Andrew Rogers plays Michigan Theater's Barton Organ

Ann Arbor, Mich. - After 42 years of almost daily use, the Michigan Theater's famous Barton theater pipe organ is in need of a comprehensive restoration. Installed in late 1927 just before the theater's opening in January 1928, the instrument was played daily by staff organist Bob Howland until 1931 and then intermittently by Paul Tompkins until 1950.

The organ was not played again until 1972 when a group of theater organ enthusiasts restored the instrument to workable condition. Since then, the organ has been in constant use to provide music for overtures prior to film screenings, accompaniments to silent films, and for special events including Ann Arbor Symphony concerts. Today, the Barton is played five evenings a week by a team of five local and regional artists.

The Barton is one of approximately 50 theater pipe organs left in its original location. Only a handful of these is played so frequently. The instrument operates on an electro-pneumatic system that routes air from a blower into the 13 ranks of pipes located in chambers on either side of the Michigan Theater's proscenium arch.

Over the years, pneumatic switches have worn out, solder joints given way, and electrical contacts burned out. In recent years, organists have had to deal with unreliable console pre-sets, numerous dead notes, uneven sounds from pipes, many difficult-to-locate intermittent connections, and stops that don't work. From one day to the next, they don't know what parts of the organ will or won't play.

To insure that the Barton will be playable for the next 86 years and in recognition of the instrument's historic significance, the Michigan Theater Foundation has engaged the Renaissance Pipe Organ Company of Ann Arbor to begin the first phase of the organ's complete restoration.

On June 23, the console will be removed from the theater so that its electrical components can be completely re-contacted and mechanical parts rebuilt. In addition, a new solid-state relay system will replace the room full of pneumatic devices and switches that have been the heart of the organ since 1927. The console will also be cleaned, and the signature red and gold colors brightened. This process should take approximately three months.

New features not available with the original technology, but possible through the new electrical systems, will provide for expansion of the organ's specifications to allow increased versatility from the existing ranks of pipes. Many of these features are commonplace and/or expected by organists of today, and provide for many interesting effects. Organists will be able to access thousands of pre-set combinations of sounds instantly and will be able to customize their own individual settings.

Phase Two, which will begin when funding becomes available, will involve the complete professional releathering and rebuilding of all the pipe organ's actions to like-new condition, as well as the repair of countless stripped screws, repair of past water damage, and correction of many wind leaks.

This phase will also provide for the repair and revoicing of individual sets of pipes so that the instrument's ensemble sound will be more smooth and clear. However, the organ's distinctive theatrical voices will remain unchanged. At the end of the complete restoration, the Michigan Theater's Barton pipe organ will be completely dependable and more versatile than ever before.

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