Thursday, February 25, 2016

San Matias Jalatlaco and the anatomy of an Organ Restoration.

The International Festival of Historical Organ and Early Music is not only a series of talks and concerts, but of field trips to churches with abandoned organs in a state of total ruin, or as in this case, in the nearby village of Jalatlaco, where the process of the restoration of the outside "case" or frame is almost complete, while the restoration of the inner mechanics of the organ is practically just beginning.
The Church of San Matias Jalatlaco,
built in the 17th Century.
The tour of Jalatlaco was divided into two sections: the outer case of the organ and the inside mechanics. Thus we were introduced into the outer and inner anatomy of a 18th century organ.
The entrance to the parish offices
San Matias Jalatlaco
Estela taking a break at the fountain of
San Matias Jalatlaco
Jalatlaco is on the northeast edge of the metropolitan area of the city of Oaxaca A hermitage was established here in the 17th Century, and eventually a Church dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The church was rebuilt in 1713 and in 1754. During the 18th Century, the Church was dedicated again, now to San Matias, and in the parish records, we find that the Church already had an organ, which needed repairs by Friar Nicolas of Saint Joseph as early as 1674, and then again in 1680 by Francisco Rebollo and in 1726 by Marciel Ruiz Maldonado. (All these repairs are documented in the parish archives.)
Twisted pipes of the original organ,
smelted from an alloy of tin and lead,
which makes a metal which is very
soft and bends easily.
In 1866, only a few years after the Laws of the Reforma were put into effect by President Juarez, this church seemed to have avoided confiscation, and placed a contract for 700 pesos with Pedro Nibra to build the organ which is presently under restoration.

Inner view of the wind chest.
Pedro Nibra was proud of this instrument, and he made this clear in more than one way. His initials are in the center of the front console, and are painted in red. His effigy is carved in the wood at the top of the case. He left his name written on the inside of several of the boards of the case.

The inner mechanism of the organ
The organ of Jalatlaco is different from other restored organs in Oaxaca. The style is no longer baroque, but neoclassical. The inner workings show all the technological improvements of the 19th Century. The Nibra organ at Jalatlaco has a nostalgic air to it: it is the last of an era, just as Nibra was the last great organ builder in Oaxaca.

At least half of the original pipes of the
Jalatlaco organ are missing or are beyond
To whom does the Organ belong? To the first Dominican missionaries? Or to the secular priests who came afterwards? Or, as a consequence of the Laws of the Reforma, promulgated by President Benito Juarez, himself a native son of Oaxaca, by which Church property was confiscated in 1858, does it belong to the "nation". Or to the local community?

Close-up of the points of the pipes.
What is ownership? The title? The stewardship? The caretaking? The occupation? My purpose is not to beg an idle question? Ownership, stewardship and occupation are the ingredients that make restoring such a challenging task, be it an organ, or a church or a painting. And this is the challenge that the IOHIO must not only contend with, but orchestrate.
Insertion points of the frontal pipes.
This rank of pipes were all controlled
by the same stop button.
We have an expression here in Mexico: "Quien paga, manda." ("He who pays, is in charge.") I say it because we might feel that if the IOHIO is paying for a restoration, it can have things done their way. This is an oversimplification. IOHIO provides funds for the restoration, the local community has a say, so does the local parish priest, and so does the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia or INAH (National Institute of Antropology and History). And sometimes these institutions, their representatives and their opinions can conflict with one another.
Roots of a centuries-old tree in the garden
of the parish of Jalatlaco
The INAH has groups of specialists, many of them stationed in Mexico City, that set up guidelines for many types of restorations, including historical organs. Those guidelines cannot be transgressed, in spite of the experience or prestige of the restorers or a foundation. What type of paint can be used to restore the organ? What tone? Even, How to deal with the termites?

These "drawers" were conductors
between the keyboard and the rank
So to whom does the organ really belong? To all of the aforementioned: to the first Dominicans, to the secular priests that came later, to the local community, to the Catholic Church, to Oaxaca, to the young Mexican musicians who come here and play it, and to Nation of Mexico as a whole. And humanity? They are all stakeholders.

Roots of the tree behind the church
Who was really "right" in the conflict of the Liberals against the Conservatives during War of the Reforma in Mexico, during the 1850's? There is nothing as destructive as popular figures defending noble causes without showing respect nor patience for those who hold a different opinion.

The outer case of the Pedro Nimbra Organ is
almost completely restored, and is in the
upper choir loft
The War of the Reforma was a Civil War. Just like in the case of the Civil War in the United States, or the Civil War in Spain, a Civil War is the ugliest of wars, because the only way we justify a war is through the anonymity of the enemy. Unfortunately, in a civil war, the enemy is no longer anonymous. The enemy is my boss, my employee, my neighbor, my cousin or sometimes even my brother. The expropriation of Church property in Mexico during the 1850 was an idea whose time had come. It had already happened in France, in Spain and in Italy. The Church had more property than it needed to fulfill its mission given to it by Jesus Christ.  However the handling of the exclaustration of monks and nuns, some of them in a very advanced age, was pathetic and contemptuous, and only served to sow the seeds of a future civil war, called the War of the Cristeros.
Top section of the organ case of
Enough of politics, and silly feuds in the past that left little good, and let's get back to the Jalatlaco Organ. It's a 8' (8 foot, 240 centimeters  high) stationary organ. It is located on the left side (east side) of the choir loft. The painting is sky blue, with light  grey moldings. When I said that it is an 8´ organ, 8 feet is not the total height, which is close to almost 15'. An 8' organ is an organ with pipes up to 8' long. In the case of Jalatlalco, the tonal base is provided by a 8' principal. Here in the upper case, the pipes are arranged in three sections of flat-round-flat with the front pipes set out in a 9-5-9 plan. Elegant crest and side carvings, very neoclassical.
Bottom section of the organ case of Jalatlaco

The lower case is almost 200 centimeters tall (6'6"), with elegant lateral hips, creating a total width of 291 centimeters (or 9'6") and thanks to the paper stop labels that we can see in the above picture that have been removed, this paint is not the original. In the center of the lower case is the console. The keyboard had the natural notes made out of cedar, with bone covers, while the sharps were ebony. The compass is 56 notes long, starting in C to g'''. We can see the 6 holes on each side of the console from which the façade knobs will protrude when the restoration is complete 

Façade of San Matias Jalatlaco
At Jalatralco , the reservoir bellows are located to the right of the organ, and the feeds are 52 centimeters wide (20"), and a depth of 112 centimeters (3'8"). The reservoir width is 156 centimeters and 118 centimeters deep. The bellows have 3 folds. The weights are missing.

Altarpiece of the church of
San Matias Jalatlaco

Main altarpiece of the church of Jalatlaco

Ceiling of main altar

Side view of Façade

 Pipe organs use compressed air, blown
through sets of pipes, that
are organized in sets called ranks.

Each rank of pipes is controlled by a button on
the control panel called a "stop". At Jalatlaco,
the organ had 12 stops, yet the two top stops
on each side have been canceled.
This is the board on which all the pipes are
inserted in their hole, according to the "rank"
to which they pertain.

If you take a close look at this complex mechanism
designed in the mid 19th century by an Oaxacan
organ builder, with its intricate side movements,
it might remind you of a similar contraption,
the weaving loom.  

In one of the halls of the parish, used often for
catechism classes, the organ is being
restored by a specialist, José Luis Acevedo.
The suspended round wooden trackers of the
 Pedro Nibra organ, by which the keyboard
 is connected to the rollerboard, and to
 the specific rank and pipe to be played.

View of the side of the church of San Matias

An important issue is the restoration
of an organ are the termites.
The IOHIO or any foundation in the quest of rescuing a centuries-old organ in Oaxaca, not has to deal with local communities, the parish priest, with historians, and with inspectors from the government INAH authorities, it also has to establish a strategy on how to deal with the termites. I am not pretending to be comical.

The IHS symbol on top of the case in red and
white while a mask of the face of a man,
possibly Pedro Nibra, the constructor,
When you have termites in the basement of your house, you call the exterminator. When you discover termites in an organ which is a priceless artifact of historical value, the question becomes more complicated. Certain parts of the case were so destroyed, new wood was needed. It other cases, sanding out the damaged sections was all that was needed.
Sometimes when different types
of light are projected on the top
layer of paint of an old organ, we
can not only find out the original
tone, graffiti that has been hidden
for centuries.
And the termites. It is not only a question of destroying the termites, but of disposing of the "corpses". The correct insecticide must not only kill the insect, but cause no side effects on the wood, and the dead insects, that will not march out of the organ in a prisoners of war parade waving a white flag of surrender. Dead or alive, they continue to occupy the organ. So an insecticide or termiticide must be chosen that converts the corpses of the insects into part of the structure of the wood. And that is what has been achieved at this Jalatlaco restoration. Eco-friendly, state-of-art termite control.

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