Those Magic Rolls

June 22, 2012 § 1 Comment

Earlier in my life I played an organ every Sunday, and it was an easy task. Now I play only occasionally when I am asked to substitute for a vacationing church organist. I am currently preparing for one of those substitution Sundays. Unfortunately, the ability to coordinate the eyes on the music, the hands on the keyboards, and the feet on the pedals does not come back to me easily. It requires daily practice and enormous patience. Many times this week I have wished that I had a roll like those that were used in the Lawrence House player organ to play a hymn. I’d like to insert the magic roll into the organ and just sit there and enjoy.

Of course, the Lawrence House reed organ was quite different from the pipe organ I am trying to master. For one thing, the pipes in the church organ make sounds; the pipes in the Lawrence House were purely decorative. Dale Rogers, Director of Arts and Music at Springfield ‘s Westminster Presbyterian Church, has done some research on the Lawrence organ. He told me that the instrument was built by a company in Detroit, Michigan, called Ferrand Votey. The mechanism inside the organ was undoubtedly made of pot metal, an inexpensive low-melting point metal that tends to distort, crack, shatter, and pit with age. It is difficult if not impossible to repair. One understands then why the shell of the organ was gutted during the C. C. Thomas Publishing Company years to be converted to a liquor cabinet.

None of this diminishes my vision created in an interview of one of the Lawrence household maids. She said that Flora Lawrence, Susan’s cousin who lived with her, “played” the organ frequently. I envision Flora effortlessly playing one of the rolls still stored today in the Wright-designed cabinet and magically being transported from her humdrum life. Even Frank Lloyd Wright, an accomplished musician, succumbed to the siren sound of the rolls. In his memoir, My Father Who Is On Earth, John Lloyd Wright recalls that his father once brought a player piano home. The senior Wright pushed the new instrument against his concert Steinway, inserted rolls of music by Beethoven, and sat with eyes closed and hands moving over the keyboard. John Lloyd Wright surmised that his father was imagining that he was Beethoven.

Unfortunately, I cannot experience a similar transformation. I must substitute the magic rolls for hard work and wait for my muscle memory to return.

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