  Whenever we get together with Jan and Bill the days and evenings are filled with music.  Jan and Bill both play the piano, Jan plays the guitar, and they love to lead evenings of singing.  For many years they have hosted a carol sing at their home in Richmond Hill.   During other times of the year, such as Robbie Burns day, we gather for festive celebrations and the singing of folk songs.  Jan strongly believes, and I concur, that aside from Sunday mornings, we have lost sight of the joy of singing in community and celebrating the songs of our heritage.  It had been many years since I had been to Dalighiri, and so we got a tour of what Jan and Bill had done with the place since the last visit.  They also showed us two reed organs that had come into their possession since the death of Bill’s father.  Bill’s dad had acquired them some years ago.  After his death, they had been stored in a barn for a year or two. Bill subsequently rescued them and brought them to Dalighiri.  Both organs were single manual reed “pump” organs.


Not having much knowledge of reed organs I did not really know what I was looking at.  The larger of the two still made a sound when pumped, although the bellows droned quite mournfully underneath my attempt at “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus.”  At this point it was just a curiosity and I made no note of anything about the instrument, other than it was a bit of beast in terms of size, and that the handle on one side was broken off.  Jan asked me if I wanted it.  I was mightily tempted, but the size was a bit foreboding.  Bill then told me to take a look at the other one.  It was a lovely parlour-sized Mason and Hamlin organ, and had a much more elegant casing. Bill said that he remembered his dad playing it and that it had once made a lovely, pretty sound.  A couple of stop-knobs were missing and when pumped it made no sound, yet, I knew I wanted it.  Already, in the back of my head, I was wondering if I could fix it.

 I will understand if those of you who know the Churchman personally are laughing yourselves silly.  I am not the most mechanically inclined individual God put on this earth.  You would be very justified in asking, “how on earth is he going to manage this?”  Well, just because the Churchman has not a mechanical bone in his body that does not mean that there aren’t such genes somewhere in the family.  So I did the thing we all do when we find ourselves in over our heads, I called my dad.  Yes, the situation demanded it; it was time to call, “the father of the Father.” 


The Mason and Hamlin Reed Organ given to me by Jan & Bill
 My dad is a remarkable guy.  He has built a couple of houses, has built furniture, can wire a house, take apart and fix small machinery, and all kinds of other stuff I never know about until I see him doing it.  So, as I stood in front of this Mason and Hamlin reed organ, about which I knew nothing, or even if it could be brought back into playing condition, I was already formulating a plan.  I told them I would take it.  When I got home, I called my dad and asked him about what he thought of it as a summer project.  He was game.  So we arranged for a trailer and went to pick it up on July 9th.  It is now in his workshop.  I will be heading up north this weekend for a month and we will begin our work on it.  So there we are.  A priest with very mediocre playing skills and his mechanically gifted dad are taking on a new project.  We will keep you posted on how things progress!

Next:  identifying the instrument.

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