Organ Façade: Progress

IMG_20160601_090253677Almost two years ago I finally got around to building a speaker shelf (using pipe and pipe fittings) to place the digital organ speakers ABOVE my head so that the sound is no longer coming at my knees! While completely functional as it was designed to be, visually–this structure isn’t exactly aesthetically pleasing. But from the conceptualization of this idea years ago, I always knew I’d would have some sort of façade on this structure. Unfortunately, being laid off a year ago and the decision for me to be a stay-at-home Daddy seemed to kill any notion of completing this project. Until now! With much thanks to my brother-in-law, the plan to build a façade for my digital organ has made a HUGE leap forward!

It started with a conversation my brother-in-law (“M”) and I had on Christmas day. He told me about someone he knew, who allowed M to take as much wood from an old corn crib they were taking down. The stash of wood that M has in his basement from this old structure is crazy! M said the wood was all oak. Some of it was even quarter-sawn oak!!! (I LOVE quarter-sawn oak. Love. A lot.) The only downside would be nail holes… Lots of them… But if I was willing to come down and help M get the wood, it would be mine!

Having no money to complete my project, I wasn’t about to pass up this opportunity for free wood! NO WAY! But it was the holidays and being busy taking care of the kids, I couldn’t address it till this week. I called up M on Tuesday and said I was interested. We quickly realized it was all boiling down to coming out this Thursday or else the possibility of the rest of the corn crib getting chopped for firewood!

Amanda very wonderfully and graciously allowed me to leave her with the kids from Wednesday night till last night, and I drove out to Lafayette, Indiana, to go hunting for wood! I say “hunting” because it’s the same property that M and my other brother-in-law, “J” go hunting for deer on. In fact my nephew mistook me for J and was wondering if I was going hunting. I had to explain to him that I was wood hunting!

So, Thursday morning M and I got all dressed for the weather and off we went in the pickup to go claim some wood. First off, for anyone who hasn’t been to Lafayette, Indiana–its beautiful. The city, the houses, the river, the countryside, it’s all just beautiful. The drive down a county road that runs a fair distance along the Wabash River to the property the corn crib was on was pretty.


“M” walking from the pickup over to the old corn crib.

As far as the weather was concerned, we were incredibly blessed. It was the warmest day in the last few weeks (around 30 degrees) and really not a whole lot of wind, which was extremely good. Cold I can function in, but a razor cutting country wind would not do us any good. It also helped that the sun was also shining bright in the clear sky. We really could not have asked for better!

Now, I have to confess, upon arriving on this property and seeing the old corn crib, two things were running through my head. The first was, My gosh, how are we going to get any usable wood out of this mess? The second was, This is so freaking exciting, I’m getting a bunch of free wood! But out loud I simply announced, “Hello future organ façade!”


The “remains” of the corn crib, built in 1945.

If you look at the picture above you will see that part of one wall and roof are still… “standing”… sort of. the other side of that wall was clad in long strips of oak, and most of the wood we would eventually take came from that wall. M immediately set to work prying boards off and I hauling them back to the pickup. As I have yet to settle on a design for this façade, and my lack of experience here, we were unsure just how much we would need. I was working on the philosophy, “I’d rather have too much than not enough!”


This wall used to be full of wood…

M did a good job clearing the one wall (as you can see above), and soon I had a descent pile of wood (some boards nearly 12 feet in length)! Now, granted, it was full of nails and all in need of some serious planing.

Now, I’ll admit, this whole time M was pretty amused by my lack of knowledge when it comes time to wood and woodworking, but also recognized my serious desire to learn. But it was kind of fun looking at these rough sawn timbers trying to figure out which ones might be quarter-sawn or not. There were a couple of obvious ones that we could confirm just by looking at the end grain, but others that were certainly hard to figure out. M kept telling me “you won’t know until we start planing them down.”

I don’t know exactly how long we were out there, but we were both warm enough and taking it slow and easy. We took a break and went to one of M’s parishioner’s house nearby for coffee (M is a pastor), then back to the corn crib to get some more wood. It took us most the morning to get this part done. I was warned by M that the tedious part was yet to come, as rough-sawn wood full of nails does not usable lumber make!


Back at M’s house and after a quick lunch, we spent a good hour pulling boards out of the back of the truck and getting as many of the nails out as we could. In some ways the amount of nail holes was horrifying, but the more I think about it, the more I don’t really care. The wood was free to me, and it’s not like I’m building an actual pipe organ for a church or something. This is nothing more than a façade to hide the speakers and the ugly pipe structure of the speaker self–not much more than three glorified panels! Having those nail holes will add some rustic character to whatever design I build. In that light, it would actually fit in better with the decor of our house that way.

Next, M showed me how to go about milling all this wood. It’s a very monotonous, yet interesting and fun, process. Interesting was figuring out why he was planing certain sides first and I have to admit I figured a few things out on my own just by observing what he was doing. There is a method to getting usable dimensional lumber instead of a whole bunch of weird wedge-shaped wood boards.


M starting the planing process with a nice short board.

The fun part came when we started throwing the boards through the planer. As M had been telling me all morning, you don’t know what you get with these weathered rough-sawn boards till you start planing. Some of the ones I thought to be quarter-sawn were not, and some that we suspected, caught both of us by surprise. Looking at the grains on some of these boards, with their imperfections and beauty, makes me wonder anew at God’s creation. I can’t wait to see the final result…

We spent the remainder of the afternoon feeding boards through the planer, and only got a third of the way through. We still got a lot done yesterday.

M had assumed that he’d be building this façade for me, but I told him I would prefer to build it WITH him. I’m very serious about wanting to get involved in organ building, and I know the biggest factor against me is my lack of woodworking experience. You have to start somewhere, right? Why not throw myself into this project with my brother-in-law? This way I’m working with someone who has experience and can learn things as we go. I’m great with hands-on learning.

I still haven’t settled on a design yet (I’m down to two ideas influenced by two different instruments by two prominent American Organ Builders). I’m also reading up on joinery and anything I can get my hands on to figure out ways of executing this project. Of course M will help with that too.

I have not been THIS excited about something in a long time… This experience thus far as renewed my determination of pursuing a job in organ building. I have a ton to learn, but I KNOW I can do it. Oh, this is going to be so much fun!




How I feel…

Yesterday I said that the organ works of Vierne were really speaking to how I feel the last few weeks. Perhaps this piece is more appropriate… yeah…

My Dreams, God’s Will, and some Vierne

FYI – I wrote this post this morning. This afternoon I heard back from the doctor. They got all the cancer removed, which is extremely good news! Still waiting on one more test yet, but good news for sure! So, I feel a little better. Listening to lots of organ music also helps… 😉

The last couple of weeks have been… bad. It started with a biopsy on a spot on my arm, which turned out to be cancer. I had in-office surgery last Tuesday and have been dealing with the rather uncomfortable healing process of that.* But the same Tuesday as that procedure (not even an hour after) I heard back from an organ builder that I interviewed with a few months ago. At that time there was no position available (yet), so it was quite shocking to receive an email saying that someone else was hired.

Earlier this year I felt (after much prayer), SO confident that this is the direction God wanted me to go in. In those early weeks, I had numerous encouraging phone and email conversations with quite a few builders that seemed interested. One, in particular, encouraged me to pursue this no-matter-what. “Whatever you do, don’t give up on this dream. It may take some time, but I feel confident that it’ll happen. Don’t give up.”

I’m coming up on a year since I was laid off a job that was no longer satisfying and the source of a tremendous amount of stress. I am grateful to God that he closed the door on that situation. Much good came of it. But it was that situation that also ignited this dream of mine…

I initially tried to make every excuse NOT to pursue this. And every time I came up with an excuse it seemed that God (through family and friends) had an answer for it. My lack of experience, and knowledge are the biggest things going against me. But it was pointed out to me how my skills as an artist/designer and even some of my life experiences could be adapted to organ building, and that mixed with my enthusiasm and love of the instrument… Yeah.

I now feel like this was some drug induced idea that I’m now waking up to, asking myself, “What the hell were you thinking?!?” Was I really THAT stupid to think that any organ builder would be interested in me?!? Well, I guess I’ve had plenty of interest–but nothing beyond. Maybe I let this dream of mine get too far out of hand? I even started dreaming about which builders I would love to work for, etc. It’s all this dreaming that makes last Tuesday even harder. I’m going to admit–I am crushed. I had high hopes going into that particular interview, and equally high hopes leaving…

Between the cancer, and now this, I feel lost. I have no idea how to proceed. I guess I pray about it. Again. And again, if necessary. God knows my heart desires this. He knows that I would love (understatement) for an opportunity to be a part of an organ building team… Maybe this is a “not yet!” I don’t know.

What I do know is–at the moment–I certainly feel like giving up on this dream…But I’m not sure I can…

My love and passion for this instrument runs way too deep. I KNOW that this is something I can do and learn. I KNOW I would be good at it (after much learning of course!) and be a great contributor as well. I guess I just need to re-convince myself of that, and pray about it…

In the meantime, I’m finding a renewed appreciation for the organ music of Louis Vierne. His oftentimes dark and brooding music, loaded with lots of chromaticism and emotion, SO ACCURATELY reflects how I feel about everything right now…

*Right arm. I’m right dominant. I can’t even PLAY the organ right now! @#%&@!!!