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Music Notes

From Jonathan Dimmock, Director of Music

April 15, 2024

Organ Update: After many months of interior scaffolding, removing pipes, cleaning the chambers, cleaning the pipes, repairing the pipes, driving some of the pipes to Ohio and back (for the refurbishing), the organ project, Phase 1, is now complete! Go to the website to see the latest image of the scaffold-free interior (with the 50 foot ladder to the upper Swell chamber). Phase 2 of the organ project will resume immediately after High Holy Days.


March 27, 2024

The company which is refurbishing our fatigued 120 year-old pipes has already finished its work, many months ahead of schedule. Our worker crew picked them up and drove them back home to San Francisco. They were installed back into their respective toe holes (see the photos) and given a week to adjust to the sanctuary’s temperature. We then tuned them to match the newly cleaned other pipes in the Swell chamber (top keyboard of the organ, which corresponds to the top division of pipes, forty feet above the others), and are ready to be played!

View Photo Gallery


March 13, 2024

The restoration of the organ pipes is happening in stages. The first stage involved driving three sets of pipes (about 200 pipes, in total) to Ohio for refurbishment. That work is on schedule; and those pipes will be ready for pick-up in late May.

Meanwhile, our restoration team (Swain & Kates Organ Co.) have removed all the pipes from the Swell division, cleaned them, cleaned the toe racks (first time in more than a century), and examined the leathers for that division. There have been multiple cyphers on the Great trumpets (stuck notes), and that problem is being tackled also, proving a more complicated “surgery” than originally expected. But we will solve these mysteries, I’m certain.

The Swell pipes have been restored to their proper places (except for the ones currently in Ohio), and, as of March 13, that division of the organ is nearly finished being re-tuned (a multi-day and complicated operation).

Midway through this process, we discovered some sound-dampening materials which had been added to the steel reinforcement beams, added during the retrofit a dozen or so years ago. That material is breaking loose and falling into the organ! So a whole team of us at Sherith Israel is working on solving this problem. Never a dull moment!

The next phase of the organ project will begin right after High Holy Days, when we will ship another couple hundred pipes off to Ohio for refurbishment.

Friday, March 1, 2024

The Voice of the Pipe Organ | הקול של ה עוגב

It was 1904 when the Los Angeles Art Organ Company, under the tonal direction of one of America’s finest organ voicers, Murray Harris, installed a new instrument into our new sanctuary on California and Webster Streets. Although they knew the instrument was ground-breaking in its tonal concept and beauty, they would have had no idea that this instrument would grow in reputation to be considered one of the finest synagogue organs in the United States. And they couldn’t have possibly hoped that this organ would stand out as the largest instrument, by this particular builder, still in original condition 120 years after its creation.

Our worship has been immeasurably enriched, for well over a century, because of the voice and soul of our pipe organ. As good stewards, we have kept abreast of regular tunings and maintenance, and periodically we have tackled issues which naturally arise with any musical instrument of its age, not to mention the countless ones that are unique to the complexity of an organ.

Recently, when we contracted our seismic retrofit upgrade, we became aware that major areas of the organ had not been thoroughly cleaned in at least many decades (if ever) as evidenced by a carpet of dust around pipes, toe boards (where pipes sit), and in the pipes themselves. Cleaning is a very major project, entailing scaffolding (currently in place now inside the organ chamber) and the removal of whole sections of pipes (many hundreds). This is precision work! As we started examining what needed to be done, we discovered lots of pipes sagging (under their own weight), speaking improperly, cyphering (playing without stopping), speaking poorly, etc. While the organ sounds great to the average listener, unchecked these problems would eventually render the organ unplayable.

Once we identified the problems, we found an organ company that has extremely capable technicians to nurse our “patient” back to complete health: Swain & Kates Organ Company. After many conversations and climbing around through the organ chamber, we developed an appreciation for the scope of the project, then came up with an estimate of what that would cost.

In short order, our congregant, Denise Littlefield Sobel, offered to help us bring the organ back to its full glory. (Denise’s brother, Jacques Littlefield, was an organist as well as an entrepreneur, and a friend of Jonathan Dimmock.) How incredibly grateful I feel that our wonderful instrument can receive its badly needed repairs.

Over the course of many weeks, I will write updates about the instrument, tell about pipes that are (currently) in Ohio for rebuilding, talk about unusual discoveries in the organ chamber, and so on.


Jonathan Dimmock
Director of Music

As always, I welcome your feedback by email:

Fri, May 24 2024 16 Iyar 5784