Damage and Repairs to Console of Massey Organ
February 2, 2018
We write to share information about efforts underway to repair the console, the control desk, of the 1907 Massey Memorial Organ. The console was damaged recently due to a leak caused by ice and snowmelt at the Amphitheater. Knowing that many members of the Chautauqua community and, indeed, generations of families cherish the sounds of our iconic organ as a centerpiece of their Chautauqua experience, we share the following information to both inform you of the problem and assure you of our collaborative work plan to address it.
While any threat to a resource such as this is troubling, we are confident in the team that is working toward the repair of the console and will continue to keep you informed of the progress as steps proceed this spring. Thankfully, the beloved Massey Organ, its pipework and the essential systems contained within the organ chamber itself, is completely unaffected. The damage, and the focus of this update, is to the console (keyboard and housing).
With best regards and gratitude for your attention, understanding and support,
Michael E. Hill
Organist and Coordinator of Worship and Sacred Music
Massey Organ Console Damage Report and Restoration Plan
During a routine inspection in late January, Chautauqua Institution personnel discovered water damage to the console of the Massey Memorial Organ, apparently caused by a leak from snowmelt during a stretch of warmer temperatures following a period of heavy snow, freezing and sub-zero temperatures. (The console is the unit with keys and stops that the organist plays from the stage.) As is our usual practice, the organ console was stored for the winter in its backstage Amphitheater compartment, with power maintained to its internal computers and moisture-removing damp chasers, under a protective covering (not waterproof, to prevent condensation). Between routine inspections, the most recent occurring one week prior, meltwater leaked into the compartment, permeating the protective covering into the console and its four keyboards.
At the time of discovery, Chautauqua staff removed the console from its compartment and immediately notified Paul Fischer of the Fischer Organ Company. Paul along with his son, Mark, led the Erie, Pennsylvania-based team who restored the entire 1907 instrument in the early 1990s. The pair has guided the organ’s maintenance since. Following an on-site inspection, Paul Fischer reported extensive damage to the console’s ivory keyboards and to the combination pistons and drawknob stop controls. The cherrywood and walnut console is largely the result of the early-’90s organ restoration; the keyboards date to 1972 and were incorporated into the current unit. The Massey is the largest of the four outdoor pipe organs extant around the world.
In consultation with the Fischers and longtime organist Jared Jacobsen, Chautauqua Institution is taking the following steps with the goal of returning the restored and fully functional console to the Amphitheater in time for the launch of the 2018 season:
- The manual keyboards will be removed and restored by specialists in that field. Since ivory is no longer used in such restorations, a suitable alternative material (now regarded among industry standards) will be installed. The Fischers and Jared Jacobson will oversee this process.
- The console itself, including the state-of-the-art computers and electronics it houses, which we believe to be unharmed, will be evaluated and serviced by the company helmed by Mark Fischer.
Chautauqua personnel, in consultation with building and design contractors, are investigating the cause of the leak and will implement solutions as well as additional electronic monitoring and inspection protocols to prevent such damage from happening again or elsewhere in the facility. We have confirmed this is an isolated problem and no other parts of the facility have experienced ice or water damage.
The timeline for this plan calls for the restored console to be returned the Amphitheater no later than mid- June. With the guidance of Paul and Mark Fischer and Jared Jacobsen, we are investigating temporary organ solutions should the repairs take longer than projected.
The costs for the restoration are not yet determined, but we expect they will be covered by a combination of insurance and the Institution’s capital maintenance budget.
We will provide subsequent updates as information becomes available through the pre-season period via email and at this page on Chautauqua Institution’s website. Should you have questions about this message, please send an email to the address above right and we will do our best to provide a response as soon as possible. In addition, from these questions and answers, we will curate a Frequently Asked Questions and Answers list that will be posted to this page.
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