In the wind. . . .

November 1, 2016

Follow the money

In August of 1974, Richard Nixon resigned as President of the United States, ending a long process of suspicion, investigation, and Senate hearings into allegations that the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) used subterfuge and “dirty tricks” to sabotage the efforts of the Democratic Party leading up to the presidential election in 1972. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, reporters for the Washington Post, were central to that investigation, jumping on the story of the notorious break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic Party at the Watergate complex near the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, D.C. They worked so closely together that they were known by their names melded as “Woodstein.” The story as they told it is widely regarded as the birth of modern investigative journalism.

Shortly after Nixon’s resignation, Woodward and Bernstein published All the President’s Men (Simon & Schuster, 1974), which was a precursor to the 1976 movie of the same name, starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. There’s a scene in the film where Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) is interviewing an accountant who worked for CREEP, who revealed that there was a stash of money—a secret fund—that was used to bankroll those dirty tricks. As Bernstein questioned her, she said, “Follow the money.” I suppose that phrase had been used before, but it’s popularly understood that it originated in that movie.

Woodward and Bernstein followed the money, which led them to discovering how many White House officials and Nixon appointees were involved in the scandal, ultimately unraveling Nixon’s presidency. I’m writing this in mid-September, and I realize that you will likely be reading it a few days before Americans go to the polls to decide what must be one of the nastiest presidential campaigns in the nation’s history.


Don’t take it for granted.

When I was a kid, I had practice privileges in four different local churches. I came and went as I pleased and made plenty of noise while I was there. I even had keys to a couple of them. One was the church where I had my lessons. Looking back, I suppose my teacher had made the arrangements for me, but I don’t remember any of the details. If I remember right, I played for an occasional funeral—I guess that was in return for the right to practice. I’m pretty sure that money never changed hands, and I know I took it for granted. Wasn’t I lucky?

When I arrived at Oberlin as a student in the fall of 1974, I was flabbergasted by the number of organs. There were sixteen practice organs, four in teaching studios, a big Aeolian-Skinner in Finney Chapel, and the brand-new Flentrop in Warner Concert Hall. Organ majors had two weekly lessons—one in the studio and one in the concert hall. And of course, we needed practice time in the hall. That was the way things worked, and I never paid attention to how frustrating it must have been for students studying other instruments. If you wanted to rehearse a string quartet in Warner Hall, you had to sneak past all those organists.

Of course, Oberlin also had a lot of pianos—hundreds of them. There was a marble plaque on the wall near the dean’s office that read, “Steinway & Sons Commemorates Oberlin’s Century of Service to Music.”1 I remember paraphrasing it: “Steinway & Sons Commemorates Oberlin’s Century of Service to Steinway & Sons.” There were close to two hundred Steinways in the practice building, Robertson Hall. There was a Steinway “B” in every teaching studio, and two Bs in every piano teacher’s studio. Two Bs, or not two Bs, there was no question that we had access to excellent instruments wherever we turned. I suppose there were close to three hundred pianos. I wonder what that cost? The pianos were there in support of all the students—flautists, singers, violinists—but the organists sure ate up most of the real estate. 

We all had our favorite instruments. I certainly knew which practice organs I preferred, but I also had a half-dozen favorite pianos. I knew them by room number and serial number. Wasn’t I lucky to have a half dozen favorites out of the multitude? I once had a dream that Oberlin was replacing all the pianos at once, and they were discarding all the old ones. To make the disposal easier in the wacky world of dreams, the pianos were placed on the curb in front of houses all over town for trash day, and we raced about, looking at serial numbers to claim our favorites. I found mine on the curb in front of Fenner Douglass’s house on Morgan Street—the one with the big organ pipe out front. Lucky guy.

WWFS? What would Freud say? That I took it for granted that lovely instruments would be provided for me wherever I went? That I felt it was somehow my right? That was the time when I was getting deep into organ building and started to realize how much money was involved.

I’ve heard colleagues say something like this: “I’ll accept that job, but I told them they’ll have to buy me a new organ.” Have you ever heard anything like that? Have you ever said anything like that?


A crazy business

Picture a parish church with 250 “pledging units.” The organ is a broken-down, tired relic, and someone gets the idea that it should be replaced. How do we get started? What’s it going to cost? However they get started, somewhere along the line they start receiving proposals from organbuilders. $650,000. $800,000. $1,200,000. Wow! I had no idea.

To pay for an $800,000 instrument, every family in that church would have to donate $3,200. To pay for $1.2M instrument, more like $4,800. Of course, it never works like that. More likely, one family gives a third of the cost, three other families split the second third, and the rest comes in small gifts from the other 246 families. The smallest gift comes from the First Grade Class of the Sunday School.

Let’s think about this. A small community of people ponies up an average of $3,200 a head to buy a musical instrument. Crazy. Are they doing that as a gift to the organist? I doubt it. They may be doing it in recognition and appreciation for the wonderful music. The organist’s artistry may have inspired them. And they may be doing it in part to be sure they’ll be able to attract the next good musician. Whatever the motivation, we shouldn’t fail to notice what a remarkable process that is.


One brick at a time

Last April, Wendy and I spent ten days in the UK. She was attending the London Book Fair, so I had a few days on my own to explore the big city. After the fair, we traveled to Durham, to York, and to Oxford, especially visiting big churches and their organs.

I wrote about that trip in the June and July 2016 issues of The Diapason and touched on how the British National Lottery provides funding for the restoration of the pipe organs and church buildings through a program called Heritage Lottery Fund, which is dedicated to preserving the nation’s heritage. Durham Cathedral was built between 1093 and 1133, and a major renovation project is underway now. Dubbed “Open Treasure,” the project is focused not only on the fabric of the building, but on programming involving the use of the spaces as well. You can read about the project on the website: 

The Heritage Lottery Fund is supporting the project in large part, but Durham Cathedral is responsible for raising a huge amount of the money. And there’s a marvelous project as part of that campaign. In the gift shop, a large and ancient room that also houses a restaurant, there was a Lego™ model of the cathedral under construction. It’s more than 12½ feet long, 5½ feet tall, and includes more than 300,000 bricks. For a donation of £1 per brick, you could add to the model. We gave £20, and with the help of a cheerful volunteer wearing an “Open Treasure” sweatshirt, I followed architectural drawings to install my 20 bricks.

There’s a website describing that project:…. When I looked at it this morning, I learned that the project, which started in July of 2013, is now complete. That webpage includes a video in five parts that animates the history of the cathedral using Lego™ bricks, with terrific singing by the cathedral choir in the background.

A note to readers: I hope you open the links I publish with this column. And Google “Durham Cathedral Lego.” You’ll find lots of newspaper coverage of this unique project.

In the July issue, I shared the tenth-century story of St. Cuthbert and the missing cow, part of the legend of the founding of the cathedral. There’s a commemorative statue of a cow high on the exterior of the cathedral, and there’s a Lego™ cow in the model, along with a representation of the famous poly-chromed façade of the cathedral organ, notable because it sports two 16Open Wood Diapasons, one which extends to 32! Now we’re talking.


Buy a pipe.

The idea of buying bricks is not new. There are a couple bricks with our names on them in the path leading to the Skidompha2 Library in Damariscotta, Maine (population 2,218). And my grandparents donated stones in honor of me, my three siblings, and ten first cousins for the construction of the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. I have no idea where those stones are located, but whenever I’m there, I look up and think about it.

A common gimmick for raising money for an organ project is “Buy a Pipe,” or “Adopt a Pipe.” The organbuilder and organ committee team up to create a catalogue of prices. You could list anything from a 13/5 Tierce ($800) to a 32 Bombarde ($75,000); a keyboard ($3,500) to a blower ($5,000). Donors could mark boxes on a form, and send in their checks. I’ve seen organ benches, carved pipe shades, and swell boxes listed as family gifts in dedication booklets. I’ve even seen an antiphonal Trompette-en-Chamade with the knob engraved Trompette Boyd, in memory of the son who died in the war.

This exercise is always a little mythical—it’s hard to make a list that accurately covers the entire cost of an organ. Windlines, schwimmers, ladders, and walkboards don’t make appealing memorials. Maybe you inflate the value of a music rack to cover a tuner’s perch. But it certainly is meaningful to donors to know they supported something specific. I often quip that raising money to build an organ is easier if there will be lots of space on the case for a plaque.

Place a big organ pipe, at least an 8-footer, in the narthex. Mark it with increments of $100,000, and fit it with a gold tuning sleeve. As gifts come in, move the sleeve up the pipe. Nice visual.


There are lots of reasons for a church to purchase a new organ. The old one is worn out, or the old one was never any good. A new instrument would help revitalize the place. We care deeply about the meaning and role of music in our worship.

And there are reasons not to. A couple years ago I worked with a church, helping them to sell a large tracker organ. It was less than twenty years old, and very fancy, with carvings and moldings, shiny façade pipes, and turned rosewood drawknobs. But a significant number of members had been bitterly opposed to the acquisition. Many of those people left the church, and the opposition that remained carried on the battle. The installation of the new organ could be traced directly to the failure of the church and the disbanding of the congregation. Soli Deo Gloria

Wendy and I recently joined a church that installed a new organ a few years earlier. It was named the Bicentennial Organ, commemorating the bicentennial of the parish, and it was paid for by the wide membership of the parish and surrounding community. As a new member, I’ve enjoyed meeting people there. When they learn that I’m involved with pipe organs, they light up and speak eloquently about the church’s new instrument. They’re well informed about it. They not only know it’s a good and important organ, but they know why. They’re proud of it, and its presence in the building means a lot to them.

Care for the money.

The people who paid for the organ are entrusting it to you. Be sure that it’s always well cared for. That means tuning and mechanical issues, but there are some bigger, less obvious reasons. There’s someone on the property committee, the finance committee, or the board of trustees who is responsible for the church’s insurance policies. You are the advocate for the care of the organ. Take a moment to ask if the organ is properly insured. The organ should be specified on the policy, with a letter of assessment attached. If the organ is damaged by fire, by a roof leak, or by vandalism, they’ll find out very quickly how much it will cost to repair. If the organ was purchased for $200,000 thirty years ago, it may have a replacement value of over $1,000,000—$200,000 wouldn’t even cover the Rückpositiv. It’s remarkable how many organs are not adequately insured.

When the parish is planning renovation in the sanctuary, you are the advocate for the care of the organ. Be sure the organ is properly covered. If it’s going to be really dusty, the reeds should be removed to storage. New carpets, sanding the floors, painting, and carpentry are all enemies of the organ. I once saw a painter standing on top of the swell box in an antique organ, working over his head, a drop cloth and roller pan at his feet. Paint was dripping onto the Great pipes, and the guy had no idea how little structure there was under him. He could have fallen though and wrecked the organ. Might have gotten hurt, too.

Make sure that your music is well chosen and beautifully played—an inspiration to everyone in the pews. Use the organ to nurture and lead the congregation, not to aggrandize yourself. Use the organ as if it’s a privilege to play it. The people who paid for it are entrusting it to you. It’s there to provide beautiful music, but more fundamentally, it’s there as an expression of the congregation’s faith.

The new organ is a gift to future generations of worshipers. Your gift to those future generations is the inspiration you’ve provided—the magic, mystery, and majesty you’ve added to worship—that has encouraged the congregation to express their faith by supporting that new organ. Aren’t we lucky? ν



1. While writing this, I learned that Steinway provided a second plaque celebrating 150 years, honoring Oberlin as an “All-Steinway School.”

2. “Skidompha” is an acronym using the first initials of the names of the members of the club that founded the library. First Lady Laura Bush awarded the National Medal for Museum and Library Services to the Skidompha Library in 2008.