Does playing a pipe organ make you more admired by others?
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,604
    Does it make you a better person?

    Does it make you a better musician?

    Do only second-rate concert organists play digital organs?

    [This is not to start a war, but possibly to help make the large number of members who play digital organs feel better about themselves.]
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,835
    I have played both. After multiple masses, I was just as tired from playing either. It isn't easier to play one over the other unless - I did once play a horrid tracker with extremely heavy action. It was more tiring than anything else I have played.

    Better person/player/musician? No!
  • Marc Cerisier
    Posts: 478
    I'd suggest it's not what you play, but how you play it that makes the biggest difference. You have to work with what you have—I've played awful digital instruments and awful pipe instruments. There are certainly some pipe organs I've experienced that make me pine for a cheap digital instrument...
  • KyleM18
    Posts: 150
    I've played both, and I'm partial to the digital organs, mostly because only a few parishes in good old san diego have a pipe organ. Comparatively, the pipe organs had rather old consoles with more than a few broken keys.
  • MarkS
    Posts: 277
    No, no, and no. And a great deal of sympathy/empathy for your professional, considered positions on these issues. Thanks for all you do.

    (But the real thing is really what is wanted!)

  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,487
    I'm a mediocre organist at best. I'm blessed to be in a situation with an organist and I play once a week for a weekday Mass and sub occasionally for my organist. I like our little Casavant. I know what I'm going to get when I pull a stop or reach for a pre-set. I know the volume and I know how to control it. There isn't any weird echo or reverb or whatever... It feels safe.

    I just started playing a digital organ once a month for a Sunday Mass. I can't figure it out. There are speakers all over this church. The organ many "stops" which mean nothing to me. Every pre-set has a vibrato. The church is semi-circular. The last time I played it, I thought it was barely on and I was told it was too loud. I have to get in their with some friends to figure out how to play it properly.

    Am I a better musician on the pipe organ? a better person? I guess I'm just content on what I'm most familiar with. It doesn't really matter; but the pipe organ is just simpler and that makes for a happier me.
  • NihilNominisNihilNominis
    Posts: 908
    I'm more self-conscious on a digital organ, since (especially with divisional volume sliders) I have more control over the most dreaded complaint against organists --- that the instrument was too loud.

    With pipes, at least I can say, "that's as quiet as she gets."

    So yes, a pipe organ makes me a more confident person.

    Musically, it can be more inspiring to play with the sound in the room, esp. as far as improvisation is concerned, and so in that since it makes me a better musician.

    I'm not a concert organist and have aspirations never to be one if I can help it, so I couldn't say.
  • Noel's question begs the question, 'just what is meant (or is expected to be meant) by better'. This is a very loaded question about highly subjective criteria.

    I am a better musician when playing an organ than when playing a simulacrum of an organ for the simple reason that I can make better musical performance on it. (We can't be honest about terminology, can we, because who (really) wants to say 'I play a fake organ' or 'I play a simulacrum', let alone 'we just spent $150,000 on a new organ simulacrum' - no, that won't do, so it has to be a 'digital' organ (doesn't that 'digital' sound impressive! Ah, how moderne!) - which isn't an organ at all, but derives steals much presumed legitimacy from terms borrowed stollen from organdom.

    Having said that, I have played many electronic and digital organ substitutes. The challenge is to, somehow, make one come even close to sounding remotely like what it can never really sound like. Touch, aritculation, tonal choices, an acute ear, all go together in a hopeless effort to make it sound anywhere near what it isn't, nor cannot, ever, succeed at being - no matter what it is called. The beauty of my efforts is that I have had many people approach me and say with genuine amazement, 'you made that thing sound like a real organ'. I can only do this because I am what is often said to be a superb organist. I have played 'vintage' electronics and up-to=date 'digitals', and, sadly, a few 'hybrids'. These latter are piteous bastards, true frankensteins. So, chide me not for not knowing whereof I speak when it comes to fake organs. One cannot be a better musician by playing a not better organ substitute. He can only display his skill at making it sound better than it is. This does not make it an organ. (As an analogy, a gifted pianist can make music on a tinny out of tune upright that none would have thought possible - but he can only rise to his native heights, express his best musicianship, on a fine instrument that can respond aptly to his intelligent touch.) Liking these simulacra does not, thereby, make them organs. 'Feeling good' about playing them doesn't turn them into organs. Regardless of one's pleasure over them they will ever remain to an organ what a fake Christmas tree is to a Christmas tree. a plastic flower to a real one. (And, do we not know that there really are those who prefer fake Christmas trees? - but preferring them doesn't turn them into or make them equal to real trees.)

    Once, many years ago, when i was sent by the UofH for a course in carillon playing at the Schulmerich plant near Princeton, the staff quite gleefully bragged that they had put six bell founders out of business. This is nothing less than loathsome. Ditto the organ simulacrum industry, which is no different. I have heard their egregious mealy mouthed 'sales pitches', their lies about organs, their bloated claims, their glossed over and un-mentioned shortcomings - all couched cleverly in terminology disingenuously lifted from the real organ world, of which, like chic arrivistes, they imply to the unwary that they are a part. How they do prey on the ignorance of organ committees! There are moral dimensions and questions of intellectual honesty to this matter that none seem to want to explore. Nay, many seem quite pleased to be brain washed.

  • The best part of Noel's statement in red is that it betrays a desire for empathy towards those who have little or no choice but to play organ simulacra. I would not want the ideas that I have shared above to be taken as a negative judgment upon any who play these gadgets because they have inherited them, or because they really do seem to be the only realistic solution in their parishes, or whatever other reasons over which they have no control or choice. They are due empathy, prayers, support, and understanding. No one doubts that they do their very best with what they have. So, let it be noted that I wish to join Noel in encouraging them in circumstances over which they have limited, if any, influence.

    It is to those who do have choices, whose minds are unformed or lacking in true understanding, those who need reinforcement, those who thirst for what is true, that one goes to great lengths to guide, inform, and encourage in their desire to express their music making with unimpeachable integrity.

    Those who prefer and choose what isn't what it claims to be when they could have the real thing are another matter entirely.
  • All pipe organs are digital.
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,912
    The instrument you play does not influence the caliber of musician you are. A skilled musician can make a mediocre instrument sound fantastic. I'm a professional clarinetist by training and I can take a student's plastic Bundy and make it sound like a Buffet.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,343
    MJO and Clerget are spot on.

    Money, or the lack thereof, is the driving force behind the production of fake. Those who have never had the opportunity to play a real instrument will be satisfied with what is less than human, what is sterile and too "perfect". Digital lacks the subtle nuance, the breathing and ever slightly changing and harmonious dynamic of wood aging in time, yielding to its surroundings, absorbing the effects of its own sound causing minute changes in how a tone can 'sing' from one micro-second to the next. It is, indeed, a living, ever changing and aging being, becoming better and more mellow with time, just like the humanity that creates it, and then performs upon it.

    For two weeks, an Easter lilly has graced my dining room table. The moment I walk into the room I am aware of its living presence, its glorious aroma, its tender and silky flesh and its delicate mortality. This all happens without ever looking upon its frail beauty. It only lasts a short time, but its impression is eternal in my heart and mind and soul.

    It becomes an ever present reminder of the glorious Easter season that awake my senses and the memories of Easter seasons past.

    When I come back to a true instrument after years of not having touched or heard it, it is like visiting an old friend, even if it has been entirely reworked. No two, even by the same builder with the same specs are the same. They each have their own character, personality and charm. They yield and bend and assimilate to their surroundings.

    Tools. I have always told my children: always buy excellent shoes, tires and tools. The organ is in the category of tools. It is a tool of our trade. The master carver invests in his tools, maintains them, cares for them... they become an extension of his very person and creative power. An inferior tool will not produce the the same result, no matter how skilled is his hand. A Formula race car driver will never experience the grand thrill and rush driving anything less than the real thing, and will certainly not be considered for the spectacular event.

    We serve the most spectacular event that holds the apex between time and eternity. It should be the best of our best. God deserves the best of HIS best... in the art, architecture, adornments and all that fills His sanctuary. This also stands for his people serving that great event. The highest of all forms of art is that which we musicians command in our voices and in our fingertips. We are the conductors of the glorious praise of the greatest and most perfect drama. Always aspire to give Him the best of everything. When you enter the sanctuary of God, do all in your power to fill it with the unmistakeable essence of a beautiful, living lilly and nothing less.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,835
    My biggest complaint follows. With a pipe instrument, there is a very good chance the builder voiced and scaled the instrument for the building. It shouldn't have stops too soft to hear or stops that are ear splitting. Too many of the digitals are just plopped into place with no adjustments made for the building. The organist then has to work around the voices that are too loud, too soft, too shrill, and so on.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,343

    You CAN 'voice' some of the digitals. The Roland C330 is very granular. I believe one can turn the volume up and down on every note in every rank. I have not done this yet myself, but may be doing it soon for one that is not too far from me.

    However, just like a stereo system, the organ is only as 'good' as the speakers. I always insist on paying just as much or more for the speaker system if one is 'forced' to purchase a simulacrum.
    Thanked by 2canadash CharlesW
  • TCJ
    Posts: 872
    At the time I was playing a semi-tracker, I do feel that it made me a better organist. I had to be so much more precise about how I hit the keys with that thing. Unfortunately, I now have to play a digital contraption because the parish decided to eliminate the pipe organ shortly before I arrived. What is really frustrating to me is that these "organs" which offer so much (like the ability to play four different types) completely neglect to put in a swell to great 4', or anything of the kind. Would it be too much trouble to just eliminate the "jazz organ" button and add something that is genuinely useful? The digitals tend to be laced with all sorts of options that an organist has no desire to use, but are often lacking in other areas.

    And, yes, the pipe organ does make me a better person because I end up complaining a lot less!
  • I think I'm spoiled and need more pipe experience. My Rodgers is nicely set up, does most of what I need or want, is predictable, and convincing. The few pipe organs I've played have life and character that the Rodgers never will, and learning to pull your own stops is it's own art. But right now I'm not forced to do that every day, and I know I'm missing out.
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,604
    A persistent thread here needs to be faced

    The failure of organs, both pipe and digital, cannot be put upon the shoulders of the organ builders.

    The poor instruments out there that you are describing are in place because the organist (and pastor) failed to "test" the organ before making the final payment. There are some organists with the ears to determine whether the organ fills the musical needs that it was proposed, but many who have never been faced with this task - and it is nothing that can be learned from books or overnight.

    Here we have people stating what they do not like about organs, such as the Rodgers without life and character just above. I'm sure that the writer is accurate in the description. But what is lacking among us is the ability to listen and say WHY it is without life and character. Steve Collins, for example, I am sure that he could walk in and immediately identify what is lacking and propose how to solve this problem in a pipe organ or a digital organ.

    In some situations, problems cannot be solved easily- the Casavant at the Cathedral in Erie was built with short-length 32' reeds...and they eventually asked for a proposal of digital reeds to solve this problem. In addition, that pipe organ suffers from high frequency distortion (also a fault in many digital organs) - as does a fine Steinway Grand that is well-tuned. Voicing or upperwork or rescaling might solve that problem as well.

    But, if the organist accepts it as is and the final check is cut?

    CharlesW's shrill organs are out there...and organists failed to halt that final payment, either because they liked the sound or didn't know that they had a voice in the matter.

    Every pipe organ and every digital organ built today can be voiced, almost all digitals note by note, a few still restricted to note groups.

    The most successful organ builder for centuries have been builders who have voicers of great skill. Aeolian-Skinner being one of the stellar names.

    A builder of integrity voices every organ as if the current E. Power Biggs or Virgil Fox were to arrive to play it they would be inspired by the organ. Pipe organ builders of integrity always voice the organs to the highest playing level possible. Greatness has little to do with the chest construction and the pipe metal used.

    Digital organs suffer as they are often sold through local dealers without anyone on staff with voicing ability and local organists accept them as they are. Sad.

    Pipe organ builders of integrity always voice the organs to the highest playing level possible. Greatness has little to do with the chest construction and the pipe metal used.

    The only way the absolutely only way to purchase an organ is for you to have an expert organist, not in the employ of any organ company, brought in to evaluate it during the design process and then to test it before final payment is made.
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,407
    I hate digital organs and I am tired of apologizing for this.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,835
    I would rather have a pipe organ. I happen to own a digital organ at my home which serves as a practice instrument. It is really nice to not have to get out in bad weather to go practice. However, I realize that I will not find a pipe instrument in every church where I happen to play. Those decisions, good or bad, were made before I arrived on the scene. In those cases, I will play what they have and try to get the best sound possible from it. It isn't a perfect world.

    Agreed on dealers who know little more than how to sell instruments.
  • wingletwinglet
    Posts: 41
    I'm not an organist (yet). But I started learning piano on a simulacrum for 3 years, and though it tuned my perfect pitch to A440, I feel that my musicianship was greatly compromised. Upon switching to a real piano, I was afraid to play loud and firmly, and did not know how to use the pedal correctly. So playing a fake piano (exclusively) would make one a poorer musician.

    On the other hand, now I tend to play a simulacrum with more passion and expression due to frustration with the quality of the sound. Perhaps organists feel this way too?

    Am I a better person for using a real piano? Music on natural instruments would seem to be better for the soul, but if I only had a simulacrum I would still be able to make beautiful music for others and would feel no less fulfilled.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Andrew_Malton
    Posts: 1,118
    I'm not an organist at all, but I am a pianist. (In church I only sing.)

    Naturally over the years I've played various "keyboards" that purport to make piano sounds, have piano ish touch, etc. Now, as a pianist, I know that none of them is even remotely like a real piano, as any ear can hear or hand touch and know, immediately. Wrong weight, wrong attack, wrong resonance, etc.

    It never occurred to me though (why?) until the above by @winglet, that all this digital vs pipe organ business might be analogous. I thought that the immediacy of piano voicing (key, lever, hammer, string, pedal), and the range of touch and attack, were all quite impossible to fake.. but on an organ console the feel could be exactly the same, and the sound ... nearly the same. (I thought this because I have never really learned to listen to organ music.)

    So, at the risk of fuelling the endless flames... do you organists experience immediately that you are playing a digital instrument... that the sound and response are all wrong... that all you can really do is touch the keys and finish the gig until you get back to a real instrument? As I do if I have to play a "keyboard". Or do you share @winglet's agreeable tendency to play with more passion in the hope of overcoming the frustration?

    Thanked by 1melofluent
  • MarkS
    Posts: 277
    Depending on the electronic/digital instrument, I have encountered both touch and sound issues. In my experience, it is immediately obvious that there is not sound coming out of pipes. (Caveat:I have not played on one of highly touted recent editions.)

    But here's something I'm going to through out that may be weird (because I don't think I've heard it discussed): digital instruments sound immediately artificial to my ears because they are always PERFECTLY IN TUNE! And this perfect in-tune-ness imparts a sort of coldness over the sound—it is missing the warmth that you get when piano strings, or a violin section, or organ pipes create when they are just slightly out of tune enough to create a thicker, warmer sound—and they will always be at least slightly out of tune if they are acoustic instruments played by human musicians. The in-tuneness of electronic/digitals is sort of an immediate give-away.

    Okay, maybe that's crazy.
    Thanked by 2francis CharlesW
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,155
    Having played on digital instruments almost my entire life, older and newer, the one thing that gives them away to me is how awful they feel when playing. With the exception of one builder of digitals whose touch is absolutely perfect, I have never met a digital that felt like pipe organ. This has always puzzled me: why can't a builder of digital organs replicate the touch and action of an electric action organ? One would think that it wouldn't be that difficult; after all, don't digital organs have electric action anyway?

    Also, I agree with MarkS's assessment of the strange "in tune-ness" of digital organs. He's not that crazy, I don't think.

    (I say all of this as someone who prefers pipes, but who also readily acknowledges that there are times when, for various reasons, pipes are not possible, and a digital is the only reasonable solution. However, I also believe that both types of instruments, pipes and digitals, should be made to the highest standards in voicing, cabinet making, etc. A piece of junk is a piece of junk, whether it has pipes or speakers doesn't make any difference.)
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,155
    Also: regarding the topic of the thread:

    There is a difference between one performing better or being a better musician (in comparison to oneself) on a good instrument than a bad one, even the best musicians can have a terrible time negotiating the worst instruments, and feeling that one is a superior person in comparison to others simply because of the instrument that one has at one's disposal. You can play a Cavaille-Coll and still be a jerk.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW CHGiffen
  • francis
    Posts: 10,343
    You can play a Cavaille-Coll and still be a jerk.

    Unfortunately, there are a lot of jerks playing very good instruments.
    Fortunately, there are good musicians playing good instruments.
    Unfortunately, there are good musicians playing jerky instruments.
    Unfortunately, there are jerks playing jerky instruments. (this is the worst)
    Unfortunately, I am forced to listen to all of the above when I am fulfilling my obligations as a good Catholic.

    As you can see, the 'fortunate' category is a small percentage of church organ music.
  • Some simple and direct answers to Noel's questions -

    1. Does it make you a better person? A better person is one who is happier, more fulfilled, more honest in his relations with others, more satisfied with his particular work or achievements, more spiritually fulfilled, more loving, more grateful, etc., etc. So, yes, it definitely does. When playing a simulacrum I am conscious that I am perpetrating a lie, contributing to the dumbing down of the hearers, participating in and being used by a culture of deliberate deceit and falsehood - all of which makes me not a better person.

    2. Does it make you a better musician? Definitely, because I can express fully the artistic gifts which I was given. I can also grow and develop them further. I can experience and joy in the profound dimensions of making real music on a fine instrument. It also complements the answers to question one, which contribute to making me a better musician. With a simulacram I can only see how clever I can be in making it sound its best and see how I can surpass its limitations - which, really, is to lie to the listeners, who will conclude that it is acceptable - which is, inherently, to lie to them).

    3, Do only second-rate organists play digital organs? It is well known that some numbers of highly talented (far moreso than I) and supremely gifted organists perform on simulacra and even prefer them and market them. If mere talent is one's measure of first- or second rate, then the answer to this would have to be 'no'. There are other dimensions to being first and second and third rate, though, that are certainly pertinent to this question. The mind which can participate in the categorical lie that is a simulacrum cannot but be described as second rate, if not worse. There may be exemplary talent at the command of a non-exemplary scholar. So, if answering this question in terms of the 'whole' person, one would have to say 'yes'. There is, I think, a line which is crossed at which one ceases to be an artist and becomes an entertainer. I wish hastily to add that these remarks do not apply to those who, regardless of the calibre of musician they are, have no choice but to play synthetic organs - not at all. It is the conscious preference which makes all the difference in the world.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • @noel Jones: The best comparison I can make for "dead and alive" would be the Rodgers at work (dead) and the 1823 vintage English chamber organ at Old St. Luke Church in Carnegie, PA. I perform with a period orchestra there sometimes, and had the chance to play continuo for a Corelli trio sonata on a concert after our regular organist of the group was unable to be there. It was one of the first organs brought to that part of the country and has changed little since then. It has two stops and no pedals. It needs TLC, some pipes don't work, some are wildly out of tune, and the entire instrument hums and breathes when it's in operation. Its pitch also varies with the temperature in the old stone church. The orchestra performed a Handel organ concerto there, and it was truly stunning. I'd take that simple little organ over any big, fancy, three-four-however the heck many manuals they come in nowadays.

    That organ demands your best effort. The action is surprisingly heavy and difficult, the old ivory keys are worn and cracked, and become uncomfortable after a while. The more physical effort you put into it, the more it rewards you.
  • jefe
    Posts: 200
    Not any more than playing Euphonium. You just have a LOT more power.
  • FideminFidebus -

    Do you know the builder of that organ? There were many Tanenburgs in that area. Could this be one? I visited a small colonial era organ somewhere in Pennsylvania decades ago. It was in remarkably good condition and a delight to play - just a few ranks.
  • @M. Jackson Osborn: I believe I looked it up in a database of old organs in America and no builder name was listed. It used to be at Trinity Church in Pittsburgh and was donated at some point to Old St. Luke's
  • music123
    Posts: 100
    We have a Walker digital organ at my church. It is really very nice, probably the best digital in the area, and is the equivalent of a 120 rank pipe organ or so. It was, indeed, in place before I got here. Would I prefer to have a pipe organ? Probably. The strangest effect it has had on me is that, with perfect pitch, I have gotten used to the organ sound always being perfectly in tune. In situations with a pipe organ, it often sounds very out of tune to me.
    Thanked by 1canadash
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,835
    Pipe organs are often out of tune. That's part of their charm and unique sound. I have no celestes on my church organ, but the flutes eventually create one by the time tuning is near. I once had the organ tuned a week before Christmas. The temperature before Midnight Mass plunged nearly 50 degrees. The organ sounded like it had never been tuned. Three days later, the temperatures went back to normal and it was back in tune.

    Pipe organs: Not for the faint of heart. ;-)
  • I often wonder how organists managed before the advent of electricity, air conditioning and heating, etc. What was their tuning regimen when summer temperatures were sweltering and winter ones literally freezing both in and out of doors. Tuning, without temperature control even dreamed of, must have been a nightmare. Mightn't their organs have been out of tune most of the time? At least they had no simulacra, and thus left us a priceless heritage of wondrously crafted organs for which we can be eternally grateful.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,835
    I understand from technicians that some of those ancient organs were cone tuned, installed, and never tuned again. Saw a Diane Bish show in an old German monastery where it was so cold she was wearing a long fur coat while playing. In a nod to modern tech they had installed a hand warmer above the keys.
  • CharlesW: our enormous church roof was recently torn off for the start of a million-dollar rebuild. They covered the organ with a plastic sheet, and I assumed they were not using it until that part of the roof was secured from water damage...well, they are indeed using the organ and it is REALLY badly out of tune now! Not sure the plastic sheets are helping, either lol. The church sits right on a very busy main road, and the traffic noise inside is awful now. Can't wait until the whole thing is done...but that will be quite a while...
    Thanked by 2CharlesW CHGiffen
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,835
    FidemInFidebus, good luck with all that. It sounds like a bit of a trial.
  • ...roof...torn off...

    Do you really mean that there is nothing between your organ and the elements (such as an errant rain cloud and the blistering sun) but a plastic sheet?
    ...good luck with all that...
  • Antonio
    Posts: 43
    However, just like a stereo system, the organ is only as 'good' as the speakers. I always insist on paying just as much or more for the speaker system if one is 'forced' to purchase a simulacrum.

    Somewhat out of topic but since almost two years I have been using a MDA Hauptwerk-based portable system coupled to two different organ consoles through high-grade audio interface. Despite of their sound systems most obvious limitations (like lack of <40Hz sound reproduction and relatively poor spatial speaker distribution), I have achieved a whole new level of realism using a software called Dirac Live, which is a software-based digital sound processing that corrects or mitigates uneven speaker sound reproduction in both frequency and time dimensions. It also corrects/mitigates acoustics problems, which reduces very much the need for revoicing a correct voiced organ sampleset. Using samplesets from the best producers like Sonus Paradisi and OrganArtMedia, the sound production system became very convincing. I not insinuating that it is a substitute for the real pipe organ when both are available, but that Hauptwerk/good sampleset/Dirac corrected output combination should neither be compared to a naked default digital instrument and its usually incoherent disposition.
  • @M. Jackson: lol well, they've removed all the old shingles and most of the old, rotten wood. They replaced some of the worst areas, but the roof over the organ area is still not fixed and can leak badly during storms.
  • Not to hash old wounds, but I just came across this thread. We are having a new instrument installed as I type (digital) but as I believe I’ve described elsewhere, we were limited in budget and SPACE (our loft was never built to support an organ, which has complicated matters quite a bit— we literally cannot install pipework at the present stage, without making structural modifications first, alas).

    I have played small pipe organs and while they were “real” they were also a “real” bore to play. Ive also experienced many instances where the church that could only afford a tiny pipe organ also couldn’t afford to maintain it, so some are a real drudgery to play. (Of course, there are also little gems dotted around here and there!)

    I’ve also played a very fine Walker that was utterly convincing; there was a gracious acoustic and it was genuinely voiced to the room, so little wonder it was a nice organ. The ONLY time you could tell it was fake was on actual tutti; real organs would get *just* that last bit louder, and the speakers couldn’t pressurize the room quite the same (and don’t misread me: the Walker tutti was still thrilling!). Anything short of tutti (and that’s with a trained organist’s ear sitting nitpicking) was truly a joy. I was very glad whenever I was invited to sub there, a fun reprieve from my 4 rank organ unified to the hilt.

    Others above mentioned the “feel” of the instrument; this is one area where we splurged. We have an upgraded system of speakers to properly charge the room, and we payed for nicer keyboards with wood cores, as well as moving drawknobs, so the console feels like a real organ console, and not a cheap piece of plastic. The Walker upon which I played was similar. In that case it even had nice wooden OSI keyboards which are, of course, what pipe organ builders often use.

    I find the touch to be as important as the sound in some cases, so I’m hopeful our new instrument (replacing an analogue installed in 1970) will be a substantial improvement. We hope to do a phase 2 to add some pipe work for the essentials (8’ principal chorus and a pedal stop or two) but that is still a little way off.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,835
    I used to tell folks that I played the organ for the glamour, prestige, and wealth. Also, the groupies throwing themselves at my feet were nice. I have played some genuinely good instruments and also some that were sow's ears. It is what it is.
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • I have played a simulacrum fitted out with pipes a time or two. When playing only the pipes they sounded nice enough. When playing the not-pipes one could tell that what one was hearing came from speakers. When played together they didn't blend well and one could tell immediately that he was really listening to what was an absurd marriage of two quite distinct instruments, one might say a musical Frankenstein,

    On one occasion I was subbing for a church which had a 50 or 60 'rank' allen. It sounded reasonably well even when one realised that one was listening to speakers. One lady approached me after mass and was excitedly telling me that they were going to get some REAL (her emphasis) pipes but they hadn't arrived yet. It was interesting that she was quite more excited about the pipes than the synthesizer. Many quite ordinary people can tell the difference and the lie that they can't should stop being peddled.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,835
    I know of a 62 or so rank pipe organ where the builder placed a rank of reeds in an alcove in the chamber. The techs refused to tune it since they found it inaccessible. Finally the church added a couple of Allen reed ranks to compensate. They don't sound quite like pipes but I suppose it was a compromise they could live with.
  • I played a 1/2 hour post vespers recital on a hybrid a few weeks ago, and I was pleasantly surprised at just how nice everything sounded. The main failure, I thought, was the party horn, but a lot of the other ranks seemed to fit in well. Again, the common theme is that it was in a very nice room, and there’s little doubt it mixed the organ as well as it mixes voices.
  • A skilled musician can make a mediocre instrument sound fantastic. I'

    I don’t know. There’s an exceptionally terrible sounding digital organ at one of the churches here that I don’t even think Bach himself could make sound good. The sound quality is absolutely dreadful.
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  • Simulacra can't simulate ciphers. Had a beautiful instrument (in a modest sort of way) develop 3 on the same day. I managed to get the cow to moo properly and stop shrieking. I wouldn't have rather had a simulacrum just to avoid this problem.
  • I don’t know. There’s an exceptionally terrible sounding digital organ at one of the churches here that I don’t even think Bach himself could make sound good. The sound quality is absolutely dreadful.
    sponsa, I agree… there are limits.
    Our old instrument that was hauled out yesterday didn’t sound real at all. Some of the stops were so hysterically fake as to make one wonder how the old analogue instruments every gained any traction at all. One of my old reeds literally sounded like a 70’s synthesizer. It was fascinating and always made people giggle when I would show them. For four long (agonizing, really) years I’ve had to go through the motions but not recognize any organ sound.

    I told my Pastor once that I wasn’t going to be in for the rest of the afternoon because I was going home to practice. There were people praying in the church, and I needed to do some woodshedding. I have a nice study with a 3m organ that runs Hauptwerk at home. With mild consternation, he asked me why I wasn’t just going to practice at church, especially since they had purchased a set of headphones for my predecessor; what happened to those?! I had to tell him with mild amusement that there was no way in hell that I was going to strap our awful old analog organ straight to my head.

    By contrast, where I did my undergrad, there was a small mechanical tracker action, organ in the smaller of the two recital halls, and it had pipework right in front of your face just above the music rack. That instrument was very real… But I can tell you there is very little that’s pleasant about having an 8’ musette and a 2’ principal (brustwerk facade) mere inches from your face. That experience was a different kind of hell.
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  • What a Midwestern exchange, Serviam! Mild consternation is met with mild amusement. Not a strong feeling on display.
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  • At my new church (I was appointed DoM just last month), we just installed a new Phoenix organ last week and I couldn't be happier. It is hard for anything to sound realistic in this space because it's so small, but it fills the room and is extremely satisfying. And this is with just a little bit of preliminary voicing done.

    Hopefully they'll come next week to finish the voicing.

    In contrast, at the church where I just left my post as DoM (but retained Saturday evening duties) we have a terrible 2 manual Allen with a spec that looks somewhat useable on paper but utterly fails in just about every way. For the longest time I had Hauptwerk running through less than ideal speakers which sort of solved the problem, but not very well. I just came into possession of a bunch of very efficient, very large speakers and I'm hoping they might be able to help solve the problem.

    I'm quite prone to be judgemental towards digital organs since I play quite a few excellent pipe organs in Toronto on the regular, but I've been mostly happy with the new organ we've just received and most of the organs Phoenix has put out (although sometimes they can be at the whims of the purchasing organist who often has very weird voicing ideas...)

    And yes, a fantastic organist and musician can usually make even a terrible organ sound fantastic. I played a few times at St. Vincent de Paul in Toronto - a stunningly beautiful church but a pretty terrible pipe organ. But I heard a fantastic organist from the UK play that organ like I've never heard it played before. The hymn was phenomenal - I felt like I was singing in a true cathedral. (It helped, of course, that the acoustic over there is great too.)
  • francis
    Posts: 10,343
    Strapped directly to your head!

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