World’s largest instrument undergoes restoration in Atlantic City

The Midmer-Losh Pipe Organ in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall can sound angelic one minute, and like the powerhouse that it is a moment later.

“It was built as the world’s largest musical instrument. It contains 33,112 pipes, that’s what classifies it as the world’s largest. It also has one of only two 64-foot pipes in the world, and the loudest set of organ pipes, the grand ophicleide, at over 135 decibels,” said Scott Banks, membership and events coordinator for the Historic Organ Restoration Committee.

The organ was constructed from 1929 to 1932.

“It was used for any time you need music in the building,” said Banks.

Eventually though, the music stopped and the majestic piece was left untouched and boarded up for years.

“It really is Atlantic City’s best kept secret. One of the downfalls of this instrument is that it was silent for several decades. It hid behind walls, the doors were on the console, nobody knew it was here,” said Nathan Bryson, pipe organs curator for the Historic Organ Restoration Committee.

The Historic Organ Restoration Committee helped change that. It was launched in 2004 by music lovers determined to bring the instrument back to life. They estimate it will take $16 million to complete. They continue to raise private and public donations and need about $11 million to finish the job.

The pipe organ was played publicly again at the 2013 Miss America Competition. At that point, it was considered 10 percent operational. But by the end of the year, the nonprofit says they expect it to be 50 percent playable for the first time in about 50 years.

Now, a section of Boardwalk Hall has turned into a repair shop. Restoration workers have plenty to do. The organ is comprised of about 150 tons of material.

“Each day we have a little bit more of it playing, a little bit better sounding. And to know that I am a part of that is a dream come true,” said Carl Hersom, shop assistant for the Historic Organ Restoration Committee.

Shop assistant James Martin cleans the pipes.

“I go in there and I basically brush their teeth. I make sure they’re all gussied up and ready for the prom,” said Martin. “I take off the old stuff and give it a brand-new coat of clear shellac.”

The organ’s pipes are installed in eight chambers throughout the building.

“They act to project the sound into the space where the organ is playing,” said Banks.

The nonprofit invites organists from all over the world to play the instrument, and the public is welcome for free recitals.

“It’s very exhilarating. Every time I come here I have to pinch myself to see if I’m actually playing it,” said Historic Organ Restoration Committee Assistant Organist Scott James Breiner.

These passionate musicians hope their work now will allow others to hear this sound for generations to come.