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Organ man from Queens

One New York phone technician saves and fixes old pipe organs

Organ man from Queens

The Recovery House of Worship organ (The NYC Chapter of the American Guild of Organists)

A New York moment: 

A half-burned organ sits in a historic building, Brooklyn’s oldest Baptist church, surrounded by new luxury condos. I’m working on a story about the church, formerly called the Baptist Temple but now the Recovery House of Worship. In reporting the story I came across Keith Bigger, 71, who has spent years caring for that organ. 

Bigger works full time as a technician for a phone company. But since childhood he has been obsessed with organs. He taught himself how to restore organs and cobbled together his own pipe organ at his home in Queens. He keeps his eye on historic churches that are closing or being sold, an increasingly common practice as mainline churches decline and Brooklyn gentrifies. He has rescued three old organs in New York when formerly flourishing mainline churches had to close their doors.

“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and asked a lot of questions,” said Bigger with a laugh.

Over four years, Bigger had voluntarily restored the 100-year-old organ at Recovery House of Worship, but then the organ was partly destroyed in a massive electrical fire in 2010. He rattles numbers off the top of his head: The fire destroyed 986 pipes out of 2,553 total. The fire also destroyed his tools, many of them custom or handmade, acquired over the years, and not something he can replace. 

He has to let someone else restore the organ this time, but he still visits it to tune the remaining pipes regularly and play a little something. He says he plays “amateurishly.” He wanted to be an organist but never found the time to practice.

“You have to give your life to it,” Bigger said. 

He’s now a member of Recovery House of Worship. Thinking about his organ work, Bigger related a lesson on entropy that he learned as a student in a thermodynamics class. 

“When something is in perfect order, entropy is one, unity,” he said. “If it breaks down it goes toward infinity, total chaos. God created the universe in perfect unity. Then after the Fall it started to go toward destruction. God has given us the ability to create in the world, but we create havoc in doing it. … I take something used, broken down, and restore it to unity.”

“God has given me the creativity to do these things, and I think He enjoys it,” Bigger went on. “When I was a kid I thought God was a spoilsport. What I didn’t realize—He was enjoying it with me.” 

Worth your time:  

This piece about George and Kellyanne Conway. It is so well-written that it makes me a little mad. The writer uses their marriage as a metaphor for a country divided over Trump, while also shining a light on the cynical upper crust of D.C. that makes money off of that divide.

This week I learned: 

The opioid crisis continues to worsen, largely due to illicitly produced fentanyl. New numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed overdose deaths rose 10 percent last year, to a record 72,000. 

A court case you might not know about: 

New York seems to have a weekly corruption case. Last week the former head of the New York City correction officers’ union was convicted of taking a $60,000 bribe to invest millions of dollars in union money in a hedge fund that then bottomed out. 

Culture I am consuming: 

I love videos of baseball players throwing someone out from all the way in the outfield. Don’t miss this insane throw from the Oakland A’s Ramón Laureano.

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