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Our organ finds a better home

Marcel Reid-Jaques with his family’s new organ
Ralph Gardner Jr.
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It’s one thing to own a baby grand piano that nobody plays. But a dusty pump organ, too, and a Victorian one that looks like an Addams family heirloom is basically begging to be deaccessioned.

The instrument dates to my grandparents’ time. They didn’t play either. I’d go so far as to say that in the annals of musical talent our family ranks in the bottom quintile.

As a child I took lessons with Miss McMillan, our grammar school music teacher and I recall the experience as painful for both of us. My brother James gave more focused attention to the task but he also inevitably waved the white flag. My brother Peter may have had an honest touch of talent but he was content to sound out a ditty or two before he declared victory and returned to his toys.

My wife’s family was similarly untouched by Mozartian genius. Ditto my daughters on an upright piano best remembered these days for protesting when we tried to move it by scratching up the living room floor in our apartment.

But until last week I resisted parting with the organ, except for a fair price. Anybody who’s tried to sell an organ lately – or any other piece of brown furniture that isn’t a Chippendale – is probably aware that the shrewdest financial move is to donate it to charity and feel gleeful if you don’t have to deliver it yourself.

But still I was reluctant to let the organ go. How we came to own it in the first place remains a mystery. Perhaps there was a story behind it, even if one I was doomed never to discover. Also, I loathe parting with things on general principal. I acknowledge it’s an issue. At an age when others are trying to cull themselves of anything extraneous I’m still clinging on for dear life. Maybe that’s the problem. I’m reluctant to acknowledge my mortality.

My spouse suffers no such quandary. I wouldn’t call her ruthless. I wouldn’t call her unsentimental. She simply doesn’t share with me the belief that the day after we give something away we’ll find a desperate need for it and regret our decision. Though even in my most feverish moments it’s hard to conjure any scenario that requires a pump organ.

Besides, with apologies to J.S. Bach, any organ composition can probably be played, or in our case remain un-played and sound just as good, on our Steinway baby grand. Especially an organ, one of whose pedals has come loose and keeps slipping away underfoot when you try to pump it, leaving you breathless.

So by the time my wife listed the instrument on Facebook Marketplace I’d grudgingly come to the realization that as cool as I found our organ’s twelve gothically lettered knobs -- or is the technical term stops? – that looked capable of producing angelic music in the hands of someone who knew what he or she was doing – the time had come to find our organ a better, more loving home.

Within twenty-four hours we had two offers as well as one from an organ professional who offered to repair the instrument, I assume for a fee, for whoever ended up acquiring it. One of our respondents was a family of artists and musicians that lived in Hudson, NY. Now we were the ones who felt like petitioners, fearful that they’d take one look at the heirloom and drive away without it. I felt like I was applying to an Ivy League college with below average SAT scores.

But they couldn’t have been more pleasant when they arrived and seemed genuinely enthusiastic about collecting our organ. If you can’t sell your furniture for a decent price the next best thing – one might even describe it as superior during this holiday season – is to give it to somebody you feel good about who will appreciate it and put it to good use.

These people gave out good vibes, especially after they lugged the thing out of the house without noticeable injury either to themselves or to the organ. There was one small hiccup. It wouldn’t fit into their compact SUV so they parked it in our garage (getting it out of the house felt like monumental progress) and returned the next day with a U-Haul.

They also shared with us their plans. The machine was going into their pool house to produce music during I don’t know what? Pool parties? That sounded slightly bizarre even with Gomez Addams at the keyboard. Perhaps for informal musicales or to perform covers of Emerson, Lake and Palmer or Deep Purple?

Frankly, I don’t care. The organ is gone. A cheerful painting hangs where it once stood and made us feel guilty we weren’t better parents. And maybe the experience will even make me less reluctant to part with some of the stuff in our basement. But if my wife is listening I just want to let her know that there’s no way I’m giving up our crank-operated early 1900’s Victor Talking Machine. It still works fine.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found be found on Substack.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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