If you hear a pipe organ playing somewhere in Colorado, chances are Rick Morel has a hand in keeping it running.
He owns Morel and Associates Pipe Organs. The nearly 100-year-old company builds and rebuilds pipe organs in Colorado and beyond. Morel estimates the company is currently responsible for maintaining more than 100 of the instruments.
"You're kind of like a doctor in a way," he said. "If somebody has a problem on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning, they call you."
That lesson is something Morel learned early on in life. He comes from a family of pipe organ builders. His grandfather built the instruments in New England before his father moved to Denver to work for the original owner of Morel and Associates.
"I fell in love with not only the business, but the people of it, the history of it," Morel said.
In 1993, Morel had the chance to work on a piece of history: The pipe organ at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on Colfax.
"The impetus for that was when the Pope came in 1993 they did a whole bunch of spruce up on the building," he said. "Of course, the pipe organ needed a major overhaul."
But that revamp would take two years. So, Morel and his employees did what they could before the Pope's visit.
"I had to sit inside the organ when they played it for the bishops and cardinals. In case anything went wrong, I had to pull the offending pipe or whatever. It was an interesting experience," Morel said.
Everything went off without a hitch, and two years later the Cathedral had a beautifully restored pipe organ.
"I met Rick upon my interview on the instrument," Phil Bordeleau said. He became the Cathedral's organist in 2017. "I was so captivated by the instrument that I sent him an email and told him how much I appreciated what he had done on the restoration of the instrument."
Both Bordeleau and Morel said tastes in church music are changing. That means fewer students looking to become pipe organists and fewer people learning to build pipe organs.
"My chief problem right now is finding people to come to work," Morel said. "People that are wanting to devote their career to this. To learn the business and enjoy it."
Morel and his three employees are nearing retirement and there's no one lined up to take over the business.
"I want to make sure that what I think we've established with our clientele and our customers, that hopefully, someone will continue it on in the same manner," he said.
Morel has no retirement timeline, but he said he will eventually. If he can't find someone to carry on in his footsteps, he can take solace in the fact that the instruments he's taken care of for decades will play on regardless.
"Good thing about a pipe organ is it never wears out," he said. "Things wear out. Components wear out, but they can be renewed."