By John Watson
The first step: Inventory the pipes and determine what is missing. For this, we turned to veteran organ-pipe maker Louis Dolive.
Lou unfolded the pipes enough to line them up and take stock. Sixty-five metal pipes were missing entirely. At first, it appeared touch-and-go whether we would be able to save many of the damaged pipes. The larger pipes had the more serious damage.
The pipes were dirty and the mice had left behind more than gnawed holes. Technician David Shakibnia took responsibility for cleaning the pipes.
It took a gentle touch, working the pipes with a soft brush in warm, soapy water. Their mangled state made the pipes structurally unstable and prone to collapse.
The organ pipes were made of an alloy of lead and tin. The soft metal bends and cuts easily—good for the pipe maker, who works to shape the metal into a musical voice.
But the softness also means the pipes dent, bend and crush easily if they aren’t handled with extreme care.
Ingesting the predominantly lead content of the metal is toxic to humans, so we’ll take the rodent’s word for it that pipe metal chews easily, too.
After some patient training from Lou, I am now helping him straighten the pipes and the early results are encouraging. Lou is also closing holes in the pipes by soldering and adding small patches of pipe metal where necessary.
In the next post, I’ll show you some remarkable videos of the straightening process.
Conservation of the Tucker organized piano is made possible by a gift in memory of N. Beverley Tucker, Jr.