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Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA

The Æolian Co., Opus 1726, 1930

The following speech was given by Joseph Rotella at the occasion of the rededication of the Longwood organ in February, 2011:

The Longwood organ is significant not only for its size and tonal variety, but first and foremost because of where it is, or rather, where it is not. It is not in a church, where most people hear organs, nor in a concert hall, where some people hear the organ in concerts with orchestra. In fact, where else do you find a giant organ behind a wall of silk brocade in a ballroom adjacent to a room with fountains and flowers? Since 1930, there have been countless numbers of visitors who have heard this organ. In fact, when doing a quick web search recently of things to do around New York City during the Christmas season, I discovered that attending a sing-along at Longwood Gardens ballroom was high on the list.

Basically, the restoration of an organ like this involves the repetitive rebuilding of hundreds of pieces of mechanism, each needing hundreds of pieces of smaller parts replaced, each part being made out of specific types of materials, each material being carefully selected and hand scrutinized for any flaws or defects, each adding in some small way to the success of the whole.

But, like a large building or extensive gardens, large organs inevitably involve issues of scale and complexity that don’t exist in smaller jobs. And Longwood isn’t just a large organ. It’s a giant one. It is an instrument that has MORE of everything. More pipes. More bellows. More swell shutters. More individual pieces of mechanism. And Much more percussion. It is a luxury in many organs to have one harp. Here there are FOUR harps, along with a Glockenspiel and Xylophone and drums, and other effects too. It even has its own nine-foot grand piano. In these and other ways, the Longwood organ is the rarest of the rare.

While many things distinguish this project from merely restoring all the mechanism and pipework, three aspects are particularly important to note. First, because of Longwood’s desire for the best possible job, the restoration team has been charged with returning to organ to like new condition, going so far as to using a second Aeolian organ to supply parts to reverse previous changes and replace missing and broken components. To reset the clock on the organ to day one is a restorers dream.

Second, no project of our experience has been more comprehensive in engaging an instrument with its public. Where else can people see so much behind the scenes? The Organ Museum draws people to a better understanding of the organ overall, and this instrument in particular, as well as detailing Pierre du Pont’s intensive involvement with the performing arts. Particularly in this Year of Sound, the organ will be play an important role in the public experience.

Third, no other project of our experience has been more thorough at correcting longstanding issues and providing for the organ’s long-term care. The most obvious example comes in the fire suppression system. Despite valiant protests, many organ builders have had to witness sprinklers installed in pipe organ chambers, fearful that even a small leak might cause untold damage. The sophisticated misting fire suppression system here means that a fire can be extinguished without water damage to the organ; just a fine mist to wipe up afterward.

Where the sound of the organ is concerned, the project goal has been to return every pipe to the way it sounded in 1930, as far as our research and sensibility can determine. Of the 146 sets of pipes, 135 are original to Longwood. 10 are from the Aeolian parts organ, and 1 specially sourced by Nelson Barden. Replacement pipes have been matched in, using all available historical documentation. The original console, replaced in 1959, was replaced again in 2001 with one much closer in appearance and feel to the original 1930 model, beautifully built by Robert Turner with design input from Peter Conte and Nelson Barden. More recently, Dick Houghten has made valuable refinements to increase the comfort and convenience for the player. And thanks to the genius of Airsled technology, the console moves around the Ballroom effortlessly on a cushion of air. The final bit of modern technology comes in the computer players. In 1930, the organ played itself by a system using paper rolls, like a player piano. Today, there are two systems. A simple playback-only version can be run off an iPhone or iPad, for the ease of volunteers wishing to demonstrate the organ for visitors. A complex system developed by Nelson Barden allows musicians to edit and refine their performances into intepretations of complex orchestral splendor.

Now is the time to recognize those whose expertise, labor and collaborative spirit have contributed so much to the success of this project:

First, the current and former members of my staff
Aravinda Ananda
William Catanesye
Chris Harrington
John Kennedy
Josh Lawton
Michael LeLievre
Martin Near
Sean O’Donnell
Jonathan Ortloff
Gary Patterson
Steven Soph
Erik Spooner

And the current and former members of Nelson Barden Associates
Joe Sloane
John Ananda
Mike Lentini
Ryan French
Ross Krachey
Ben Cleek

The restoration team, however, has involved many other contractors, who in carrying out vital aspects of this job have helped to make this project possible:

The Organ Clearing House, who removed all the pipework in 2004
Bard Wickisser and Carl Loeser, who provided valuable early assistance in removal logistics
Gary Phillips and Tim Holleran, who refashioned or rebuilt the organ’s 38 bellows
David Snyder, who restored the organ’s nine-foot Weber grand piano
David and Christopher Broome, who have meticulously restored the organ’s 35 sets of reed pipes.
Richard Houghten and his staff, who designed and installed the organ’s new solid-state electrical circuitry, and whose ongoing technical support is invaluable
Jonathan Ambrosino, who surveyed the pipework in 2001 and has since been involved in many aspects of the project’s aesthetic development, particularly in tonal finishing
Daniel Kingman, a voicer of four decades’ experience who together with Jonathan has painstakingly reviewed and refined the tone of all 10,010 pipes
Scheinerts, who took charge of restoring the two organ blowers
John Irwin, Roy Battell, and Sean O’Donnell, who for the past 25 years have worked with Nelson Barden to develop the sophisticated computer player
the late Robert Turner, who built the new console in 2001
Curt Mangel, who since 2003 has been involved as project consultant
Peter Richard Conte, console design consultant in 2001 and who continues today to give important input on valuable refinements

From Longwood, I would like to recognize Colvin Randall, Pierre S. du Pont Fellow and Longwood historian extraordinaire for his dedication to the Longwood Organ and all things Longwood, who has always had the answer to questions both obvious and arcane.
And, our Longwood project manager Kate Donnelly, who has always willingly assisted us with whatever we needed and whose support has been greatly appreciated over the years.

Finally, there is one person, the person who has been involved in this restoration project since 1997. The person who trained me, Jonathan Ambrosino, Joe Sloane and Sean O’Donnell. The person whose pioneering efforts in the restoration of this kind of organ, and whose writings and research on the subject, caused a national shift in thinking about instruments of this style. The person whose interest in the history of automated organ performance through paper roll technology has resulted in the amazing system by which the Longwood organ can play itself at the highest level. The person who first got ordinary people walking through pipe organs, and through whose efforts in that direction at Boston University inspired the glass viewing walls in the Longwood organ museum. The person without whose determination for the very best means that this organ has fire suppression that will not ruin the organ, a built-in vacuum system to keep it clean, airsled technology to make the console more easily movable, and an aesthetic standard that makes the organ itself an object of pride before anyone hears so much as a single note. That person is, of course, Nelson Barden.

In conclusion, I will mention what a privilege it is to be involved in a project at Longwood Gardens. At supper the other night, one of my staff members said simply, “Life at Longwood is how life should be.” From Paul, to Colvin, to Kate, to the kind staff who keep the Ballroom spotless. Everyone has been so kind, helpful and supportive. Everyone is here to help. If we needed something, we got it. You can’t ask for more than that. Thank you.

Longwood Gardens organ