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Q&A: Pipe organ restoration specialist visits North Tonawanda
By Phil Dzikiy/[email protected]
For the last five weeks, Clark Wilson worked at the Riviera Theatre every day, for 10 hours each day.
Wilson, Harold Wright, John Struve and Brad McClincy, all from Ohio, were in town to restore the theater’s mighty Wurlitzer organ. The crew travels the country working on and restoring pipe organs. Their last day of work at the Riviera Theatre was completed last Thursday.
Wilson will return to the theater on March 5 to perform a concert on the newly restored Wurlitzer organ.
QUESTION: Could you explain the work that you do?
ANSWER: What we’ve done here, and this is principally what we do, they had asked us to come in and return the organ to basically, Wurlitzer factory standards. The type of sound that it would have had when it was new, which was 1926. And that’s a lot of playing, a lot of time for deterioration and changing of the pipes and things, a lot of dirt and so on in the instrument. This particular organ has had a lot of use, and many, many people, certainly all well-intentioned, had a hand in the thing over the years, some who were less skilled than others. A number of things in the organ were barely functional.
Q: What are some specific things you’ve done to this organ?
A: We went through every one of the pipes. There are about 1,200 pipes in the organ. Many of the things, such as locating some of the percussion and traps they had put in the orchestra pit, so they’re a little more context with the organ. A lot of re-leathering. The entire organ’s been re-winded. And a tremendous amount of adjusting so actions would play correctly.
Q: Are you very familiar with the Wurlitzer organ?
A: Very, very much so. We would all be considered specialists in Wurlitzers.
Q: What’s it like to work on the Wurlitzer here, in the home of Wurlitzer?
A: Well, working on any Wurlitzer, there’s a magic to the name. A mystique, a magic, whatever you want to call it. They were the Rolls-Royce of the theater-organ manufacturers. Because there are so few of them left, it’s always a privilege to work with one. They produce a tremendous sound when they’re finished.
Q: How did you get into this work?
A: It was a happy coincidence. My grandmother was our church organist and got me started off on pipe organs. I had a chance to work for (an organ company). Being at the right place at the right time, I played in the late 1970s and 1980s in a pizza parlor that had a Wurlitzer organ. That’s what led me into this. When I left that pizza restaurant, I went out on my own. It’s taken me all over North America. I’ve been doing this for 30 years now.
Q: Is this your full-time job?
A: These fellows, some of them do this full-time. I’m also a concert artist. I do concerts and silent films as well. I’ll be back here to do a show March 5.
Q: Hearing the organ when you got here, what’s the difference in sound going to be like now?
A: The instrument is transformed. It’s a very refined concert theater organ now. Very lush and full. It’s no longer raucous and shrill. And that’s a natural thing when all the pipes are working with each other.
Contact reporter Phil Dzikiy at 693-1000, ext. 114.
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