A pipe organ… Where?

Through the years I’ve met a few people who have accomplished singular, extraordinary feats. For example, one couple I know bicycled from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. But until a few weeks ago, I had never met anyone who did what Jim Smiley did…

At the age of 5, he announced to his parents that he wanted to play the pipe organ. They smiled at his childish ambition but he insisted… “But you’re not big enough to reach the floor pedals,” they reasoned, “why don’t you learn to play piano?” He did learn to play piano and he pursued his dream to play the pipe organ.

During his career in vintage costume design, Jim continued his interest in the organ but had little time to play. Upon retirement, he moved to Mérida and purchased a high-ceilinged residence – the perfect home  for a pipe organ!

On the Internet, he located one for sale, and traveled to Rome, NY where it languished, not played in more than 30 years. Nonetheless, it was in good condition, and Jim acquired the “Hinners & Albertsen” 1899 pipe organ. One problem: it was in New York and he wanted it for his home in Mérida.

Jim had no experience with organ building, but with the help of Internet forums for organ builders and organists he managed to dismantle, pack, ship and reassemble it in Mérida.

Last night Jim invited a group of 12 to meet his friend David McIntosh, a virtuoso organist.

David constantly tours and en route to a concert in Mexico City, he agreed to give a recital on the century-old pipe organ installed in Jim’s living room.

David McIntosh is Australian born, but he lives in Amsterdam… and as coincidence would have it… he has a home just one canal away from my 100 year-old aunt. My husband Jorge, David and I enjoyed talking about the cosmopolitan Dutch city, the people and places we enjoy there.

David played a selection 17th and 18th century pieces. When I closed my eyes, the music transported me to the nave of a European baroque cathedral. It was magnificent to see and hear such a unique performance.

David is actually “Dr. David;” he  has another career as a pediatrician – infectious diseases specialist and vaccinologist, and has received a medal and citation from the Queen of England for his service to Medicine and Music.  As well he is the founder and artistic director of the “GlebeMusic Festival”, now in its 23rd year.

Jim later talked about Oaxaca. He told us that this Mexican state has the largest collection of  baroque period pipe organs. Every two years he attends the “Oaxaca Organ Festival.” The next one will be in 2014.

He also told me that he is very willing to allow musicians to play and practice on the organ. If anyone reading this piece would like the opportunity, you can contact Jim through me. Just send an email: writingfrommerida@gmail.com

David and Jim entertained us further with their stories about the famous pipe organs of the world like the grand Parisian 8,000 pipe organ in Notre Dame Cathedral.

After the recital, we enjoyed a light dinner. The serviettes had musical notes printed on them; Jim picked one up and said, “Oh this is Chopin!”

I had to pinch myself … how often does one have the chance to hear a pipe organ played by a world class musician in a private home? The evening was indeed magical. Thank you David and Jim for including us.

  David McIntosh

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “A pipe organ… Where?

  1. sharron mcgrath

    Hi Joanna:
    I have had the personal pleasure of being invited to Jim Smiley’s beautiful house two times and listening to his wonderful organ. On both those evenings we gathered round the organ while Jim played some grand old songs and hymns and we sang our hearts out. Needless to say pipe organs are Jim’s passion and he has worked on restoring other pipe organs to their former greatness.
    Sharron McGrath

  2. That is a most special accomplishment you describe–Jim Smiley bringing a disassembled pipe organ here, and getting it to work! He shows the same tenacity he evidenced as a child, in search of a dream.

    • I thought so too. That’s why I started the post as I did… I think it is so cool to do something in your lifetime that is really, really unusual… putting a pipe organ back together certainly qualifies for that moniker.

  3. jim duignan

    AN INCREDIBLY ENJOYABLE EVENING ! THE MUSIC , THE AMBIENCE ,THE FELLOWSHIP . DIDN’T REALIZE THAT SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY REACHED THIS FAR SOUTH . THANK YOU DAVID AND JIM !

  4. Lee

    I once led an “organ drive” for our church, which had a talented music director saddled with a tired old instrument. In the process, I came to appreciate how special it is to match the right instrument with a worthy musician. Bravo to Jim for sharing his treasures!

  5. Tonia Kimsey

    Joanna, Beautifully written article… It truly was a memorable, magical evening. Tonia

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