• kpoterack
    Posts: 27
    I was wondering if any of you more experienced with organ building/repair/installation could advise me on this. John Ogasapian, in his book "Church Organs," rails against builders who have "rules of thumb about the proper number of pipes per seat." He says that "a single rank of pipes can be voiced to a deafening level for any room." And yet I am now dealing with someone who, while he kind of admits to what Ogasapian says, nonetheless still insists that "we need to have x number of ranks to fill a church of size y." (Incidentally, he isn't trying to sell me an organ.) Is the truth somewhere in between? To what degree does the scaling of the pipes come into play? There must be some limit - surely a rank of 8' diapasons built for a small private chapel can't be voiced to 'fill' St. Peter's Basilica. Or can it? What are the limits?

    Any help would be appreciated!
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,668
    surely a rank of 8' diapasons built for a small private chapel can't be voiced to 'fill' St. Peter's Basilica


    If you found someone who wanted to do it, you don't want to hear the finished result.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,279
    Have you perhaps visited buildings of roughly the same size as yours with similar acoustics? Talking with the organists about the specs for their instruments would be helpful. It might give you a good idea of what works and what doesn't.

    Since I have a few minutes, I will tell you a short story. When I took the job I have held since 2001, I called in the service people. We found that a previous organist had stacked bricks on the regulators to get higher wind pressure and more volume from the instrument. Of course, it made the overall organ sound harsh and over-blown. When wind pressures were returned to factory specs, it was clear the organ had more than enough volume for the live acoustics in the building. I would charitably say that previous organist was a bit nuts. The sound of a successful and well-built organ is a blend of acoustics, wind, scaling, voicing, artistry and talent on the part of the builders.
  • Skilled voicers are almost worth their weight in gold. And, one can pretty well deduce the real quality of any organ by the amount of time and effort that goes into voicing the pipes in the church. A builder who builds organs that are works of art, such as Pasi and others in his league, will take weeks, if not months, to voice every rank with excruciating care given to raising each stop to its most beautiful potential, whether played by itself or ensemble. Lesser builders will do minimum, sometimes no, voicing in the church, and their organs sound like it.

    As for how many ranks should be in a given church, this is not a question to which there is a pat answer. This depends largely on what a parish expects of its organ (leaving aside the all important matter of cost). Some parishes really have little or no desire for an organ that will do more than adequately accompany hymns and ordinaries. Others desire an instrument that will not only fulfill liturgical demands nicely, but play greater or lesser amounts of that organ literature of our heritage which was written specifically to grace the liturgy in one way or another. It cannot be said truthfully that an organ which is capable of realising a given amount of 'organ literature' is a 'concert' rather than a 'liturgical' organ. This thoughtless (and groundless) tid bit is often hurled into the equation as an excuse for an organ that is, in the long run, inadequate for liturgy or 'the literature'. Anyone who utters this shibboleth betrays immediately his, or her, own incompetence even to voice an opinion on the matter at hand.

    A parish should decide not whether it wants a 'liturgical' or a 'concert' organ (an utterly false and facetious distinction), but to what degree of artistry it wishes its liturgy to be led, and how it wishes its liturgy to be graced with some degree of the para-liturgical repertory. There is no certain number of stops or style of voicing which is appropriate for any given church. Only what one wishes of the instrument and what treasure one can expend in acquiring it. As several have intimated above, there are ways of forcing extra loudness from pipes, but they will yield, every one of them, sounds which are not at all pleasant, but which are artless and, often, downright ugly. This is not an avenue down which one would want to proceed.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,410
    Could someone explain to the n00b (me) what voicing actually is?
    Thanked by 1advocatus
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,576
    The process of tweaking pipe foot hole and pipe mouth components
    to produce a desired sound
    and then to make the sound even more desireable.

    It is like singing.
    What you do with throat and jaw and tongue and lips and palate
    affects the sound.
  • advocatusadvocatus
    Posts: 85
    Engage a reputable consultant (names available upon request,) Choose a builder. Allow builder to invent solution in relation to space (size and acoustical properties) and proposed budget - but never begin with money. Allow vision to emerge. Make a case. Gather resources. Commission art...which is first the "ars artefacientis" - the art of the making. The artifact (ars artefacta) will be the result of a creative process, not a shopping trip. Inherited literature will be one consideration, as will "liturgical use," but neither has ever been adequate as a prescription for traditional organ art in the Church. Rather, ritual use and its inherited "remnants" (literature) issue from the contemplation and playing of instruments that are themselves the result of a search for formal coherence and the capacity for musical expressivity.
  • And, do not be led or influenced by advertising slogans and the braggadocio of given builders. Reading between the lines will reveal that they all say exactly the same thing. Ditto if you read reviews of new instruments in The American Organist or elsewhere. The same things are said, maybe in slightly different patois, by and of every builder. They all 'had the needs of St So-and-so in mind', 'worked closely with the priest, choirmaster, and committee', 'were challenged and honoured to conceive of an instrument uniquely designed for historic St Downtown's with its rare acoustics', 'tackled the architectural challenges with admirable expertise', 'built for this vibrant congregation an organ that has surpassed its dreams in enriching its worship experience', and on and on. What is said by any one of them will be said by them all in the same or similar words. Ditto what is quoted about them by the musicians and clergy who retained them.

    Follow the advice of Advocatus and you will be well served. Seek out the finest builder whom you can retain for the treasure that you have. You may get fewer ranks, but you will have an unimpeachable work of art for the Lord's house.

    Too, all 'consultants' are not created equal. University organ professors should, as a rule, be commendable as consultants. The organists of churches with admirable music programs and fine instruments would also be likely candidates. Be careful, though. A major church in Houston which I once served recently had a 'consultant' who took the committee to the cleaners a very well known builder who, in renovating and expanding the organ, utterly and without compunction destroyed the tonal design, and appearance, of a historic Holtkamp organ that for many years was Houston's finest and most respected 'neo-baroque' instrument.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,061
    Yeah, there are a lot of variables. This is why you have historical organs with low windpressures that still fill large rooms (open toe voicing) but have very flexible wind (that voicing makes greater demands on the wind system), and orchestral organs with high pressures, some more conventional voicing techniques, and absolutely stable wind.

    As everyone above says, it's a great advertisement for a consultant if the incumbent organist in a project doesn't have a pretty decent working knowledge of how variables need to be managed in a pipe organ.
    Thanked by 2kevinf advocatus
  • advocatusadvocatus
    Posts: 85
    "...if the incumbent organist in a project doesn't have a pretty decent working knowledge of how variables need to be managed in a pipe organ..."

    And even then, (1) a prophet is often without honor in his or her own land, and (2) an outside, relatively objective voice and set of ears can be a helpful in all sorts of ways. In my experience, a consultant is most useful as a gentle guide in holding true to the process of commissioning art. An initial period of education, including an intentional shared experience of representative organs by a short list of recommended builders is a essential, even for those who think they know what they want.

    Once a builder is chosen and invested with the client's confidence, the consultant may advocate for both the interests of the client and the builder, explaining things to those who seek or need to understand, doing a little hand-holding in moments of doubt and second-guessing, and sometimes, keeping everyone out of the way so that the creative process can unfold and the organ builders are free to do their best work.

    A respected acoustical design consultant quipped to me recently, "I've never encountered acoustical problems, only people problems." Verbum sapienti sat est.
  • kpoterack
    Posts: 27
    Thank you for all of the advice and commentary. This is why I come to this site whenever I have a question!

    I suppose that I can give a little bit more information - but bear with me as this will take a little time.

    I will be looking at an 'historic' organ that is up for sale (an Aeolian-Skinner from the time of G. D. Harrison), which has a stop list which I and my institution's organ teacher are quite happy with. It will be for our new chapel which has not yet been built. From pictures online, the chapel it is currently in looks to be about the size of our OLD chapel, although perhaps a little bigger. What is interesting, though, is that the pipes are in a loft in a little mini-transept on the north side. (The organ console is in a loft in a little mini-transept on the south side.)

    Thus the organ does not speak down the main axis of the church.

    I am wondering (when I get there and hear it in person) if the organ seems to fill their whole chapel quite well from its less-than-advantageous placement, if it will be a good bet for our NEW chapel - which will be bigger than our old chapel, but have the organ speaking down the main axis from a choir loft in the back of the nave.

    I am also wondering (the point of my initial question) about any leeway in terms of voicing the organ so that it will be a bit louder (if need be). Maybe I am worrying about nothing, as I have played organs of about the same size (42 stops) - even smaller - which have filled bigger churches than our new chapel. Still, there seems to be a lot of guess work involved.
    Thanked by 2advocatus eft94530
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,279
    It seems to me that if the organ sounds good in less than optimal placement, it would be as good or better in the new placement. Those Skinners are wonderful. I am envious.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,061
    kpoterack, this is why a consultant is a good thing. The dearly-missed former organ at UT-Austin, one of G. Donald's masterpieces, was something like 125rks in a room the size of two or three elementary school classrooms. That said, it was very gentle. There are many examples of a relatively small organ filling a big room, too.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,279
    Seems like there are many of those "dearly-missed former organs" in many places. Unfortunately, we went through a period when organists thought they needed a "rank" of tuned files rubbing against rusty metal to sound like supposed Baroque German principals. Unfortunately, "masterpieces" were lost and can't be replaced. Thank the Lord for OHS and the Organ Clearing House.
  • kpoterack
    Posts: 27
    Advocatus,

    Could you give me the names of the consultants you mentioned? thank you
  • advocatusadvocatus
    Posts: 85
    I'll send you an e-mail message.
  • kpoterack
    Posts: 27
    OK, so answer me this:

    Would it be much easier to have an organ builder build an organ from scratch and get the voicing for the space right - even if with a smaller number of stops? For example, you might have an organ of 50 stops that was made for "Church A" and just can't be revoiced to fill "Church B" (which is twice the size) without problems. However, if the builder made the pipes and did the original voicing for Church B (the bigger one) from the get-go, he might be able to do it with 30 stops?
  • Smart observations, kpoterack. Putting an organ built for one acoustical environment into a different one can present problems, the moreso if the environments are significantly different in size. It's not impossible for this to work, but it does require serious thought and calculation - plus the judgment of a very reputable consultant, and a fine builder who is fit to undertake any re-voicing and other adjustments that might be needful.

    Your closing question raises the matter of comprehension about the number of stops. There is no magic number of stops for a given room. Thirty may be adequate - as in 'adequate'. However, that doesn't mean that fifty is wasteful or unnecessary. Fifty (if they are affordable) will yield greater variety in accompanying the people at liturgy, and increase the creative ways in which the liturgy may be embellished, as well as the amount of liturgical organ literature with which one may grace the liturgy. One does not always use 'all the stops'. One uses varieties of them for different reasons. So: if thirty stops really are 'adequate' for your church, that doesn't mean that fifty is a waste of money, or is not a 'liturgical' organ, or might not, actually, be quite desirable. See my 19 May comments above.

    At Walsingham we have a 20 or so rank tracker organ that was built in the sixties for a church in California. I have no idea how large the original church was. For us, though, this organ is just barely adequate for a church that seats about 250-300 persons. Often one is yearning for the more that could be done with a more than 'adequate' instrument.
    Thanked by 1SamuelDorlaque
  • advocatusadvocatus
    Posts: 85
    M. Jackson Osborn, quite right. On the other hand, I just played a 45-stop American Classic organ the other day with which I could achieve some of the desired effects, but from which I couldn't create a balanced ensemble to save my life. Nor could I find solo-accompaniment options that worked for any of the music I hoped to play. And the pedal was either too loud or too soft. I was thrilled to return to my to my 12-stop Brombaugh (not what one would call neo-Baroque)...whose principals are far more broad and rich than the former, and in which every combination I can think of worked in the music. There is certainly more than one way to skin the cat in any space, but getting the formula right is more art than science.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,279
    Size isn't everything. I work with a 10-rank Schantz every weekend that is scaled and voiced for the building. It is good enough for most of my purposes. Granted, it isn't a grand Widor instrument, but it even does some of that well. Could I use more? If I had it and the church could afford it, sure. Do I have to have more? Not really.