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While I am writing this first installment today, I have a history with
this pipe organ dating back to the Fall of 1963.
My father, Roger Wagner, had commissioned Wick's Organ Co in Highland,
Illinois to construct a portable 7-rank organ for tour use. At the time,
the Roger Wagner Chorale toured with 16-24 voices, a 17-piece orchestra
including string bass, 4 tympani, and a harpsichord. The pipe organ was
a VERY ambitious addition to the forces, and provided the ability to
perform the Durufle Requiem, Mozart Requiem, Handel Organ Concerto, and
other pieces of immense musical delight. To take 487 pipes (at that
time) and move them an average of 300 miles a day in a truck, set them
back up, tune them (repeatedly), and then tear the whole thing down,
including a total equipment weight with shell, risers, etc. of 7100
pounds (and in one hour out the door in the truck) was nothing short of
an astonishing technical feat.
I did this particular iteration of the setup 3 different tours, totaling
over 100 concerts.
At the outset I knew nothing about the organ itself, other than I liked
it and several pieces of the repertoire, such as Bach's Toccata and
Fugue in D-minor, Widor's 5th and 6th Symphonies, etc.
I had a seminal experience when I was 18 in the summer of 1962 while
standing in the sonically impressive cathedral of St. Sulpice in Paris,
listening to Marcel Dupre, arguably one of the 6 great figures in the
history of the organ, playing wildly after an 11 AM mass on Sunday. Mind
you, Dupre was about 83 at the time. I caught myself turning away from
the gallery organ, making a full 270-degree turn, and found myself
weeping and sobbing. The sound of the powerful instrument sending
cannonballs of sound rattling down the length of that church just shook
my soul. I was hooked. My dad had described the sound as the "roar of
the MGM lion."
So when, in 1963, dad had the 6-rank organ built, I was excited. I did
not go on the first tour with it, that task was done by Carl Lindstrom
and Chuck Clarke. Lindstrom was this hulk of a baritone who also drove
the truck, and Clarke was a gay, majorly hyper, and very emotional tenor
who did the tuning, and rode in the truck.
I inherited Carl's position at the age of 20 for the next three tours,
and Clarke bestowed much knowledge upon me regarding the workings and
tuning of the organ.
The organ remained in our family's possession until 1970. Dad had a room
built at the Bel Air property on Stone Canyon adjacent to the pool
house, and constructed around a large oak tree. The room was an L-shaped
room with no parallel walls, a loading dock, and an entrance off a side
street which I designed, to allow me to back our 23-foot International
cab-over bobtail truck with lift gate into position to load the organ.
This maneuvering alone was near-brain surgery.
I single-handedly dismantled, loaded, hauled, reconstructed, and tuned
that organ dozens of times over the 7 years, taking it to Royce Hall at
UCLA, Capitol Records Studio A, and many times to the Dorothy Chandler
Pavillon of the Music Center.
In 1970 dad sold the organ to Ascension Lutheran Church in Thousand
Oaks, CA. There it remained until 1987, when the church remodeled and
installed a much larger instrument.
The church had added a rank.
Unbenknownst to me, the church had sold the organ for $7500 to a couple
of brothers who intended to combine the organ with another in their
One of them called dad, who called me, to find out how to disassemble
the two main chests perched about 15 feet up on a wall of the church.
It is worth noting here that the normal architecture of a pipe organ
consists of small air chests, approximately 10" d 10" x 8', all
assembled discretely, individually plumbed for air and wiring, and
assembled into a complete instrument. Organs are sort of wind
orchestras, having many different pipe types and sounds. Each type of
sound usually has 61 notes and is called a rank. Hence, the 7-rank
487-pipe organ we toured had a little more than the 427 pipes a strict
count would demand. The instrument is highly unified, meaning many ranks
can share certain pipes, particularly the very high-pitched ones.
The organ was about 8 ranks in 1987.
These brothers had pulled all the pipes, taken the console to their
home, taken to "snake" of wiring, the power rsupply, and some of the
regulators, and were just now seeking help in getting the last
components, the chests, down off the high wall and apart. When I
informed one of the brothers that the chests did not come apart, there
was a crushing silence. I leapt into the opening and asked if giving
them $7500 for the organ might ease their plight. I got a call within 5
minutes and the brothers had agreed to walk away from the challenge.
I SHOULD have never altered the everything-together layout, but I had
other plans for my house in Woodland Hills, and met with Blaine Ricketts
to design a new layout, add a rank, and reconfigure the chest layout. I
spent about $5000 nearly immediately doing this work and pulling many of
the chests apart, the very thing the brothers had chosen not to tackle,
got some wiring and chests partially installed, then the house sold and
I put the organ in storage for 5 years, at a cost of over $10,000.
So my heartthrob purchase at a bargain had turned into a $25,000
In 1993, now living in a smaller house in Van Nuys, I decided to take
the organ out of storage and cut the fiscal bleeding from the storage
charges. It sat for a few months occupying half my garage, and I
installed it here.
In January 1994, the organ was about 90% done, needing some wiring, most
of which I had done myself over the previous 6 months, and some final
air lines, etc. The earthquake here knocked some of it down, and I found
myself unable to get ANYONE to work on it for over 4 years.
I finally pulled all the pipes out, made 15 packing boxes, and sent them
all to Wick's for refurbishing. Wick's did not honor my request to hold
off on shipping them back until I was ready, and sadly the pipes sat
outside in differing places for the next 6 years, incurring severe
damage to some of the all-renewed surfaces.
I finally got disgusted with this situation, pulled them all out, and
installed them about 6 months ago.
The organ as of this date is NOT ready to play, needs some components
reinstalled, and the wiring to be completed.
Notwithstanding that I had the regulators rebuilt by Ricketts, rats had
destroyed the leather, and I had to have them done again.
They are now stacked in my living room, awaiting reinstallation under
the pipe chests.
I also had constructed a place in a closet around the corner from the
main pipe chests to accommodate the 10 longest 16-foot Faggotts. A
remodel and a new wall closed that space off, so they have been
relocated next to the left side of the console.
The console itself had been damaged by debris in the quake, and the
contact blocks under several keys had been jammed and damaged. I managed
to straighten out all but one set, and am awaiting a double-rock 16-pin
contact block from Wick's. Several draw knobs had also been sheared off
in the quake, and I am awaiting research from pictures and Wick's files
to replace those units.
The wiring consists of about 600 wires from the console to the pipe
chests, using 15-volt DC. The power supply has not been run in 20 years,
so we are going to warm it up slowly to hopefully avoid killing the
The wiring appears top have avoided rat damage, but that is only a
cursory opinion and view.
I have cut a hole in the living room floor under the console to aid in
getting under the floor and at the wiring.
I have been told by Wick's this instrument carries a replacement cost of
Brett Shapen was to have come back as a full-time employee and work on
just the organ. He has continued to take side jobs at a claimed higher
rate per hour, saying each week he will be back in a "few days". I
happened to see him at Bob's last night, and he now says he's not
working full time at that higher rate with his buddy on home theater
systems. Whatever. I have contacted Acob, the electronic whiz-tech who
has repaired everything from battery chargers to TV's to hifi, and he
has just been let go by his former employer (they're sending their
warranty work to China). So he will come on board in a week and get on
the organ. This should be fun for him, as it is REAL different, and he
is way qualified to trace, diagnose, and do this kind of work.
Acob in now three weeks overdue in starting his FULL-time position here,
claiming he has to move his girlfriend/wife. Brett has had a full
collapse, physically, emotionally, and financially. He claims to have
ceased smoking cigarettes and pot, has moved temporarily into his
parents' home in Temecula, has a bad back, has not worked in almost 8
weeks. In short, he's not expected back here any time soon, if at all.
How that portends for me getting my $6K back from him, or getting any
work done on the organ, remains uncertain.
Should Acob eventually surface, we'll get going. Meanwhile, I have more
pressing legal and business obligations to which to attend, and the
organ waits for a clearing in the over-booked project schedule.
I have repeatedly offered Ed Turner, former employee now living
unemployed with his parents in Washington State, a 3-6 month position
here, including lodging. He has not responded at all to my offers.
Brett Shapen has remained totally vanished and avoiding paying me the
$6200 or so he owes.
Acob has just not made it here for the promised full-time work I have
for him. Beg, beg, beg. It is annoying.
I will approach him again and see if I can garner his forces for a week
of solid work on the organ wiring.
Otherwise, I need to look elsewhere, perhaps even to Roy, who is a
remarkably inventive soul. Actually NOT otherwise. I NEED to get others
in here and quickly.
Of course refurbing the Steinway piano does not help this undertaking,
at least not fiscally.
Brett and Acob are definitely NO-GO on the organ. Brett remains
emotionally comatose, Acob is busy being his own home improvement
contractor. He really just wants to do radio repairs or other
electronics where he can have a manual handy. This is NOT that kind of
I got hit with a $34K judgment against me in the Judge arbitration, so
this is KILLING me financially. The cars and the piano and house are all
huge drains, and making the organ low on the list. If no work continues,
I may be right back to where I was in 93 when I started it, having
nothing to do and maybe allowing me actually some time to work on it. Oh
crap, that was 15 years ago!! Oh this is terrible!! WAY not good.
Having just passed my 64th birthday, the time crunch on this organ is
all the more searing. What a tragedy that THIS project has been sitting
incomplete since 1987 (I think I bought it back in early 1987), and
installed it in Fall of 93 in my house here on Gault St. So it has been
in its present location for 16 years, UNFINISHED. Michaelangelo I am
not, and this has become my Sistine Chapel.
A MASSIVE fiscal downturn has put this further back, after a series of
cars which need to be sold. Given that work ever regains momentum, I
also have the Steinway Louis 6-2 Grand Piano in the midst of
restoration, and that requires another nearly $20,000. Really, really
I attended Disney Hall for the first time and heard its lovely organ At
intermission I chatted with a group of guys at the bar, hoping they were
technicians. Nope. But they did note that someone had given a house in
Mt. Washington with an organ to USC and someone had to be maintaining
I called USC, and got a very surprising call back from Ladd Thomas, who
had played my organ 45 years ago at Long Beach going the Poulenc, at
which Chris Barge, acting as a page turner, had his foot on the low D#
AFTER the end of the piece!! Oops! I invited Ladd to come over, see the
instrument, and hear the recording of Owen Brady. I'd really like to
have him play it again SOON. Ladd noted the "organ house" still is owned
by a fellow. I called the owner, who gave me the phone of Greg Harrold,
who built and maintains the tracker style organ. Turns out Greg is not
doing 100%, but is functional and interested in helping with my project.
Nice guy. So it appears things may actually get moving.
I sent an email to Brett Shapen inviting him to come up and work off
some of his debt on the organ and my modem moving in the garage.
Spoke with Greg Harrold today, and he set a date for later in the month
to come view the project. Hope that happens.
Greg has joined a list of those who have not made it here to do work. I
told him about a month ago that I would stop asking, and that I
understood he has his own issues. I told him I would stop asking, and if
he did get it together I would welcome his paid help.
So I have now tried to enlist the help of Gene Bojarski, and phone
the/client. Gene and I get along great. He and his wife are THRILLED
with our work (about $40K worth). But they are holding off on spending
for a while. I have had them over a couple of times for BBQ, and I don't
think I can get him to spend anytime here even for money.
I put in a couple of messages to Blain Ricketts up in San Francisco,
with no reply. Clearly, the only way this is going to get done is if I
just start doing it myself.
I reached Blaine, who was his usual affable and talkative self. He is,
as also is usual, overwhelmed with work and deadlines. I BEGGED him to
take pity on me and fly down for a day (even a weekend day) at my
expense and just set up a plan, which I will execute, to finish this
project. I am awaiting his (hopefully positive) reply.
I am not incapable of doing this, but doing it alone, and without some
technical guidance, might prove unwise. At the minimum I will need
another set of hands from time to time. What I REALLY need is Blaine's
expertise and overview, which probably would require no more than a
half-day of investigation.