Ann Arbor, MI

Dear Readers,

Today I set foot inside an organ. No, not a body part – the instrument! The organ in Hill Auditorium at the University of Michigan, here in Ann Arbor, is in the process of being renovated: specialists are cleaning and repairing it, giving this beast of an instrument a thorough tune-up. I was allowed to climb inside and clamber up a couple of short ladders a couple of stories above the stage. The extreme heights and most distant corners were off-limits, but it was a fascinating experience. Hundreds of pipes surround the narrow gangplanks; wide air ducts lead into sturdy wooden air chambers, weaving from floor to ceiling. Scattered here and there are tools of the trade, none of which I recognized. It was like standing in a large, centuries-old, complex machine, a maze of metal and wood. This particular organ can’t be more than half a decade old, but much of its technology and engineering has remained unchanged since Bach’s lifetime. What expertise it must take to know this giant inside and out!

The organ isn’t the only thing under renovation here. This hall has just re-opened after twenty months of work. The beautiful detail work on the walls and ceiling is bright and shiny, the paint is fresh, and everything looks crisp and clean, including the backstage area. Additionally, the acoustics are very favorable for a recital. We could hear ourselves clearly, but it was also evident that the sound carried easily into the far reaches of the hall. We seem to be on an acoustical winning streak, hitting one great performance space after another. It’s very, very satisfying.

This was my first visit to Ann Arbor. Of course, being February, the city fit our Ice Tour concept perfectly: icicles hung from eaves, and snow covered the ground. Unfortunately, I wasn’t here for long enough to explore any of the town; that’ll have to happen another time. The university itself is huge; even though we stayed close to campus, we needed a car to get back and forth from the hotel to rehearsals. Apparently, enrollment here is close to 30,000, a far cry from our college experience at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where the student body numbers 165.

Tomorrow, we head east to Newark, New Jersey, where we hear temperatures have been chilly. (Ice, here we come.) See you then!

Yours from Ann Arbor,