Don’t Lament what people say you can’t do | Restore a pipe organ like a champion today!

Many people lament the beautiful things made by past generations that could be returned to their former beauty if funding existed. How often do you hear people say we don’t manufacture things like we once did in the USA. This is a story that flies in the face of those two beliefs.

Today’s society is not what it once was, that is neither a good thing or a bad thing. It is only a different thing.

The internet: social media and media sharing sites allow for communicating with people around the world with specialized interests – unthinkable years ago.

US Manufacturing: We don’t produce goods in this country like we once did, but there is an industry in the USA that still does – and they are the best in the world. They build timeless instruments that last generations in a world that considers a 3 year old iPhone an antique. No it isn’t Steinway – don’t give John Paulson any ideas.

This is about the Pipe Organ at Our Lady of Refuge Church in Brooklyn, NY. Built in the summer and fall of 1933 in St. Louis Missouri and shipped to Brooklyn right after New Years in 1934 it was installed in the newly built church.

Joe Vitacco and Our Lady of Refuge’s parish priest, Fr. Michael Perry,  worked  for the past 6 years to raise several hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore the church’s historic pipe organ. They did it! It is not a “rich parish” financially – but rich in many other ways. Since the people at the parish did not have the money to pay for the entire restoration of the organ Fr. Perry and Joe used youtube, vimeo,  facebook and email to raise the money to pay for all of the work. They have had over 1000 people give money – MANY HAVE NEVER SET FOOT IN BROOKLYN – a lot aren’t catholic or even church goers.

Two Midwestern Companies carried out the work: A.R. Schopp’s Sons and Quimby Pipe Organs. Their talented craftsmen spent hundreds of hours renewing the thousands of parts of this pipe organ. One employs about 50 talented cabinetmakers, metalworkers making and repairing organ pipes and components, the other is smaller with similar talents, but they have a crew of installers that deliver and setup and tune the pipe organs. These guys would make Bob Vila and This Old House think to start a series called This Old Pipe Organ.

In June the pipe organ, with all of its parts fully renewed, was shipped back to Brooklyn in 2 large trucks. A team of 5 to 8  men worked 10 hours a day 5 1/2 days a week to finish the installation and perfectly tune all 1800 pipes. They finished their work on September 4th. The end results exceeded anyone’s expectations. Watch a Movie of the organ console being delivered to Our Lady of Refuge.

This organ is an artistic treasure that will be shared with Brooklyn as well as the members of the church. It will make Brooklyn a little better for everyone with its music.

Listen to the recent recording of the restored pipe organ on SoundCloud

Buy your tickets online to hear Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, Organist, Olivier Latry, dedicate the organ on October 18th at 7pm. Arrive and be seated by 6:45pm

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Daniel Roth plays Widor Symphonies No. 5 & No. 6 on the Cavaille-Coll pipe organ at Saint-Sulpice

pipe organ

Daniel Roth plays Widor Symphony No. 5 & No. 6

Daniel Roth is widely acclaimed as one of the world’s leading interpreters of French Romantic Organ Literature today. He is the titular organist of Saint-Sulpice in Paris where his predecessors were the who’s who of French organ composers and organists: Charles-Marie Widor, Marcel Dupre and Jean-Jacques Grunenwald. The world-renowned Cavaille-Coll pipe organ at Saint-Sulpice inspired all of them to artistic heights of composition and improvisation. This pipe organ is one of the few large Cavaillé-Coll pipe organs that is almost as the builder would have known it at the end of the 19th – Century.

This instrument is a perfect venue for Mr. Roth’s recording of two Symphonies of Charles-Marie Widor: Symphonie No. 5 pour grand orgue, Op. 42, No. 1 and Symphonie No. 6 pour grand orgue, Op. 42, No. 2. Symphonie No. 5 ends with one of the best-known organ works The Widor Toccata, with its unceasing cascade on the keyboards and its roaring earthshaking pedal theme. This Toccata has great appeals to organists and non-organists alike and has been used as the recessional to many weddings.

These recordings were made by the noted Germany recording engineer, Christoph Martin Frommen and the sound quality is excellent. The physical CD – a limited quantity press – is available at for pre-order from JAV Recordings. The recording is packaged in an elegant digi pack, with a 20 page booklet with notes on the Widor Symphonies by concert organist Stephen Tharp, stoplist and numerous photographs.

A full list of our recordings of Daniel Roth can be found at

To purchase this recording in Europe click here

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Day Eight Pipe Dreams Tour of Pipe Organs in Spain – Lerma, Burgos

Day 8, we left Burgos early Tuesday May 21 for a short drive to Lerma Spain to hear two famous pipe organs then on to pipe-organ-in-colegiata-de-san-pedro-lerma-spain-2013-05-21-8 Madrid. The first church we visited was the Collegiate Church of San Pedro in Lerma, consecrated in 1617. Its epistle organ (south side of church) is the oldest pipe organ in Spain. Both organs where built by Diego de Quijano in a renaissance style. The Epistle organ lost its organ pipes but its mechanism was left entirely intact. The Gospel Organ (north side of the church) underwent considerable alterations at the end of the 18th century. It became a typical Castilian Baroque pipe organ, though it kept its original materials.

In an 18th century rebuild, the gospel organ’s stops were divided at middle c. An echo chest (early form of a “swell box”) was added to the pipe organ. Horizontal reeds were added to the façade. Pipes from the epistle organ were likely melted down and recast as new pipes for the Gospel Organ. The Spanish organbuilder Joaquín Lois Cabello restored the gospel organ in 2009 and reconstructed the epistle organ in 1995. Organist, Juan de la Rubia demonstrated both organs for us by improvising in the style of the time of the organs. Our tour leader Michael Barone and Juan de la Rubia played Antonio Soler’s Fanfare. Please keep in mind I recorded this with my iPhone and posted it to our account immediately from Lerma!

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The group then left the church and I requested that Juan de la Rubia record a video improvising from the ordinary of the Mass in the style when the organ was built. The subject for the improvisation in the embedded video is the Gloria from the Cunctipotens Genitor Deus Mass (All Powerful Creator God) found on page 25 of the Liber Usualis. Gloria in excelsis Deo would have been sung but it is played on a flute here. Juan de la Rubia improvises on et in terra pax hominibus bonae volutatis, next the choir would have sung Laudamus te and so on in alternation. Seven verses can be heard in the video.

Video of Juan de la Rubia playing the pipe organ at Colegiata de San Pedro

After we finished recording the video we met the group in a small local restaurant. Next stop Madrid. This would be our final hotel for the next four nights. I decided to rest while the group went to The Queen Sofia College of Music to hear a new Grenzing organ built in 2008. I missed hearing this organ but was pretty exhausted.

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Day Seven Pipe Dreams Tour of Pipe Organs in Spain – Burgos

On Day Seven of the Pipe Dreams Tour of Pipe Organs in Spain, we had bags out at 7am and the bus was rolling to Burgos at 9am. Burgos was founded 854 AD, it is a city of about 200,000 with 20,000 people living in the city. There are a large number of building remaining from the medieval age. It was also the birth place of El Cid.

We arrived a few hours before our appointment to see the organs so there was time to explore the city, which I found wonderful. Also there was a search for Wifi with some bandwidth, the NH Calderon hotel chain has awful internet service, so getting these photos posted has been a challenge – video has been nearly impossible. The best upload speed I had was at a truck stop in the middle of nowhere in Spain. Getting back to the tour now.

The first organ we saw was in the Capilla de San Enrique and dates from the 17th century and is single manual 7 to 5 rank instrument. Grenzing beautifully restored the organ in 1999. Juan de la Rubia beautifully demonstrated the organ for the group with improvisations, he also demonstrated for us a modulation from F Major to F# Major in meantone – that was enough to curdle milk! Mario d’Amico from Grenzing told us about restoration. Mario explained to us that it was commonplace with little organs built at that time to us pipes and parts from other organs. He also pointed out that the windchest must have been originally made for a smaller organ, as the wind channels are not big enough for the current instrument. Juan de la Rubia must have the skills of a surgeon. This is clearly evident by the very fine soldering seen in the repaired organ pipes. Though the organ has a single keyboard it is split so melodies can be soloed out in the right hand. The instrument though small in size has a great deal of power.

We next moved to the cathedral’s choir here are two pipe organs facing each other. The Epistle and Gospel organ, so named because before Vatican II the Epistle was read from the right side of the altar and the book of the gospel was moved to the left side of the altar. The Epistle Organ was built in 1883 by Hermanos Roques and the Gospel Organ in 1806 by Juan Manuel de Betolaza. I have to say I was not too impressed sound of these organs. The cathedral is visually stunning and beautifully restored. One can hope that the Grenzing Organ Firm will get to restore these organs. The choir stalls are exquisitely carved with scenes from the life of Christ. I have included numerous photos of the choir stalls because of their beauty.

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The final church of the day was the Church of la Merced. The church has a small Cavaille-Coll from 1905. The organ met a very unfortunate fate, but then met Mario d’Amico from the Grenzing organbuilding firm. In April of 2001 the main altar of the church caught fire. This was one of the large carved wood altars that are in almost all of the churches in Spain. The fire started at night and it was not discovered until it was too late. The fire got so hot that it the stone vault ceiling in the front of the church collapsed causing extreme heat to be blasted at the organ for a short period of time. The result was the façade pipes shattered at the tops but many of the lower sections were intact but filled with lead. To preserve as much of the original voicing of the Cavaille-Coll the pipes were opened up, the melted lead removed and new tops soldered on. The pipes in the Swell were protected. The folks at Gernzing are to be complimented for their fine pipe making skills in making these very difficult repairs as shown in the video explanation by Mario.

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Day Six Pipe Dreams Tour of Pipe Organs in Spain – More Basque Country Organs

Well it has almost been a week and a group of organists have been traveling and looking at the best new and very old pipe organs in Spain. It was Pentecost Sunday and I had hoped to hear some terrific church music in Spain, well I’ll leave that one alone. My liturgical joy was some Durufle. The first organ we heard was at the Church of Saint Vincent which has a Cavaille-Coll that was restored in 2000. Our local organ expert told us about some rivalry with Cavaille-Coll’s principal competitor, Puget. He rebuilt the organ in 1893 and did not have kind things to say about Cavaille-Coll. But then Cavaille-Coll’s successor, Mutin rebuilt the Puget and I guess got the last laugh.

From there we walked to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Coro. Loreto Armendi and her husband warmly greeted us. This organ has had minor alterations and it is largely as Cavaille-Coll left it in 1863. This organ is an exact copy of the organ that Ceasar Franck’s used to play at Saint Clotilde before it was changed numerous times including its rebuild under the current organist. It follows the tradition in Spain to locate it to one side of the choir. The stops are measured in palms instead of feet. This organ is in need of restoration, which is being organized. Learn more about this pipe organ.

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Our next church was San Ignatius of Loyola in San Sebastian. Mass was just ending as the group got there. The organist Gerardo Rifon played the Bach Saint Anne Fugue as the postlude and it sounded fantastic and was very well played. We learned the organ was built by Walcker Organ for the church in 1914. Romanus Seifert of Kevelaer recently restored it. The organ has 30 stops on two manuals. The workmanship is excellent, what is striking is the high proportion of reeds on the organ; the reeds are of a French design though they were made in Germany. Also what is very interesting is that Walcker stopped making tracker action organs in the 1890s and this organ has “tracker action” between the console and the cone windchests. With this kinds of windchest you can have a tracker action and never lose wind like in a normal pallet windchest.

After we had a traditional “cider” dinner. It was just too much food. It was all you could drink cider, wine and a Spanish kind of champagne. It was a terrific dinner with friends.

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Day Five Pipe Dreams Tour of Pipe Organs in Spain – Basque Country

The previous day started in Mallorca and now we are in Bilbao on our tour of  pipe organs in Spain. It is cold and raining, just yesterday it was bright and sunny.

Our first stop today was a short distance from the hotel in Azpetita and was the Basilica of Saint Ignatius Loyola. The large domed church was completed in 1738. The interior is spectacular with rose-colored marble, black polished marble pillars and all of these hard surfaces give the pipe organ an incredible acoustic environment. The Organ here was built by Cavaille-Coll  in 1889 and was restored in 1973 by Organeria Espanola. The organ has 3-manuals and 37-stops. We are lucky there have been no changes to the organ except, I think a balanced expression pedal was added to the Recit. It is also interesting to note that the organ stops are listed in palms and not feet.

We boarded the bus for a short drive to the church of Saint Maria which has one of the last Cavaille-Colls. One month after the organ’s dedication Cavaille-Coll sold his company to Charles Mutin and Cavaille-Coll died in 1899. This organ is a large 3-manual instrument ideal for playing the music of Cesar Frank. The organ was restored by Gabriel Blancafort in 1976, there seem to be no modifications other than maybe the position of the expression. The organist at the church, Jose Luis Franzesena, made an improvisation on local folk songs showing all of the beauty of a Cavaille-Coll Organ.

The group then all came up and played. After this, we all went to a fantastic lunch near by the church. Just a comment about the food, most meals are provided on the trip and I have to say they have been good to excellent.

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The last church of the day was in a Deba and has a new Grenzing Organ of 3-manuals and 35 ranks. The organ was built new in 2009. There was a lot of discussion about how to design this organ. The church wanted an organ that fit the architecture of the church and has influences from organ building from Gipuzkoa region between the 17th and 18th century. The organ has an expressive division. These were small boxes built around the cornets with a top that lifted up, like what some American builders did with Vox Humanas. I had always thought the swell box was an English invention, but it seems to have been used in Spain before I have read about its use in England. Our guide speculates with the wars between Spain and England in the 16th century the idea of organ pipes in expression boxes must have made it to England.

That evening we settled into our new hotel in the beautiful town of San Sebastian, another beach community.

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Day Four Pipe Dreams Tour of Pipe Organs in Spain – Island of Palma de Mallorca

Day four of the Pipe Dreams Tour started on the beautiful Island of Palma de Mallorca. Everyone else was heading to the beach in this tropical paradise, but NO not the group of 40 American organists–we were heading off to hear pipe organs in church on the island. Just think none of us had to pack sunscreen! We had to have our bags out at 6am, mind you, this blogger was up until 2am posting photos and videos to the internet.

Our bus drove along the beach, it was bright and sunny out, we drove past the very impressive Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma (396 feet long, 180 feet wide and 144 feet high), on our way to Saint Augustine of Palma. The pipe organ here was built in 1703 shortly after the church was finished in 1699. In 1755 the organ underwent an important modification the addition of the chamade reeds. The organ was demonstrated for us by organist Arnau Reynes. He told the group there are 120 pipe organs on the island, of those 60 are in good working condition. Mallorca is my kind of island – the pipe organ per capita is what the rest of the world needs to emulate.

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After this we walked a short distance to Saint Francis. Another incredible Gothic church completed in 1499. The oldest recorded organ in the church is from 1536. Jordi Bosch built a stunning organ which survived unchanged until the 1950s. At which time the Spanish Dictator Franco’s organbuilder threw out the organ to make a new one – yes, I am about to get sick. All that remained was the case the horizontal trumpets.  In 2008 Grenzing built a new pipe organ to reflect the organ of the past, but also being modern so all of the literature can be played. It is an excellent organ.

For our last organ of the day we heard what is likely the most important pipe organ of the trip. It is an organ in the tiny town of Santanyi on the eastern part of the island, Saint Andrew’s – here is an organ by Jordi Bosch that has had little changes since it was built in 1765. In 1985 after a great deal of study the Grenzing workshop made a painstaking restoration of this pipe organ.  This instrument Isnard Organ in France, blazing reeds, big cornets – Bosch had to have been visiting Southern France and hear Isnard’s organ, or maybe it was the other way around as the organ at  St. Maximin in Provence was completed 10 years after the Bosch organ we heard.

Then it was off to the airport in Mallorca for the next leg of our journey, Basque Country.

The trip has been fantastic. I hope you are enjoying the updates.

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Day Three Pipe Dreams Tour of Pipe Organs in Spain: A Second day in Barcelona

Day three of the Pipe Dreams Tour was the group’s second day in Barcelona. Our first stop of the day demonstrated the wide breath of the Grenzing workshop – the restoration of a 1907 E. F. Walcker in the Palau de la Musica Catalana. This is an art nouveau building carried out on an extraordinary scale. In 1915 the Walcker company rebuilt the organ with a electro-pneumatic action as the tubular action provided to be too slow. The organ was restored with the building in 2003, but the original console and player mechanism were replaced with MIDI and electronic switching. The organ has four-manuals and 63 ranks. The organ’s voicing is excellent, for us Americans think Skinner Organ from the early 1930s. Juan de la Rubia, born in 1982 was the winner of the First National Prize or Organ for young musicians in Spain. He specializes in improvisation, teaches at the High School of Music of Catalonia, plays organ concerts and is the organists at the Sagrada Familia. Juan de la Rubia, treated us to a improvisations showing the group almost every tone color possibility of the organ. In the next few days I will upload a video of this demonstration.

The group took at walk through the streets of Barcelona to the only surviving church in the pure Catalan Gothic style, the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar. Walking into the Basilica you immediately notice the high and wide triple nave which is supported by very thin pillars. The organ has a 18th century organ transplanted from another church and restored and enlarged by Grenzing in 2008. Here an American from Texas, Neil Cowley and organist born in Austin Texas, who decided to learn to speak Catalan and fell in love with the country and moved here. He played the transplanted pipe organ for us and allowed me to make some videos of him playing the organ, which are posted on this page.

After touring around the city we headed for the airport for a flight to Palma de Mallorca to see some very special pipe organs. Well of course our flight was late, but what do you expect from airlines.

All are having a great time.

Gnite from Palma de Mallorca.

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Day Two of the Pipe Dreams Tour of Pipe Organs in Spain: Barcelona

Day two of the Pipe Dreams Tour was our first full day in Barcelona, the group got up early and drove into the mountains of Montserrat. The drive was through incredible rock formations up steep and winding roads to a Benedictine Monastery that was originally formed in the 9TH Century. The Basilica has a new mechanical action pipe organ built by Blacnafort of 4-manuals and 63 ranks. It is a very modern case but works well in the church. The monastery has 8 monks who are organists and Brother Ramon Ornias played for us during our visit.

After a quick lunch we drove to the Museu de la Musica. The museum has three different working organs from three different time periods. The Manuel Pérez Molero organ is an 18th century Baroque organ. Baroque cabinet with a great wealth of gildings and polychrome decoration. It has a keyboard with 45 keys and there are thirteen half stops. Air is supplied by means of three exterior bellows. The Zaragozano Organ is a portable instrument commonly used for special religious festivities and processions, and would usually be found as well in smaller churches. The instrument has been preserved almost entirely in its original state and there seem to be no signs of any major changes. There has been a complete restoration of the organ and now, this unique instrument is fully functional and musically satisfying. We also got to hear and see a 16th-century claviorgan, an
instrument formed by an organ (wind instrument) and a spinet (string
instrument). In the course of the 16th century, the claviorgan was
highly esteemed by the Spanish courts as a symbol of technological and
social ostentation.

No visit to Barcelona would be complete with a visit to the Basílica de la Sagrada Família. The building was designed by Antoni Gaudi. An outstanding figure of Catalan culture and international architecture. Gaudí used highly symbolic content in the Sagrada Família, both in architecture and sculpture, dedicating each part of the church to a religious theme. The organ here is also by Blancfort it is one of several organs that will be put into the completed church. I skipped going back after the building closed to hear the organ as I was totally exhausted and we had a long day ahead of us finally flying to Mallorca the next evening.

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Day One of the Pipe Dreams Tour of Pipe Organs in Spain

The entire group of forty American pipe organ enthusiasts arrived in Spain today for the start of the Pipe Dreams Tour. We settled into our hotel in downtown Barcelona and visited Gerhard Grenzing Organbuilder. The company was founded by Gerhard Grenzing in 1972 in El Papiol Barcelona to restore historic organs in Spain. Today he has twenty professionals working in the company doing some of the best work in Europe. While I was in Paris visiting with Daniel Roth, Mr. Roth commented that Mr. Grenzing is one of the finest craftsmen the organ community has in Europe.

Below you can view a video of a new organ that is set up for testing in the organbuilders factory before being installed in Paris.

Mr. Grenzing gave us a talk on organ building in Spain and some of the heart wrenching conditions he has found some of the instruments in churches in this country. He talked about an organbuilder from the 18th century I knew little about Jordi Bosch. What is amazing about this organbuilder is he seemed to be years ahead of his time. He slotted his organ pipes, developed the relief pallet, swell boxes and less taxing ways to pump organ. It is odd that Cavaille-Coll must have known these organs – did the great Cavaille-Coll copy his ideas from Jordi Bosch? We may never know. There are only 2 pipe organs of Jordi Bosch left. We will hear both. On Thursday we fly to Majorca to hear one of the organ of Jordi Bosch in Santanyi.

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The Grenzing Staff could not have been nicer to our group. We all had dinner near our hotel and have to be on the bus at 7:30am to get to the Basilica of Monterrat and we end the day with a late tour of the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia.

From Barcelona – this is Joe Vitacco signing off – is this REALLY a vacation?

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