Given that the pipe organs are only a relatively small part of the festival is one of the whimsical aspects of this festival. The other is (and freely admitted by the organisers) that the organs themselves are less than perfect, to put it politely.
But welcome to the reality show of playing musical instruments. Whether natural instruments like the voice or man-made, they can all break down, and usually at the most inopportune moments.
In Ballarat, I was the cause of distress to one venerable instrument, in the Loretto Chapel when I pushed a piston in too vigorously. There it stayed - and along with it the loud reed stops it was controlling. Since the following piece was scheduled to be a soft meditative piece, this was not looking good. But organ builders were put on this earth to soothe upset assistants, and instantly Ken and John from the Goldfields Organs firm were by my side, dismantling the thing and trying to hoick out the wretched piston. Meanwhile, Martin was at the front of the church doing a one-man stand-up comedy show to pass the time. The audience were completely unfazed by what turned out to be a commonplace occurrence, and the carnival atmosphere was closer to a family picnic than a concert. I wish more recitals were like this - but without the scary malfunctions.
For the third organ concert, things got worse. The Daylsford Uniting church was packed to capacity, and a cipher put one of the two manuals out of action. Ubiquitous Ken and John did their very best to clear the cipher but in the end there was no other option - Martin had to do the entire concert on the Great alone, with about 6 stops, a nailed-down organ stool and keys that rattled so aggressively they were often louder than the music.
Of course, it was far from ideal. And of course, it is the stuff of nightmares for performers. Luckily Martin had chosen appropriate music for the small, 12-stop (unsure of the number of ranks but something like that) organ and the reduction did not appear to bother the faithful audience who would have probably been bitterly disappointed had everything gone to plan.
But equally of course, we loved it - after it was all over. Somehow the audience extracted a great deal of enjoyment from the performances and we were transported into a warm era of a time before the perfection of smooth-running audio recordings and blemish-free organs. It was music-making in the raw and somehow made the music itself more vital and exciting (nerve-wracking might be another word for it).
But before you ask, the people behind the Festival and those who care for these organs wish it wasn't quite like this. They do their darnedest to raise money to improve their instruments; money is always a question for such ventures, and work without limit to do what they can. You must remember these instruments are over 100 years old and not easy to coax into a full perfect working life.
And would we go back? You bet we would, like a shot. Just as the large audiences for the past 23 years have returned time and time again, for the variety of fine music, and possibly the adrenalin rush that comes of waiting for the next disaster.
If you have never been: go. You will have an absolute ball.