Doctor of organatomy preserves the character of Peabody's organs

Eliot Freese tunes, regulates, repairs institute's six instruments

Peabody organ

Credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

"Curatorship entails general maintenance of the six organs at Peabody, which I've now being doing for 11 years. My work entails tuning, mechanical regulation, needed repair, and the occasional refurbishment. All such work must be executed without significant alterations to the spirit of the original instruments and must be documented as necessary so that future curators or restorers are aware of any changes.

"The Holtkamp organ in Griswold Hall is truly unique. All pipe organs are either custom-designed for a given space or are made unique over time by the acoustical character of the room and the subtle effects of usage. Organs are especially rich in soul. The act of playing and respectfully maintaining them over many years marks them, while enriching listeners and performers alike.

"No single instrument can serve literal interpretations of the vast scope of the organ literature, but here we have one that inspires imaginative and effective performances while still possessing a distinct unified character—a significant accomplishment. Thus, the main requirement in maintenance—at least 10 visits a year from me—is to preserve that character.

"Most people apprentice with a builder or technician. In my case, I had the good fortune to study pianos, pipe organs, reed organs, and harpsichords firsthand, learning all I could from the instruments themselves, and [being] instructed by them. And, of course, I am profoundly grateful for all I have learned from professionals in the craft. After 35 years, I feel I am still just beginning."

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