“It’s just like a high-mileage car,” Scott Smith says of the Michigan Theater’s Barton organ. “It runs well but it needs constant attention.” At nearly eighty-four years old, the organ is played five times a week, fifty-two weeks a year, probably more than any other such instrument in Ann Arbor. Smith and his assistant, Joe Granger, of Scott Smith Pipe Organs in Lansing, are the ones who keep it running.

Fortunately, “it’s very easy to fix,” says Henry Aldridge, who has overseen all things related to the organ since 1970. “It has electrical wires, magnets, leather pouches, metal and wood pipes, an electric blower, and a wood console. For most of the basic things that go wrong, all you need is leather, glue, screws, electrical wire, and a soldering iron.”

Smith is passionate about “using the same types of materials that were used back in the day,” like leathers that are tanned specifically to function in organs. He scours garage sales for slotted screws, tries to find original replacement parts, and prefers hot hide glue because “it comes off more easily when you have to replace it. We don’t want the next guy cursing us out.”

That’s unlikely, at least as long as the current regime endures. “It hasn’t been modernized or fiddled with, on purpose,” says Aldridge. “It could be computerized. We could take everything out and stick a laptop in it. But it’s worked beautifully for more than eighty years. Why mess with that?” Besides, he says, a computer “would need new software in five years, anyway.”