When the morning light sneaks between midtown’s skyscrapers, the gilded mosaics of St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue seem to catch the sunshine and toss it indoors, making the recesses and woodwork gleam. Organ pipes shoot toward the ceiling, suggesting a structure held up by columns of air. But I’m here to look beneath the church’s resplendent surface to its respiratory system, the network of wires, ducts, switches, levers, and membranes that makes the building sing. Led by organist Paolo Bordignon, I ride an elevator to the top of the nave, skirt a rooftop playground, crouch beneath a stone arch, squeeze down a dark and curving passageway, climb an iron ladder, cross a catwalk five stories above the church floor, and duck into a domed chamber crammed with pipes. The smallest tubes would fit in a fist; the largest are long wooden boxes that lie on the floor and double back on themselves. We’re standing in what’s called the “celestial division.” Hidden by a wooden latticework in the dome and controlled by a console near the altar, it pumps out the music that flutters down to the pews from on high like a seraphic choir.
Pipe organs are rather impressive.