CONSERVATION OF THE HISTORIC ORGANS
Conservation work on the organs is carried out in a systematic way and includes cleaning, measuring, photographing, analyzing, and assembling the organ. Each member of our work team has a specific responsibility and also collaborates with the general effort. Organbuilder Susan Tatteroshall supervises the projects and analyzes the organ´s construction, Ricardo Rodys, David Antonio Reyes, Joel Vásquez and Deborah Polhemus Ruiz clean the organ and measure the components, Rodys studies historical inscriptions, and Cicely Winter registers the information in the database and coordinates the relations with the community.
We begin with a basic cleaning of the choir loft. Most of the organs are located in rural communities, have not been played for at least 50 years, and are usually filthy. Since filth attracts vermin, the deterioration begins to feed on itself. Besides this, if the organ is abandoned or just used to store junk, the community will not regard it as an object of value which merits protection. Therefore, one of our main goals during these visits is to make the organ look more presentable.
We first remove all the objects stored in the interior of the case, which may be related to the organ or not. Next we clean out the interior of the case which is often an arduous and unpleasant job. We carefully remove the wooden components if they have been damaged by filth and clean them off. The pipes are removed if feasible and are washed in buckets of water (which turns black in no time). If the pipes are decorated, they are not washed, just dusted off. They are then spread out to dry on the floor or a table and arranged by registration groups in accordance with the layout of the organ. The keys are cleaned one by one with a damp rag.
The exterior of the organ case and the bellows are wiped off or dusted, depending on whether they have any painted decoration or not. All the components are then documented, analyzed in order to understand the organ´s manufacture, and recorded in the IOHIO database.
After this, the instrument is reassembled and loose pieces of the case are attached whenever possible. Very small or damaged pipes or other components are stored in labeled boxes inside the organ case or nearby for safekeeping.
At least one representative of the municipal government is always on hand to observe our work and sometimes there may be a crowd of 20-30 men, women, and children. The community usually pitches in to help us with our conservation work by carrying buckets of water up and down the stairs, cleaning large, simple pieces of the organ, taking out the garbage, and leaving the choir loft in order at the end of the day.
We take advantage of the opportunity to tell them about the organ, how it works, other organs in Oaxaca and the IOHIO, and we ask them questions about their community. They in turn always want to know if the organ can be fixed, how much will it cost, and who will pay for it. The most satisfying moment of the day is when we “present” the organ to the community in an improved, more dignified state. Sometimes the change may be dramatic, and the people are amazed by the beauty of the organ and the unexpected link to the world of their ancestors. This we hope will be the best guarantee that the organ will be safe and properly respected until our next visit.
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