The Neighbors West, April 2006
Thursday, April 13, 2006The Pipes Are Calling
St. Joseph’s Church in Camillus, to dedicate new organ MondayBy Dick Clarke
For four and a half years, Tomasz Lewtak was a slave to his passion.
Lewtak found his time consumed with building a large organ in the former choir loft area of St. Joseph’s Church in Camillus. He doubles as the music director for the church.
Now, the 2,500-plus pipes are in place – tuned and voiced – and the handcrafted mahogany and white ash façade is completed, resembling fine furniture.
The massive project will be capped with the official dedication at 7 p.m. Monday. The public is invited for the ceremony and a performance by Ulrik Spang-Hanssen, professor of organ from the Royal Danish Music Academy in Denmark.
Also planning to attend, to recognize Lewtak’s Polish heritage, are the Consul General of the Republic of Poland and the director of the Polish Cultural Institute, both stationed in New York City.
“This is a perfect way to dedicate the organ – you invite a star to present the organ to everybody,” Lewtak said. “(The organist) is awesome, a first-class concert organist. He can play in his sleep.”
“This is the traditional way. The builder never plays; well, actually, I will play the opening hymn for the dedication.”
While Lewtak hopes the church is packed, he acknowledged that a church full of people with soft clothing alters the acoustics. It requires more power to avoid sounding soft.
With his work done, St. Joseph’s now has a showpiece.
“I’m really glad I could do this,” Lewtak said. “Many people contributed, some without really knowing it.”
“A lot happened over 4 ½ years – we went through different priests.”
The work, he said, was not tough physically but “really hard psychologically.”
Lewtak figures he put in about 15,000 man-hours building the organ. The project, if done by a professional firm, would have cost a million dollars, he said.
On Monday, he hopes it sounds like a million bucks.
In a recent interview, Lewtak gave the following answers.
When could you finally say the project is done?
I sure hope that on Monday, I can say this is done. Then I have my life back and can start seeing my wife and kids again.
Knowing what you know now, would you have considered this project?
Yes, I would. But not in the same crazy way. Nothing was planned the way a normal business does. It was spur-of-the-moment that we bought the organ, then they gave it to me when we didn’t have the money to pay a professional. All of a sudden, I was putting in 12-hour days – for 4 ½ years.
The best part of building this organ?
I met very many interesting people. I made a lot of good new friends, many of them parishioners I didn’t know before. No matter how I look at it, this is a fantastic accomplishment for a low-shmo like me. I look at this as a great legacy for me to leave.
Do you get nervous when people paw around it?
No. You can’t break it. It’s pretty much kid-proof. You know, people are pretty respectful; even kids, they have a certain amount of natural respect.
Does it mean a lot that Polish notables will recognize your work?
Yes. I’ve always been very proud of my national heritage. It means a lot to me. They are quite proud of this. This is the largest pipe organ built by a native of Poland on American soil.
What is the general reaction of parishioners? Are they critical of the expense?
Occasionally. I take it seriously but I don’t take it in an offensive way. They have no clue how much the real thing would cost. In general, people are very appreciative. I get a lot of nice comments, compliments. I think most people here are proud. It really became the focal point of this space.
What is the difference between tuning and voicing?
Tuning has to do with pitch, the height of the note. It’s a simple adjustment. Voicing is a whole different matter. It has to do with the quality of the tone – gentle or harsh, soft or loud. To make sure it plays just right, it’s a very time-consuming process. I spent roughly 2,000 man-hours on voicing alone.
Strangest request for an organ performance?
Play the polka. It’s not from Poland. It’s really a Czech dance. I guess they think polka and Poland.
How much maintenance does the organ require?
Hardly any. This is the beauty of a mechanical installation with pipes. Once it’s done and done right, maybe once or twice a year it might need a quick tuning.
Now that it’s complete, anything you wish you’d done differently?
I really want to keep my sanity so I’m not going to X-ray myself.
So, are you pleased?
Most of the time. I’m more concerned with the mechanical stuff then the façade. The façade is what they see and it makes people happy. But the mechanical affects how it sounds – that’s what I’m more concerned with. I did correct a few things after I was done, redid a few things. So I’m happy.
Anyone who deserves special credit?
My wife. I’m not kidding when I say this wouldn’t have happened without her. She raised our kids so I could devote my time to this. She deserves a tremendous amount of recognition and I will make sure she is recognized during the ceremony.
What is your worst nightmare?
That on dedication day with three hours to go, something is going to go bad. I really don’t have any control. Like, what if a blower goes bad? You can’t do anything about it in three hours.