Frank Gehry refers to the flamboyant organ he designed for Walt Disney Concert Hall as the "French fries" because that's what the largest of its 6,134 pipes resemble. Gehry designed the inimitable instrument in collaboration with builder Manuel Rosales and it debuted in 2004. Among its overseers is conservator Phil Smith, 61, who shows off the instrument to visitors. Smith, who grew up listening to organ music in church, is never too far away from work -- his downtown apartment has a view of Disney Hall.
What does it mean to be an organ conservator?
It's an interesting title because I don't really conserve anything, I show it off instead of conserve it.
How did you become interested in the organ?
My father being a pastor at a church and my mother being a pianist and singer. My mom taught me how to play piano at age 3 or 4 when she heard someone playing and walked in and saw me playing. It wasn't one of her students, it was me playing what I heard her rehearsing with another student. From then on she taught me.
FULL COVERAGE: Walt Disney Concert Hall at 10
My father showed me an organ at some point and I thought I'd try it, I was 12 and pretty proficient piano-wise. After, I ran across the driveway and told my mom I wanted to play organ and she said, "OK, dinner is almost ready."
What do you like about the instrument?
It's the king of instruments. It's the most complex and it's the ultimate in power. When you pull out all the stops and play something tutti super fortissimo it's unlike anything else. That's when you find power in a way, when you're seated in front of this enormous instrument and you're using both hands, both feet, your whole body to play.
How does the Disney Hall organ compare to others?
I've played at many of the finest organs, in churches and concert halls in the United States and in the oldest churches in Europe and I've found that this one is the right size, with the right accents and nuances. I've done guest recitals on instruments four times its size, but I keep coming back. The way it builds and dissipates out, it's remarkable.