Mercer Island Pipe Organ Foundation continues to preserve music

19 years later volunteers are still going strong.

  • Friday, December 27, 2019 12:18pm
  • Life

Although pipe organ music is beautiful — or even, at times, Halloween spooky with the iconic image of an organist wildly hammering away at Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue” for an entrance of Dracula — it is often relegated into the background of popular culture, capturing the hearts of only a small niche of people sitting in church pews while Franck’s “Cantabile” echoes off walls and tall ceilings. Not so for Carl Dodrill. He has made it his personal calling to help rescue an endangered art form.

In 2000, when Carl Dodrill, president of the Pipe Organ Foundation, heard churches along with their pipe organs in the Seattle and Eastside were being torn down, he sprang into action. He created a nonprofit Pipe Organ Foundation in the hopes of preserving an instrument he feels would be a travesty for society to lose.

The repair of an organ and overall maintenance is expensive, Dodrill said, but new organs can cost as much as $500,000. Dodrill said their organization normally will charge one tenth of the normal cost of a pipe organ.

According to Dodrill, in the Pacific Northwest there is also a shortage of people with the skills and time to work on what seems like a revolving door of pipe organs.

This high cost and limited workers has left many people with no other option but to abandon an organ if it breaks. Inside Dodrill’s workshop on Mercer Island, more than 150 boxes of parts line various shelves along with odd pipes, wires and wood. Dodrill said if he can’t repair the whole organ, he will scavenge for parts and use them on another organ he is building.

Dodrill motions with his hand to an organ he rescued from the United Methodist Church in Ravenna.

“It’s often about 200 hours or 250 hours of work for every group of pipes,” Dodrill said. “And we have nine of them in this organ. So that would be on the order of 2,000 or 2,500 volunteer hours.” Dodrill explained, depending on the damage, it can take months until an organ is ready to be played again.

Dodrill talked about the next big project he and his volunteers are preparing for is the holiday season.

“This year we’ll be tuning probably 12 or 14 pipe organs because Christmas is coming up,” Dodrill said, “And same for Easter.”

During these months Dodrill said his team of volunteers will be tuning for churches every day.

Looking back, Dodrill never thought he would still be fixing organs 19 years after founding the group. The only thing he’d change is if he could have more volunteers to help place more organs.

Mercer Island Presbyterian Church, Roosevelt High School in Seattle, Northlake Lutheran Church in Kenmore are some of the places the foundation has been able to help. The most current project is a pipe organ that will be placed in Bellevue.

“This organ, if all goes well, will be there playing and people will be enjoying it and getting value out of it for many years after I’m dead,” Dodrill said. “What more can you do to help others than to have things go on after you’ve passed on?”

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