Fine-tuning a life in Bolton Hill
Marvin Mills and David Storey, on the right
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In these complicated COVID times, many have lost jobs or are hanging on to their businesses in a harrowing way. But for a fortunate few like David Storey, it has been something of a boon.
Storey, 65, who since 1999 has lived on West Lafayette Avenue with his organist partner of 30+ years Marvin Mills, restores and maintains pipe organs across several mid-Atlantic states as David M. Storey, Inc. “The pandemic has been good for us in a weird way,” he said, “because in churches, schools and institutions affected by the shutdown you have these big empty rooms, and we can take apart and spread-out parts of an organ and equipment without much inconvenience or disruption.”
When we spoke, Storey was deep into a job rebuilding a 1960s Casavant organ for a church in Athens, PA. He brought the pipes back to the company’s studio in a Hampden mill building to be cleaned and was preparing to replace worn mechanics in the organ with modern solid state components. He is most passionate about organs built in the 19th and early 20th Century. But Storey and his colleagues also regularly tune and adjust the much newer pipe organ at the Kennedy Center concert hall in Washington, DC, with its four keyboards and enormous pedal division with 85 stops, and 5,000 pipes.
Although he and his partner live in Bolton Hill and he knows well the organs of neighborhood churches, most of his work is elsewhere: Delaware, Pennsylvania, DC and Maryland and sometimes North Carolina, Nova Scotia, Puerto Rico and even Cuba. “I log about 60,000 miles a year,” Storey said. He says Baltimore is blessed to have had a rich history of organ crafting and a few 19th Century organs survive.
Storey restored the organ at First Unitarian Church crafted by Henry Niemann, a storied German organ builder who immigrated to the city and built organs from the 1880s until his death in 1899. He helped find in Quebec and then restore and install a 1955 Casavant Freres pipe organ at St. Bartholomew Church on Edmondson Avenue. The beautiful French accent of this organ’s sound is an amazing musical addition to the fine Episcopal service there.
Storey was to have salvaged and rebuilt another Niemann organ at St. Stanislaus Kostka Roman Catholic Church in Fells Point, when that historic building, constructed in 1889, was sold to a developer and stripped of artifacts in 2011. Alas, when he arrived to take possession of the poorly maintained organ, according to the Baltimore Sun there were pieces of square wooden pipe splintered on the floor beneath the balcony where the organ was housed. Round pipes made of lead and tin were crushed and lying in a heap. Other parts were in a trash bin outside. Storey knew the organ and considered it a work of art.
More recently he expanded and installed the organ at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Kensington, MD, where his partner is the church organist. Mills is known in the organ world as a composer and arranger for organ and a devotee of religious spirituals.
Originally from Rochester, NY, Storey studied music history and worked for several organ builders before landing in Baltimore, where one of his five brothers lived, in 1984. He worked briefly as administrator for the long-gone Baltimore Ballet Company and for other music companies before starting his own organ business. He met his partner at an organ concert by Mills at Union Baptist Church in Madison Park. Although the organ is at the center of their lives, “He doesn’t take part in my work and I don’t turn pages for him,” Storey said.
Storey will teach a 14-week class at Peabody Institute in the spring.