PIPE CLEANER; AFTERMATH DEPT.; AFTERMATH DEPT. Series: 3/5

By Hersh, Joshua | The New Yorker, September 11, 2006 | Go to article overview

PIPE CLEANER; AFTERMATH DEPT.; AFTERMATH DEPT. Series: 3/5


Hersh, Joshua, The New Yorker


On a recent Friday afternoon, Anthony Meloni was in his sun-filled workshop in Port Chester, New York, forty-five minutes north of Manhattan, cleaning a pipe organ. More precisely, he was supervising the cleaning. He had recently broken his right arm--the result of an unfortunate incident involving a wet roof, a late-night drink, and a flight of stairs ("It wasn't a pretty picture," he said with a sigh)--so he mostly paced around the room, smoking cigarettes and looking over the shoulders of his three apprentices.

The instrument was one he knew well. He used to spend several hours tuning it every Friday. That was before September 11, 2001. The organ, which belongs to Trinity Church on lower Broadway, had been damaged during the destruction of the World Trade Center. When the first tower collapsed, the sanctuary filled with the dark smoke and dust that covered much of downtown Manhattan. Fine particles filtered into the organ, clogging its nine thousand pipes and corroding its leather parts (gussets and valves). In late 2002, after months of haggling with insurance companies, Trinity disassembled the organ and deposited it in the church's basement. It seemed to Meloni that he might never work on the instrument again.

Owen Burdick, Trinity's organist and director of music, thinks the church may have found something better: an alldigital organ, installed in 2003 as an "interim" solution, which has been a surprise hit. (It has standard consoles for playing, but no pipes; its software runs on the Linux operating system.) In July, Burdick demonstrated it at the American Guild of Organists convention in Chicago, where it received a standing ovation. "It can do a lot of things a pipe organ can't," Burdick says.

Meloni isn't persuaded. "It's the best electronic organ I've ever heard," he said. "But Trinity deserves better." So he was pleased when someone from the church called and asked him to prepare an exhibit of the organ's parts--some cleaned and restored, others left in their post-September 11th state--in honor of that day's fifth anniversary. Early last month, Meloni parked a rented truck outside Trinity, threw a handful of organ parts--a swell engine, a section of the stopaction, a couple of pipe racks, two hundred and fifty pipes--into the back, and hauled them up to Port Chester. …

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