The behemoth of Woolsey Hall

By now, the Newberry is safe from destruction or alteration. But Nick and Joe still fret about periodic insinuations from Yale administrators that they are thinking about sprucing up Woolsey Hall: putting in carpet, replacing the hard wooden seats with upholstery, maybe adding some drapery to cut down on the reverberations that, some orchestras complain, make the hall such a difficult place to practice. These additions might make the hall more comfortable, and more hospitable to the three orchestras -- the music school's, the college's, and New Haven's -- that call it home. But they would also spoil its beautifully resonant organ acoustics. For the time being, however, there are no plans for big changes.

Joe and Nick lead me along a vertiginous catwalk in the organ's very top level. From where I stand, I can see over the tops of the show pipes in the facade, down the length of the barrel vault of the Woolsey ceiling, and out over the empty expanse on the auditorium. We sit down amongst the pipes to rest and to talk. Joe looks me in the eye.

"Tony, do you appreciate how special it is to be in this organ? This is one of the great organs in the world."

He gestures to the organ.

"The people who designed it were geniuses of their time. We tend to believe we're the smartest people who walked the planet. That's a fallacy. These were very bright people. They may have thought about the world differently than us. But they left their mark. They're gone, but their mark is still here.

"The past conservators are forgotten. Joseph Dzeda and Nicholas Thompson-Allen will be forgotten. But the builders -- Hutchings, Steere, Ernest Skinner, Donald Harrison, Harry Van Wart -- their names will survive."  


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