A Music Director’s Monumental Task
Painstakingly cleaning each pipe, Procaccini works long hours. But hearing the clear, powerful sound of the instrument is worth all the effort, he says.
Photo by Carroll Fencil
Inside St. Emery Church’s choir loft—high above the pews and just below the murals that line the ceiling of the nave—church music director and organist Anthony Procaccini is putting on an acrobatic display. Suspended several feet above solid ground, his stage is a narrow enclosure of myriad beams and metal pipes belonging to the church’s Wurlitzer organ. Gracefully, he dips to avoid low-hanging beams. Skillfully, he contorts his broad-shouldered frame into narrow openings.
Procaccini is restoring 61 of the Wurlitzer’s ailing pipes. The organ has an interesting history. “It came from Chicago in the early 1930s and is believed to be one of only three Wurlitzer pipe organs in use presently in Connecticut,” explains Procaccini.
Working principally alone, over and over he scales the steps, extracts the pipes one by one, and descends to his makeshift workstation on the choir loft—an oft-repeated journey since embarking on the project last August.
The physical demands are considerable. Procaccini, 58, has arthritis, which makes gripping the larger pipes onerous. Yet he remains undaunted. After Mike Foley of Foley-Baker Organs, the organ servicer, taught Procaccini the cleaning process, he began without reservation.
“I took it upon myself in my spare time,” Procaccini explains. The knowledge accrued from a lifetime of music making helped to instill confidence. Growing up in Fairfield, Proccacini was taught to play piano by his father, a musician and a handyman, at age seven. Years later, he took his first job as an organist at St. Ladislaus Church in Norwalk while still a music student at the University of Bridgeport. He took up his current post at St. Emery’s in 2012.
Since its installation in the 1930s, St. Emery’s Wurlitzer had collected water, dirt, dust, and debris, altering the instrument’s sound. The tuba stop—the 61 pipes of middle-range pitch, varying in size from eight inches to eight feet, to which Procaccini has devoted himself—was especially affected.
The restoration of an organ is a complex and painstaking endeavor. St. Emery’s organ—considered mid-sized and comprised of a piano-like console housing multiple keyboards and foot pedals, a wind-turbine motor located in a choir-loft room opposite the pipe-chamber, and a tube spanning the width of the church that connects the pipes to their air source—is no exception.
“A complete restoration of an older organ takes a lot of money and time and there are actually two or three stages of restoration,” says Procaccini. A full restoration would mean attending not only to the instrument’s numerous pipes, but to its disparate parts as well.
Refusing to be discouraged by the understanding that his efforts would not result in a complete fix, and driven by his desire to “give the organ a key component of its original glory,” Procaccini labored on.
Once at his cleaning station on the choir loft, Procaccini dismantles each pipe, consisting of a metal boot covering the metal shallot, the brass reed, a small wooden wedge, and the tuning pin, all of which are connected to the conical resonator through which air ultimately travels.
“It was time consuming, detail-oriented, and tedious. I never knew how long each pipe would actually take to clean,” he reflects.
Ensconced within the network of pipes, he articulates his exit strategy. “If I tried to go forward I’d have too much weight over the edge and I’d fall,” he says, making light of a real corporeal threat as he backs slowly out of the organ, dismounts, and begins again.
“We look forward to being able to sponsor organ concerts to the public. Since I started at Saint Emery’s, we have slowly worked toward bringing the organ back to its full potential.”
FEET OF ENGINEERING
The organ was not invented by a musician but by an engineer, Ctesibius of Alexandria, in the third century BC. His invention was a mechanical flute-like instrument with wind pressure produced by reciprocating pumps driven by the feet.