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