LOGAN -- After 40 years of classical and choral concerts, Utah State University's 3,000-piece Holtkamp organ had serious sonic issues.
The pipes needed cleaning, voicing and tuning. The original 1972 wiring in the console needed a 21st-century update.
And the growing population of dust bunnies housed throughout the historic "habitat" needed evacuating.
"They weren't quite the size of real bunnies. Maybe very large mice," said Lynn Thomas, USU director of organ studies.
"Can you imagine what your front room would look like if you didn't dust for 40 years? It was like that."
More than halfway through the project, the organ, perched in the Kent Concert Hall loft of the Chase Fine Arts Center, already is producing better tones than it has in decades.
"In laymen's terms, it's going to sound great," Thomas said. "It rocks."
Jonathan Rose, a USU senior majoring in organ performance, is helping with restoration.
"This cleaning will restore the organ to its former splendor," Rose said.
The Fine Arts Center Hall organ is the largest such instrument north of Salt Lake City and one of the largest in the state, Thomas said.
It was donated, primarily by Melvin and Editha Kent, in 1972 and was worth about $100,000 at that time. To replace it today would require close to $2 million, Thomas said.
"A pipe organ is one of the most complex mechanical contraptions there is on Earth, not just of musical machines, but any machines," Thomas said. "After 40 years, things begin to break down and change."
The Holtkamp organ began to show audible signs of wear, and donors stepped forward.
Paul and former USU organ student Paulette Campbell, of Cache County's Campbell Scientific, donated $50,000, then doubled that when electronics issues came up.
The university budgeted another $73,000 to cover remaining needs.
That covered the cost of:
* Bringing in Holtkamp artists/engineers to pack and ship about 1,500 of the organ's pipes to the home office in Cleveland, where pipes were polished, refurbished and repaired.
* Paying experts, aided by volunteers, to disassemble, clean, polish and tune the 1,500 pipes that remained in Logan, then to reassemble the organ.
* The installation of a playback system that will allow student performers to stand at a distance and listen to what they just played.
"They'll be able to hear if they were really as good or as bad as they thought they were," Thomas said.
* Dust bunny removal, keyboard refurbishment and console rewiring.
* And the final step, still under way, of tuning each pipe for optimal sound in the specific room where the organ resides.
"They've been here for weeks going over every pipe. Sometimes they take a pipe in and out of the organ eight times, making tiny adjustments. They hear things I can't even hear," Thomas said of workers.
"They are three-fourths of the way through the voicing process, and the organ just sounds beautiful in the room. The intonation of the whole organ has improved, and the tone of the organ in the room is better than when it was new.
"It has a silvery sound. It's just a reborn instrument."
Thomas believes Holtkamp has done everything possible to enhance the organ and could have charged a lot more. The instrument is a proud part of company history, he said.
The organ, previously played by musical masters including Alexander Shiner, Xavier Darasse, Michael Murray and Alexander Schreiner, will be rededicated with a concert near the end of March.
Details are still being determined, but Thomas said Richard Elliott, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's chief organist, will play and USU choral groups will perform.
Thomas hopes to start a new program that would allow organ and choral experts from USU to travel and teach at Utah sites, such as churches, that have organs.
He hopes the refurbishing of the instrument will help revitalize USU's whole organ program.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime event," Thomas said. "The organ is set to go for another 50 to 100 years."