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Michael Kraft '81 Revisits Oberlin to Voice Opus 116
by Kathleen Hallman Adams, editor of C.B. Fisk's The Pipeline

WHEN MICHAEL KRAFT WAS only six, he could already play polkas and "Moon River" on the Lowrey organ in the living room. His proud parents engaged a piano teacher, but Mr. Miller forbade organ playing until Michael's piano technique was deemed satisfactory. By ninth grade Michael had succeeded in reclaiming his preferred instrument and the organ has been Michael's groove ever since. All this happened in the tiny town of Eden, New York, home of the only Kazoo factory in the country (and perhaps the most popular "reeds" known to man).

After high school Michael headed for the Oberlin Conservatory where he studied organ with Garth Peacock and harpsichord with Lisa Crawford, earning a Bachelor of Music. From Oberlin he went on to the New England Conservatory of Music, studying organ with Yuko Hayashi and taking his Master of Music degree. There he also stage-managed at Jordan Hall for three years, where he met a dynamic young mezzo-soprano, Stacia Conklin, who became his wife. In 1986 Professor Hayashi arranged an interview for Michael at the Fisk shop and he was hired on with an eye (and an ear) toward pipemaking and reed voicing. Thus began Michael's five year apprenticeship in those rare arts. One of his first mentors in the pipe shop was David Gifford '51 who was nearing retirement.

In the pipeshop at C. B. Fisk, alloys of lead and tin are melted down and poured into sheets which are later formed around mandrels and soldered to form organ pipes. Their dimensions and composition are the first determinants of their sound. The voicer then adjusts parts of the pipe to achieve a desired speech, timbre and tuning which is consistent throughout the range of a given stop. While initial voicing is done in the shop, finish voicing occurs in the room where the organ will stand. Fisk is noted for taking great care in the finish voicing process, ensuring that the organ creates the optimal sound in its acoustical environment. Reeds are considered the most difficult pipes to voice because the complex construction requires especially-delicate manipulations.

On the road for the first time, Michael helped voice the three-manual residence organ for Jacques Littlefield at Pony Tracks Ranch in California, Opus 91. He faced his first reed voicing challenge at The Little Church Around the Corner in Manhattan, Opus 92 (Church of the Transfiguration), and voicing reeds has been a constant in his career ever since. Highlights of his nearly fifteen years here include his work on Opus 95 at SUNY Buffalo (almost a homecoming, so close is Buffalo to Eden), his research trip to Europe in preparation for Opus 109 at Rice University, his subsequent design and development of the Cor Anglais for that instrument and the first 32' full-length Bombarde based on the Cavaillé-Coll examples he visited in France.

Michael's organ playing skills remain prodigious. He has concertized throughout the eastern United States and in Italy and he holds an enviable post as Music Director at the Dover Church in Dover, MA (Opus 107). In a memorable "American Moment" Michael played the "Liberty Bell March" with a percussionist from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra for the Fisk Shop Recital during opening festivities for Opus 100 at the Meyerson Symphony Center. He played the trumpet for three seasons with the Italian Colonial Band and can be persuaded to perform on anything from kazoo to keyboard with the "Meantones," the ad hoc band for Fisk special occasions.

Farther afield, in 1997 Michael took Stacia and their one-year-old son, Jack, to Japan to break up Michael's long absences during the voicing process for Opus 110 at Minato Mirai Hall in Yokohama. The Kraft family now enjoys a strong Japanese component in the family cuisine. They reside in and are restoring an 18th century house in historic Salem, Massachusetts, and another child, Ilsa, was born in May last year. Michael looks forward to another "homecoming" when he goes out to voice the organ for his alma mater, Oberlin College Conservatory.

Michael's unerring ear and brave, bold reeds have won him high praise at the Fisk shop where his friends and colleagues know what it takes to make a great reed sing.