SOLANA BEACH, Calif. – As the Notre Dame Cathedral burned, Raul Prieto Ramirez watched from his home in San Diego and hoped the historical organ inside would be safe.
“It’s one of the most iconic instruments in the world,” Ramirez said. “When I stepped into the cathedral for the first time at 11 years old and heard that organ, it was really shocking.”
Decades later, Prieto Ramirez now plays one of the most unique instruments in the world: the organ at Balboa Park. It’s the world’s largest outdoor musical instrument.
“We bring in some of the best international talent to play, too,” Prieto Ramirez said.
He plays for the Spreckels Organ Society. He said in 2015, the organization brought in famed organist Olivier Latry, one of the organists who plays at Notre Dame, for a festival.
“I remember the atmosphere, the sound of the organ,” said Father Gerard LeComet, who leads St. James and St. Leo churches in Solana Beach.
Father Gerard said he went to seminary school just outside Paris and often times escaped to the cathedral to listen to music and to study.
“It was shocking to see the spire falling,” he said. “All the flames and smoke, I had the impression it would never stop.”
He said his eyes naturally shifted to the people standing on the street. Many with cameras in hand snapped photos of the flames.
“For me and for the French people, she is a witness to almost 1,000 years of history,” he added.
Hours after the fire started, it was still unclear what the condition of the organ was inside. Prieto Ramirez worries that even if the flames didn’t destroy it, the heat may have.
“The circulating air inside is dangerous and those pipes may have melted,” he said.