The American Guild of Organists had their annual convention in Boston this past week, which opened up some unusual musical (and people-watching) opportunities.

On Monday, we saw James David Christie and the Boston Landmarks Orchestra at Symphony Hall. I didn’t care too much for the modern music on the program, but his performance of Guilmant’s Première Symphonie pour Orgue et Orchestre was incredible. I guess that’s the point of the piece, but the organ really can hold its own against a full orchestra.

On Thursday, we saw Peter Krasinski provide a pipe organ accompaniment to the silent film Old Ironsides (1926) at Old South Church. That, too, was an amazing performance–in surround sound, no less.

And on Saturday, we visited the factory of C.B. Fisk, the legendary organ-builder in Gloucester. I like to tour a good shop, but more than anything I love seeing the sort of specialized tooling that evolves to serve a particular craft. In one facility, Fisk builds enormous examples of top-quality wood cabinetry, casts their own metal for pipe-making, crafts consoles with complex controls and linkages, and sculpts elaborate architectural ornamentation. Visitors could walk through a partially-built organ in their warehouse while it was played. Their namesake founder was a physicist who worked with Oppenheimer on the Manhattan Project before taking up this more peaceful vocation.

Playing the organ

Part of the organ

Freddie looks in the organ

Welding shop

June 29, 2014 June 29, 2014 activities by Scott 2 Comments

Operating the Timing Station

The Head of the Charles Regatta operates several redundant timing systems. A high-speed photo-finish camera records a stream of 1-pixel-wide images across the starting line, which are displayed on the screen as a horizontal strip. Here, one of two very capable operators zooms in and manually selects the pixel that best represents the leading edge of each boat, which assigns it an official start time.

October 20, 2012 October 20, 2012 activities by Scott 1 Comment

Yesterday after lunch I pedaled to Charlestown and locked my bike to the railing that surrounds Pier 4. Usually I am focused on not dropping my lock into the sea, but this time I was distracted because my view of the water was blocked by an angular wall of cold gray steel. At first I thought the Navy had moved the USS Cassin Young, but then I spotted modern phased-array radars and, to my surprise, the flag of Norway. This was the hull of the imposing HNoMS Roald Amundsen. Why would a 440 foot Norwegian Navy frigate tie up alongside my sailing center? I don’t know, but there is a sandwich shop nearby that makes a very good panini. Anyway, the sailor standing guard seemed unperturbed by the threat of a bicycle merely 20 feet from his warship, so I chalked this up as another Boston first and moved on.

Having completed by Basic Keelboat certification last week, I was anxious to set off on my first truly singlehanded sail in Boston Harbor. The experience brought me back to that weird rite of passage for many 16-year-olds, driving solo on the highway for the first time. The parallels are striking. Situational awareness consumes an ample portion of my attention. Developing a subconscious feel for the boat’s response to various inputs is a priority. Periods of heavy traffic can be stressful. Catching gusts while sailing close-hauled can still make me jittery. And I have a strong urge to pile all my friends into the boat and go for a joyride. Some things never change.

A few things are making this experience great: the unshakable confidence of the sailing center staff, being a quick learner, beautiful weather, and the magnificent view of the city from the water.

May 24, 2009 May 24, 2009 activities by Scott 4 Comments