We’re home now.  The original plan was to have a few days to explore Santa Cruz, and then a few nice beach days in South Florida, eating fresh fish, getting in the ocean, spending quality time with Ken’s sister and nephews.

Instead, we had a few hours Friday afternoon to do some gift shopping, but found ourselves wandering around like zombies, exhausted.  The flight Saturday was lovely, the Bolivians got their big plane back from the Columbians, and it was a nearly empty plane!  So I got to stretch out along the middle three-seat row and sleep.  Bags landed with us!

However, landing in Miami, we discovered that we had picked up some little Bolivian parasite/microbe who wanted to come to the US by hiding in our guts.  Let’s just say Florida was spent mostly in bed, and those anticipated tasty fish dinners were replaced with sipping Gatorade and Pedialyte.  We did get a few hours on the beach, and that was nice.

Between the long hours we worked, and the lack of any WiFi in San Jose and Santiago, this blog got a little behind.  Well, a lot behind.  But you’re up to date now on all the adventures!  Very glad to be back among our own chickens…..

Finishing the Organ

Well, friends, this turned into a bit more of a haul than we’d planned.  David had called Tuesday night to say he and Dany were going to spend another night in San Jose, which was infuriating, but by the time he’d called, there were no more buses out, so I just asked him to get on the earliest bus and get to Santa Cruz ASAP Wednesday a.m.

I was ready to get on to tuning, but the assistant blower had broken down and we didn’t have the necessary wind pressure to do any tonal work at all.  Ernesto was called and was on his way and we turned out attention to preparing wood pipes, preparing case pieces and figuring out how to create some kind of support for the pedal pipes.  I mean, as it turned out, there was quite enough work to do, even without wind.  Especially since the two largest bass pipes had been partially newly built by Ichu, and needed to be voiced and regulated.  Sounds routine, but they are so big–8′ long and about 9″ x 9″ interior dimension–that you can’t actually blow them and get a note.  They need way more air than human lungs can provide, and so it’s a faith-based operation:  you blow in them anyway and get a feel by the way your breath travels and any back-pressure, as to whether or not they are going to sound OK.  Once on their wind, they turned out great!

We had had to do everything so fast and with so much noise previously, this was my chance to go through all the pipes and re-voice the ones that needed it (there were plenty).  Unfortunately, I had lent David my voicing tools, so a certain amount of time was spent making new substitutes and managing things otherwise.  David and Dany had our drill as well, so making the pedal stay couldn’t be completed.  And it wasn’t until 5:30 that David arrived, bringing some flexible tubing he’d found in the San Jose organ crates.  With that, Javier and I were able to complete the windlines to the facade pipes.  Ernesto had not shown up as promised with the new blower, it was nearly 8:00 and we called it a day.

IMG_0370Javier and David left for Buenos Aires Thursday morning, but Dany, Ken, Francisco, Josue and I got to work on the pedal stay, Ernesto showed up with the blower around 11:30 and after lunch we had wind!!!  First Josue, then Dany had to leave and Ken and I finished up the voicing and tuning around 9:00 pm, except for the 5 biggest pedal pipes and 5 biggest facade pipes.  No way we were going to be able to lift those babies!

So Friday morning was the marathon:  last pipes and then put the case together.  What craziness:  the Ichu brothers, Francisco, Ken and I (Dany never showed), me balancing inside the organ screwing these heavy pieces together, the Ichus and Francisco, like the boy stopping the leak in the dike, holding the pieces in place for what must have seemed like forever and a day!  And we got the thing done by 2:30!  And she looks and sounds WONDERFUL!



Then there is beautiful, peaceful Santiago de Chiquitos.  One of my favorite places on earth, and what a change from Plan 3000.  The village square is large, with large trees, and clean, no garbage, no plastic bags caught in trees or empty plastic bottles all over.  Just green grass and green trees, and once in a while, horses wander onto it.  We sat on our balcony and watched a couple of young kids roll down one of its streets sitting on skateboards, clearly a novelty in these parts.

There are many Mennonite communities in the Chiquitania, and several families were hanging around in the bus terminal in San Jose, waiting for rides to Santa Cruz.

We came here from San Jose to check on the organ and see how it is doing, what sort of progress is being made on the church and what the prognosis is for all.  The organ is a Barckhoff, and was at Earlham College in Indiana.  It was given to the church here and I won’t bore you with the long, agonizing story of its shipment, arrival, assembly, disassembly, re-assembly, tragically succumbing to woodworm later, newly made parts not quite working as they should……well, you get the idea.  So as of not too long ago, they had  a more-or-less-mostly-working pipe organ, when it was determined that part of the woodworm problem came from the fact that the roof was full of the damned pests.


Government funding was arranged, the altars disassembled and stored, the organ wrapped in double-tarp, and the roof demolished, although a little roof was built over the organ.  All the old columns were rotted at the base, the roof timbers were no good, everything was taken away, the church gutted, and the walls propped up with beams.

This is how it looks today.   The new roof will be completed in July.  The organ is dry, its wood pipes are stored elsewhere, and I think it will be OK.  More work for me in Bolivia, but being in Santiago is heaven compared to being in Plan 3000!

Inspecting wood pipes housed inside the convent museum

Filo and Lena and Kathryn and Milton are my good friends in Santiago.  Kathryn and Milton are an American couple who have lived there for decades, are raising their 5 children there and own a large ranch of dairy cows which provide the entire village, and most of nearby Robore City, with milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream!  They live in a ramshackle house that oozes love.  Kathryn is one of my favorite people ever, she shines, all the time.  Unfortunately, we missed each other this visit, she was out of town.  Filo (Filomena) and Lena (Magdalena) are half-sisters, two of eight children of the same mother.  Filo lives at the convent attached to the church and is kind of the guardian of the organ and I have usually stayed there at the convent.

Filo at the convent with one of her chickens

Lena runs a restaurant in her home, and makes breakfast and lunch for people who need breakfast and lunch.  She has lots of customers, and we had the absolutely best meal in Bolivia in her kitchen.

Filomena, me, Magdalena

Both have just invested in smart phones and we had fun comparing notes on what you can do with a smart phone—or, in my case, what you can’t do with one, since the iPhone pretty much couldn’t do anything in Bolivia unless attached to WiFi.  Which we had for a while at the hotel, until we didn’t and that was the story of our WiFi experience until we got back to Santa Cruz.  Pretty routine there, a place declares “WiFi!” and you ask, “Is there WiFi” and the answer is “yes!” and you say “Great!” and they say “but it doesn’t work” and that was about the sum of it.

(chickens and flowers of Santiago)

But all in all, it was our first real relaxation, if only for one night.  Nice air-conditioned hotel, run by friend Mari.  The rooms are beautiful, and she serves a breakfast that you would want to be your last meal, if it had to be….granola, yogurt, fruit, little lovely breads, eggs, coffee, juices, jam….and we had given ourselves the luxury of buying tickets on the big air-conditioned bus back to Santa Cruz.  The little vans we travelled to San Jose and then San Jose to Robore (you get a taxi from there to Santiago) were cramped, and deadly uncomfortable.  Total cost of those little vans was about 70 Bolivianos ($10).  For 100 Bs. the luxury bus got us back to Santa Cruz in 5 hours, with AC, and tons of leg room, and even a bathroom, though….well, less said, the better.

Clever means of providing leg room!  You flip down the thingie in front of you.

Interestingly, the bus just kind of stopped in the middle of a busy area of Santa Cruz and just let everyone off onto the curb.  A taxi ride later, and we were at our fancy hotel in Santa Cruz.  We raced across the cathedral square and climbed the 5 flights of stairs up to a rooftop restaurant we like, scarfed down a sandwich and a glass of wine, legged it over to the local grocery store to get some things, and got into bed a little after 10:30.

San Jose

And the reason we were flummoxed about how to finish the darn thing was that we were being sent off the following day to San Jose, a village where David and I put in an organ that turned out to be the Project From Hell some 4 years ago.  It was Stephen Roberts’ teaching instrument and he generously donated it to San Jose and paid for it and the other organs in this group to be bunged into a container and schlepped off to Bolivia.

Ken putting a pipe in.  The front pipes are held up by a structure David and I invented by using the packing crates it came in

The reason it was the Project from Hell is that, in Stephen’s studio, it was installed into a corner and didn’t have a proper case.  We started out with organ parts galore, no drawing, no photos, and a promise that the village had a woodworking shop that would help us design and execute a case.  And I’m sure they meant it when they said it, but in actual fact there was no woodworking shop to help us.  The mayor wasn’t particularly interested in helping us, and I was housed in a servant’s room–a 5′ x 8′ closet with no cross-ventilation—and it was hot as hell.  Then the mayor got into a dispute with I don’t know who and water to the village was turned off for 5 days.  no shower, no washing hands, no toilet.  seriously.

But this time we were impressed at how nice the town square had been fixed up, and we were in a little hotel with AIR CONDITIONERS in each room—oh, my, did that feel like luxury!

The pulpit.  Notice the Holy Spirit sitting right above the preacher’s head!

The pu

One of the smaller altars

Our task was to get the Open Diapason nicely voiced and hooked onto the facade racks, install some magnets I’d brought from the US and tune.  I had notified Stephen before coming that I wasn’t going to hang around the place, as I had no expertise in installing magnets, and David can tune an organ with the best of them.  Rather, it was important I get the Open Diapason sounding beautiful, and then take the time to go further afield and check on the organ in Santiago, an organ in rather dire circumstances at the moment.

And so it happened.  Saturday we got there, checked things out, Sunday we worked around the endless Masses and a Via Crucis.  This was the day of a big Referendum in Bolivia regarding whether or not the Constitution should be amended to allow the current president, Evo Morales, a fourth term in office.  As you enter San Jose, an enormous red banner proclaims “San Jose Dice NO” and that’s about what happened.  It is compulsory to vote in Bolivia and you are fined if you do not, so the turnout was around 99.7%.  “No” won the day in San Jose, and the celebrations that night, with people chanting and motorcycles gunning their motors and speeches were pretty impressive and loud.IMG_0328

Although mostly we stayed hidden in the inner patio of the hotel because any kind of voting in Bolivia means dry laws, and no liquor was to be sold Saturday or Sunday anywhere in the country.  Naturally, we put our best efforts into getting around this obstacle, convincing a cafe owner Saturday evening to serve us beer with our supper in large white ceramic coffee mugs, and we loudly praised the wonderful taste of the “coffee” throughout the meal.  Next, we slipped down to the shops and convinced a shop owner to sell us a couple of bottles of wine, a 12-pack of beer and a bottle of Singani (local spirits, kind of a grappa), which he was willing to do as long as we hid them in Daniel’s backpack.  We slipped these into the hotel, got the hotel owner to lend us a styrofoam cooler, bought some ice from a guy who sells ice (they put water into a litre-sized plastic bag, tie a knot in it, and put it in a freezer, and voila, you have a big litre-size chunk of ice!).  So we were set for both nights!  Singani is pretty nice, it’s made in the wine-making region of Tarija, but a little dab’ll do ya.

Monday morning I laid out the work schedule for Wednesday morning back at Plan 3000, said good-by to Dany and David, and Ken and I headed to Santiago.

Chickens of San Jose

The Concert

Imagine a circus.  Imagine what medieval churches must have been like on feast days, with people hawking their wares, and children running around playing tag, and people and dogs and goats wandering in and out of the church, and eventually everyone coming in to the church for Mass, while the hawkers still hawked and kids still played tag.

That was it.  about 1,000 people in the church, standing room only, many others outside and a crowd-noise that would have deafened anyone.  Against that background the concert was played.  Stephen was perfect, as usual, made it look easy and like this organ was the greatest thing since E & GG Hook were around!  He played only a couple of organ solo pieces, and that was just fine with us.  You couldn’t hear a thing in any case because of the background noise.IMG_0269

Olga amazed everyone, the padre was happy, some friends turned up who I was delighted to see, Milton Whitaker from Santiago and Padre Piotr, the musicologist from La Paz who hangs around the Chiquitania a lot and who I admire.  Fernando Soriano and his wife were there, and it was a delightful time.  The orchestra is another one of Padre Castellanos’ project, it’s the Hombres Nuevos orchestra and they played brilliantly, a really fine group of young musicians, under the direction of Ruben Dario, who is also going on my list of greatly admired persons.  The organ building crew got to stand up in front of everyone and take a bow.

Left to right:  Javier (dressed in black), Ichu No. 1, David, Josue, Waldo and Olga, me, Stephen Roberts, Daniel, Francisco

And then it was over and we organ builders looked at each other and said, “shit.  How the hell are we going to finish this thing!?!?!?!?!?”

The Morning of the Concert: Friday, February 19

Oops, in the previous blog, I forgot to insert the name of that fish Waldo catches.  It’s called a Pacu.

That morning, we actually started to get pipes in the organ.  That’s right.  Oh, and David mentioned that he actually had 6 or 7 conductors yet to go and several of them were so damaged, they were simply irreparable.

The padre was making sure all was spiffy for the concert, so a team of weed-whackers was buzzing on one side of the church, while an army of cleaning ladies were mopping the floor (kept it nice and cool) and suddenly a bulldozer turned up in front of the church to spread a big load of dirt and sand around, to cover all the garbage that lays on every inch of ground in Plan 3000.  And that was the chaotic, noisy background against which I needed to tune the organ!!!!

Swell 8’ Flute sounded nice and tuned up well.
Swell Viole 8’ was a “HUNH?????”  all the pipes were way too sharp, and had to be tuned with duct tape!   Needless to say, duct tape is not on the professional organ builder’s list of proper materials and I have a feeling that any application I make to a professional society from now on will be rejected solely on the grounds of this project.  The alternative is to solder things up—-well, that wasn’t gonna happen on the day of the concert.
Swell Harmonic Flute 4”.  Same “HUNH????”  everything much too sharp.  crap.  more duct tape, even though I recalibrate my tuner to a = 444.  Yes, I was using a tuner app on my iPhone, another reason I will never make it to the Hall of Fame.  It’s a great app and makes for fast work!  Just not sublimely accurate tuning.
Swell Oboe, which David had gone over in the morning and was thrown up into the organ just after lunch—-total scratch.  Not a single pipe would tune to any note at all, and David knows his Oboes!  It’s just that the whole rank had been so poorly treated over its lifetime, its resonators were torn every which way, and given that our pitch was so mismatched with the pipework, we were in Oboe-Hell.


Great 4’ Octave went in and ate up another bunch of duct tape (sounds really nice, tho).
Great Stopped Bass/Melodia sounded good, though a little weak for my taste.
Great 2’, which Ken racked that morning, as it substitutes for a Dulciana, tuned up nicely, too, no duct tape!  It’s a new stop, and the fact that it tuned just fine with its old tuning slides made it clear that this organ simply had been tuned to a much higher pitch than we are used to today.
Great Open Diapason.  The interior pipes were a frenzy of duct-tape expertise, and the exterior pipes are the nice painted ones you’ve seen in the photo of Francisco No. 2 Ichu No. 2.  But many of their wind-conductors were unrepaired or missing, so the stop couldn’t be used.  And we had no time to tune them at all.  And it is now 6:30 in the evening, and the concert will begin in an hour.  We packed up our stuff, shoved everything into the sacristy, and headed for home to change.

New Additions to Our Cast of Characters

Meet Waldo and Olga.  Waldo Papu lives in the tiny village of Urubichá, has six children from a couple of wives (at least) and is a violin maker and music teacher in his village.  He gets a nice stipend from his teaching post, by Bolivian standards, but not a lot of respect.  He stayed at our same dorm Thursday night, and regaled us with tales of catching enormous fish, of the piranha family, called ******* from the river that runs alongside his village.  Look this fish up, and you will see one mean-looking creature!!  That night, Olga was staying with an aunt in Santa Cruz, so she could be dressed up all pretty for her concert appearance.

Version 2
Waldo and Olga concert time!

Waldo has taught his daughter, Olga, who is about 8 years old, to play piano.  And it turns out Olga is a winner!  Not only does she play beautifully, she is modest, hard-working, and unflappable.  She had never played the organ we were working on, she had only practiced with the orchestra on her little electronic keyboard—-which, by the way, she practiced on while we worked, to our utter delight!  When it came time for her to perform in the concert, Waldo lifted her onto the organ bench, as it was too high for her to climb on alone.  She coolly waited for the nod from the conductor and lit into her concerto as if she did this kind of thing every day.  Her playing was perfect, note-perfect and perfectly in time with the orchestra.  Waldo was so proud, he was in tears.  We were flabbergasted.

Then there is Francisco Ichu.  Since we already have a Francisco on the team, we call him IMG_0292 2Francisco No. 2, and Since we already have his brother Alfonso Ichu on the team, we call him Ichu No. 2.  Francisco paints buses and cars.  He’s marvellous, and when he came to take the old icky paint off the facade pipes and paint them silver, we saw clear traces of the old design they had.  A little bit of Internet searching on my part on other Hook and Hastings organs got us to a couple of colors that matched what we found AND a couple of designs that did so.  I set out the design for him, and he went to work with his airbrush, masking tape and newspaper.  Here is the result, painter and organ:


The Blog Lives!

The Blog has been on work-study for the last 12 days, but is now back on the job.  Let’s skip to the evening before the concert, Thursday, February 18.

Once we got the bellows in place it was time to hook up the motor, and to our dismay, the motor was not up to the task.  Rather, it WOULD have been up to the task, but somehow a motor that can produce 6” of wind on 110 v. and 60 cycles can only produce 2” of wind on 220 v. and 50 cycles.  Ernesto, the electrician was unable to explain the math to me, but the facts were there—we tried more weight on the bellows and plugging every little wind leak, and still we had only 2”.  Luckily, Ernesto has run into this before, in the organ that was sent to Jesus Nazareno church from Connecticut, and he went out to get us a booster blower.

The day before, Ken and I had managed to get the windlines screwed in—which had its challenges since nothing lined up anymore and we had to figure out how to work that one.  And after wracking my brain to figure out how to join bellows and a curtain valve that closes on the UP-swing, I finally had the genius to realize that the bellows goes UP and we need the curtain valve to go UP when the bellows goes UP, so what if I just made a long piece of wood, screwed it onto the top of the bellows and attached it to the curtain valve and everybody goes UP together!!  It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep will do!


On Thursday, as we waited for Ernesto to get there with the equipment, I did some pre-voicing, Dany and Javier managed work on the action, Ken had busied himself working on wood pipes.  David worked himself to a frenzy trying to get the messed-up zinc wind conductors soldered back together so we could get the front pipes going.  Stephen Roberts had arrived to practice for the concert tomorrow—well, he was out of luck, and the orchestra and Stephen practiced in another room of the church, on an electronic keyboard.

So here we are, Thursday, February 18 and Ernesto finally gets the booster motor hooked up around 6:30 and we test and we have 3” of wind.  perfect.  Everyone is dead tired, it’s been another hot day.  There don’t seem to be many of our yellow No. 36 buses around, the two that pass us are so full, people are hanging out the doors, so we hail a taxi and go back to our little rooms.


Organ Update

Big achievement today, we got the bellows into the organ and managed to get most of the pedal action hooked up.  For the non-cognoscenti:  the thing that blows the wind into the organ is a large, black device, a motor turns a fan that pushes air into the bellows.  This blower-motor came from the US (which has 110 volt current) and is adaptable to 220 volt current, which we have here in Bolivia.  However, US current runs on 60 cycles, and Bolivian current runs on 50 cycles.  This means that the blower will make fewer revolutions per minute here than it did in New Jersey.  The consequence is that we may have a bit of a problem with our wind pressure, which we are assuming needs to be around 3″.  The blower is designed to create 6″, and our wind system is very air-tight, so we are hoping for the best.

David is mortified that the leather shop couldn’t seem to come up with the same beige each time he went to buy leather.

Let me tell you about Ernesto, he is another in the cast of characters.  Ernesto is an electrician and  HVAC guy.  As near as I can tell, he is the only Bolivian in existence who has a sense of urgency and order about time.  He shows up when he says he will, he tells you exactly how long it will take to get to you, and he tells you when you have to get a certain thing done if he is going to lend a hand, and he wants to know in advance if you are NOT going to get it done so that you will not waste his time.  Not wishing to waste his time, I did not manage to get a photo of him today.

It is his job to get the blower-motor’s wind down a galvanized, 8″ diameter windline, through a concrete + brick wall, into the curtain valve, out the curtain valve in a 6″ windline, and into the bellows.  It’s our job to connect the curtain valve and the bellows so that when the bellows goes up, the curtain closes and tells the motor to chill.  He told us he would show up with everything IF we had our bellows ready to give the right wind, for which we need bellows weights, and only 2 came with the organ–presumably a bunch of bricks and old headstones were added onto the bellows back in New Jersey to give the right pressure.    Discussing the lack of bellows weights brought out the fact that Ernesto knows somebody who makes them to order.  Well, not for organ bellows, but for something else.  So he’s bringing those, too.  Then we needed a shape-shifter thingie for the curtain valve, to get its rectangular exit to be a 6″ round shape and he made one of those, too.

Dany managed to adapt the shape-shifter to the curtain valve

This guy should be declared a national treasure.  He is less than enthusiastic about our curtain valve, purloined from a stock reservoir, but is willing to put his aesthetic objections aside for the good of the whole.

This being Sunday, our usual restaurant was closed, so we had to fend for ourselves.  Normally, this would be a piece of cake, but a downpour was in progress–for which we were immensely grateful, the heat having been hideous the last few days–and getting out and across the street and over to a restaurant was going to be icky.  Javier called his wonderful novia, the fabulous Amanda of the beautiful cake of a few blogs ago, and she ordered a delivery for us of roast chicken, rice, fried banana, with a couple of sauces and oh heavens, this chicken was delicious!!!  And a huge bottle of Coca Cola.  The whole thing, 5 meals and Coke came to 100 Bolivianos, or about $14.

Once the bellows was in, Javier and Dany could thread the pedal trackers underneath it and hook them up, so we have a pedal action now.

Dany, Javier and Francisco, making pedal trackers.

The guys worked yesterday, Francisco, too, making trackers nearly all day.  It can be tedious work, but they were very good-natured about it.

Great stuff!  I’m working on the Great chest, which has some leaks around the sponsels.  IMG_0192

and to make the day perfect, the No. 36 bus was waiting for us when we got to the road in front of the church!  and there were seats available, golly, our feet and legs ached from standing all day.

Friday. Panic.

I have no idea how we will finish this thing in a week.  The concert is in a week.  yikes.  At least the good news is that we have light.  The electricians finished the lighting and connected power to the organ blower and so we can work past sunset, which David did tonight.

We got disrupted today with the electricians installing light and power up above.  They work up on an impossibly high scaffolding and roll it about the church.  Today they needed to be in our area, and having moved everything around in order to let them roll their scaffolding around, it gave us a good opportunity to sweep and clean up.  I finished the intake box for the bellows and all related wind items are ready to go.  We had to come up with a curtain valve, and at one point, a stock reservoir had been attached to the organ and the original bellows rendered redundant more or less.  Luckily, the stock reservoir contained a curtain valve within, but so firmly glued down that the whole shebang had to be schlepped to the wood merchant on the corner.  He had a circular saw, and cut the curtain valve assembly out of the box.  terrific stuff.

Don’t worry, non-organbuilders.  You have no idea what this is, and that’s OK.  Trust me, it’s essential.

We were visited by one of my absolutely favorite Padres this morning, Padre Piotr.  He is a Polish monk who has lived and worked in Bolivia nearly all his adult life, making a career out of discovering, transcribing and publishing music manuscripts from the Jesuit missions.  As a musicologist, he’s world famous, since nobody was doing what he got to doing, and so he’s the go-to guy if you’re interested in Jesuit mission music.  Which lots of people are!!

As a human being, he is soft-spoken, humble and yet produces a big music festival here in Bolivia, bringing together all kinds of musical talent in a country so lean on money and communications networks, I have no idea how he does it.  I adore the guy.  He visited us to ask me to train Ichu to tune harpsichords and organs during my visit.  Had to tell him no-can-do, which is mostly about time and partly about Ichu.  So he’ll bring in some technicians from Argentina probably.

Here we are, looking happy and optimistic!