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Organ builders team up for the Boardwalk Hall Organ in Atlantic City

The Boardwalk Hall Organ built by Midmer-Losh getting a first rate restoration.

The Boardwalk Hall Organ is the world’s biggest pipe organ and it is at Atlantic City, NJ. This is an update from 2017 Summer Symposium. This past July professional organ builders teamed up to work on different parts of the Midmer-Losh Organ in Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City. These organ builders came from all over the United States to volunteer their time. Remarkable progress was made since February 2017 when we first visited. What everyone thought was an impossible pipe dream is little by little becoming a reality. 

The team of organ builders who took part in the 2017 Summer Symposium at Boardwalk Hall came from Michigan, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. The Historic Organ Restoration Committee greatly appreciates the long-time volunteers whose contributions are critical to the success of this project. The organ builders who volunteered this summer were: Don Haan, Ruth Haan, Guy VanderWagen, Tanya Chasnyk, Bill Swen, Patsy Swem, Amanda Swam, Tom Engstrom, Mary-Williams Baines, and Chris Nagorka. Without their help the Boardwalk Hall Organ would remain a pipe dream of organist. 

The group divided into teams. Some volumteers worked in the shop restoring leather pneumatics and repacking stoppers to pipes; others worked on wiring in a new relay; some on tuning; others worked on voicing of a critical tuning stop. Everyone pitched in with a “pass the pipe” bucket brigade. 

The first day sitting in the middle of the hall listening to what sounded like a mixture that would properly balance in a normal organ. That was until I was in the chamber with mixture; it was generating 109 db of sound energy in the room adjacent to the one with the mixture. The stop heard was the 7-rank pedal mixture. This is a good reason for everyone who tunes a pipe organ to wear hearing protection. 

Jonathan Buchanan was accompanied by his crew wiring in “Opus-Two” their new relay in the organ’s left chamber. The Opus-Two relay replaced part of the original relay. Boardwalk Hall disconnected and removed the original relay during building modifications. Many members of the symposium were connecting new wiring to the restored windchests in the left chambers. 

Jonathan Buchanan said this about his company’s relay design.

Opus-Two is a modular relay built by assembling two card types (controllers and I/O cards).  The I/O cards have status LEDs on every single pin to indicate whether it is energized or not. This simple architecture makes future expandability very easy. The status LEDs make troubleshooting a breeze by instantly showing the technician whether a circuit is energized or not.  Similarly, if a fuse is blown, the status LEDs will indicate that as well.  Because stop switch senses are located in one part of the building, keying and controls in the console, and outputs throughout the building, Opus-Two’s flexible nature makes it uniquely suited for situations where projects are constantly evolving and expanding.

How flexible is the Opus-Two Relay? 

By studying the mechanical design of certain features (such as the melody coupler), the original features have been recreated electronically. They exactly and accurately perform as the mechanical component did in the previous relay.  The only differences between the original pneumatic keyer relay and its electronic replacement are reliability. Opus-Two will be much more reliable on a per-note basis throughout its service life. The service life is likely not as long as a new pneumatic keyer relay. 

How much faster is the Opus-Two Relay compared to the pneumatic keyer relay? 

Pipes on the Opus-Two relay speak 8ms after the key is press. The pneumatic keyer relays average 25ms for the same task. Both of which are extremely fast speeds. Opus-Two staff along with volunteer Mike Sleight spent a considerable amount of time studying and measuring the existing keyer relays with very precise measuring equipment. 

The atmosphere was one of total camaraderie under the leadership of Nathan Bryson, Curator of the Boardwalk Hall Organ.

Since our visit in July of 2017 much more progress has been made. If you don’t follow updates about the Boardwalk Hall Organ on Facebook and Instagram you are missing out. Carl Sven Hersom post videos of the organ regularly and with each post the organ keeps sounding better and better. To all of those who have the Bach on the Biggest LP the organ will sound exponentially better then it did on that recording. Follow these guys on social media.

Keep in mind that the entire restoration is not funded. As the end of the year approaches consider making a tax deductible gift to Boardwalk Hall Organs.  The Historic Organ Restoration Committee is a 501 (c) 3. JAV Recordings is just a fan of Historic Organ Restoration Committee, we do not sit on any committee, we are just trying to help make a pipedream come true. 


5 responses to “Organ builders team up for the Boardwalk Hall Organ in Atlantic City

  1. For the most part, “Bach on the Biggest” just sounds like a huge out of tune theater organ. I am SO glad the current restoration is giving us back the sounds that Senator Richards intended.

  2. My bucket list includes a visit to this instrument because it is a part of musical history that is truly unique. From 1959 thru 1962 I worked at the Aeolian-Skinner organ factory in South Boston. I then had 8 years in the USAF. It was that or end up in the US Army. Prior to working for A-S, I was an apprentice to Aubrey Thompson-Allen at Yale U. While in Vietnam, I managed to get time off to make major repairs to the French tracker in the Saigon Cathedral. Air Force thought that was good PR so the story made the world-wide Stars and Stripes and the local Vietnamese newspapers. When I got out of the USAF, A-S was in the process of shutting down, so I accepted an offer to study organ performance with Dr. Nita Akin, and later Diane Bish at Midwestern (now State) U in Wichita Falls. Through all that time in college and until the late 1980’s, I tuned and maintained pipe organs all across North texas and Southern Oklahoma. Now, partly due to combat injuries, I am really not able to do a lot with pipe organs any more, or I would have joined the efforts to restore the Senator’s Midmer-Loch. It would have been a tremendous honor to participate in such a landmark effort. I wish you all good luck and great skill as you continue to restore and protect that fantastic organ.

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