Collecting the Unexpected

By , Staff Writer
November 2011

The doorbell that rings behind John Delayre’s steel-plated front doors chimes the first eight notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in homage to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. But the doorbell isn’t the only surprise in this modern house.

In an alcove above Delayre’s living room, just beneath the 26-foot ceiling, ascending and descending like notes in concerto, are more than 1,100 pipes that blow musical tones throughout the house. The pipe organ is connected wirelessly to a computer.

John Delayre has spent 10 years building a 1,100-pipe organ in his house.

Delayre can’t play the organ himself, but his hobby is putting it together. He also built the touch-screen console and a computer program that can play symphonies on the organ, which he does about once a week.

“I like music. I like electronics. And I like challenges,” Delayre said. “There aren’t many items that you can do this with. You can’t take apart and reengineer a flute or a trumpet.”

The relationship between music and electronics has always fascinated Delayre, an electrical engineer. He built electronic music boxes as a teenager in France, and in 1981 he wrote a program that turned his computer into a virtual organ.

He’s been building this organ in his Braeburn Country Club Estates home since 2001, when he started with 250 pipes.

His wife, Dr. Lauren Langford, says she can play the organ, but, Delayre said, “I’ve never heard her play it.” Every November, friend Pierre Pincemaille, organist at the Cathedral of Saint-Denis near Paris, France, holds a 90-minute concert in Delayre’s home. (No shoes on the plush blue carpet, and no moving during the performance.) Delayre invites about 50 friends.

You never know what surprises lurk behind your neighbors’ doors.

Dr. Howard Cotler’s home is a museum of ancient Native American healing artifacts.

Maybe you’ll find shaman masks and an 8-foot totem pole – if you’re visiting Dr. Howard Cotler’s West University Place home. Or old-timey music boxes – if you’re visiting Dr. Ray Dickey’s home in The Villages.

Dickey, who founded Rosewood ENT, has been collecting music boxes from the 1800s and early 1900s for 35 years. He has about 70, as small as a cigarette box and as big as 7-by-6 feet.

“Most people, when they think of a music box, they think of little boxes with jewelry. That’s not what these are,” said Dickey, 77.

The majority are cylinder boxes that use pins placed on a revolving cylinder to pluck a steel comb. The others are disk boxes, which use pins placed on a revolving disc that can be changed out.

Each new one Dickey buys is his favorite, and he listens to it over and over. But he prefers the cylinder boxes because of the classical music. The disc boxes mostly play 1880s-to-1920s contemporary music.

“They look nice and they’re entertaining instead of just something you look at,” Dickey said.

For years he took the huge band organ, which can mimic multiple instruments, to the state fair and the community Fourth of July celebration.

Cotler’s collection of Native American healing objects is well-known to his patients at Gulf Coast Spine Care. His Museum District office is like a museum, and so is his home.

His collection includes oil paintings, rare photos, bronze statues, drums, a leather medicine-man shirt, dream and soul catchers and more – including three totem poles, one in the den in his house.

In 1985, a Native American man whose broken leg he’d mended in Seattle carved him a small totem pole. That started his collection.

“It’s fascinating that here in America, in the last 100 years, medicine went from these tribal rituals to where we are now,” said Cotler, 58.

All his artifacts are from North America and were obtained legally, he notes. None belonged to a tribe.

The hard-to-collect photogravures taken by Edward Curtis, who spent 20 years photographing North American Indian life, show shamans practicing their primitive medicine – crushing herbs, marking out a sand painting or standing over a fire.

“These are things most white people don’t see,” Cotler said. The Houston Museum of Fine Arts wanted to exhibit his several-hundred items, he said, but he’s not ready for that.

“My collection’s not finished yet,” he said, echoing Delayre and Dickey.

Looks like they’ll need bigger houses.

Click below to listen to a song played on John Delayre’s pipe organ.

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