GROSSE POINTE FARMS, Michigan (AP) –David Hufford has learned that an extreme storm flooded a church in suburban Detroit with more than 7 feet of water, hitting the boiler, electrical system, elevator and more.
“Just amazing,” he said, flipping through photos on his phone.
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But this repairman was not called in to repair anything ordinary at St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran at Grosse Pointe Farms. Hufford’s mission: to make the music flow from the 63-year-old church pipe organ.
A flash flood in southeast Michigan ruined basements in thousands of homes when a regional pumping system failed to keep up with the June 25-26 disaster. It also created urgent business for a small group of experts specializing in pipe organs, a valuable instrument of worship in churches.
“You might think that the pipe organ that sits high up in the attic would be spared,” said Rev. Tim Pelc of St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Grosse Pointe Park, “but the wind tunnel system, which provides air to the bellows, is located in the basement.
St. Ambrose’s system has been “wiped out” by water, Pelc reported in the church bulletin, and will not be restored for weeks. A piano now conducts the hymns.
Indeed, other churches in the Detroit area have had similar challenges. Meanwhile, Detroit’s nearly century-old Senate Theater, seat of a Powerful Wurlitzer organ, recovers after several feet of water flooded the basement.
Hufford, whose company, Renaissance Pipe Organ in Ann Arbor, maintains the instrument, explained that a ventilator and other complex parts typically installed in lower levels serve as “the lungs of the organ.”
While touring in St. Paul, Hufford found that the organ’s wind reservoir, a critical wooden case, had been completely soaked.
“It’s going to the landfill; it’s done. There is no way to save him, ”he said. “But we’re going to keep it and use it for a model.”
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The fan motor may only need a rebuild, a cheaper option than a full replacement, said Eric Miller, music director for St. Paul. The cost of repairing the organ has been estimated at $ 12,000.
“I hope to get it back by Thanksgiving,” he said.
“It’s a real specialist area of work,” Miller added. “Once you’ve found someone good, you want to stick with them. They know the instrument, its peculiarities.
The Renaissance pipe organ was successful in getting the wind reservoir back up and running at the Lutheran Church of Peace in Detroit, a result that was celebrated by the church with a brief Facebook video of an ascending bellows.
Another organ technician, Stephen Warner, was needed at two churches in Detroit, Zion Evangelical Lutheran and St. Matthew’s-St. Episcopal of Joseph. He said emergency calls are not typical.
“It’s very seasonal,” said Warner, who is also organist and music director at Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church. “As Christmas and Easter approaches, it’s mostly devoted to tuning and troubleshooting. The height of the organ pipes can change with temperature.
Warner understands why organs are revered, especially in churches.
“The pipes themselves are singing. You have a sense of majesty, ”he said. “The organ sound seems to come from a long time ago, and it will be there after we leave. It can range from an absolute roar to a whisper – and everything in between. “
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