David Storey Fine-Tunes His Organ Business

by Jesse J. Tischler
David Storey and his staff are a 100-year-old pipe organ’s best friends.

FROM NORTH CAROLINA to the Delmarva Peninsula, David Storey and his team of certified organ builders maintain and restore pipe organs, an exacting profession that requires a work ethic and craftsman philosophy.

Years ago, the company—David M. Storey, Inc.—was located in Hampden. It grew, and relocated to a rural area of Western Maryland. Now they’ve returned to their roots, occupying a 5,000-square-foot yellow cinderblock building at 300 West Lafayette Avenue, in the wooded wilds of the Jones Falls industrial area in the southern reaches of Hampden. Here, they service, refurbish and rebuild both old and new tracker pipe organs.

Mr. Storey’s career did not begin in this field. After studying in upstate New York and graduating with a degree in music history in 1978, he was for a short time an administrator for the now-defunct Baltimore Ballet. Then he set about preparing for his second career. He spent two years apprenticing with James R. McFarland in Pennsylvania and three years with Dobson Pipe Organ Builders of Lake City, Indiana. During this five-year period, Mr. Storey gained the necessary skills to service tracker pipe organs, and learned their design and construction.

In 1983, he returned to Baltimore and began the bread-and-butter business of tuning organs in the area. Then he was approached to restore an 1890’s Wilson Reiley ten-stop organ at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Baltimore. This contract led to more projects, requiring Mr. Storey to establish a shop.

“The pipe organ is the most complicated musical instrument ever devised,” claims Storey. This statement might be supported by anyone who has the opportunity to see exactly how such an organ operates. The relationships between the hundreds of parts that enable the organ to produce sound seem infinite.

The fundamental principle is simple: air which is blown into pipes of differing sizes. However, the process and execution of this fundamental principle is systematic, requiring a skilled craftsperson.

Electricity, which has had a great impact on organs, was not applied to the pipe organ until the early 1900’s, when Robert Hope Jones envisioned the “unit orchestra,” leading to the development of theater and symphonic organs, such as those manufactured by Wurlitzer and Barton.

Steve Bartley, who builds organs with Mr. Storey, explained that electric organs strive to emulate the capabilities of mechanical organs. He searched for a proper analogy, and found it: it’s like how margarine attempts to emulate butter, and how people use vinyl in place of leather, hoping for the same effect.

In the organ building and restoration industry, it appears that any organ produced after 1900 is considered “new,” while those produced earlier than 1900 are considered “old.”

“Organ builders think generationally. We think about longevity and duration, not turnover,” says Mr. Bartley. This mind set is what distinguishes the traditional organ-builder and restorer from the consumer-oriented producers who operate and capitalize on the disposability factor.

David Storey said he has yet to experience a shortage of work in the Baltimore area, which he says is different from other cities because of its unique and numerous collection of 19th Century organs. Plenty of them are no longer being used, he adds.

Mr. Storey and his builders are currently working on a 1957 Casavant, which belongs to the St. Paul Lutheran Church on Liberty Road. The organ suffered internal damage from water and heat as the result of a church fire during the summer of 2000.

Mr. Bartley estimates that the average time required for a restoration is between three to six months. Some projects have taken considerably longer. It took 10 months to restore Old Otterbein United Methodist Church’s 1897 organ, for example. This is one organ that gets plenty of tender loving care, because Mr. Storey is the church’s Sunday organist.

Mr. Storey hopes one day to create an exhibit of the oldest organs from Baltimore City churches, to foster the public’s awareness of their functions, abilities, roles in history and general beauty. He believes the Museum of Industry would be a fitting venue.

Mr. Storey says it is difficult to find individuals who who are willing to learn his exacting manual trade, one where gratification comes in subtle ways, and where the importance of the project is in the process. It requires a person of a particular temperament, he says, one who is able to think long-term and who values the passage of time.

When an important organ is sold, it must be moved and retuned, at the very least. Mr. Storey, who expresses a particular fondness for all-mechanical systems, says he is frequently called in for assignments as far away as Europe and Canada.

Beautiful music, beautiful instruments: when it comes to organs, people like David Storey and his staff are essential to the dramatic harmony that audiences expect when they see such an imposing instrument towering above them.

For information about David M. Storey, Inc., call 728-8106.

Jesse Tischler, a graduate of Fort Lewis College in Colorado, resides in Mount Washington.


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This story was published on October 3, 2001.