• GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I will give this caveat about hybrids: I once gave a recital on an organ that was about half and half. However, at this evening winter recital, no one had told the parish to turn on the heat in the sanctuary until I got in a half hour before to warm-up and found a freezing sanctuary. The organ was terribly out of tune... and so I tuned it. But the room continued to heat up while I was out! You get the picture... this was a disaster. So BE SURE that your parish is NOT cheap about the heating or AC!

    Let me add that I would rather play on a good electric organ than a bad pipe organ any day. This seems to me a reasonable stance, but many seem to disagree.
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  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,021
    There are caveats enough to go around!

    There are, and always will be, both pipe and electronic organs spanning the entire range from awful to awesome. Simple math and logic will tell you that hybrids will also follow this pattern.

    And, yes, churches need to not skimp on heating/cooling costs. The above tuning problem could have just as bad on a pure pipe organ, depending on the chambers or how many levels the pipes are on in the case of a tracker organ. It is a constant teaching situation with changing of musicians, pastors, and even secretaries that, when the organ tuner shows up, the room MUST be at the appropriate temperature. There were so many times I showed up and refused to tune under those conditions. And, if they couldn't be adjusted yet that day, the church WAS charged for at least an emergency service call, and the tuning was rescheduled.

    Jackson's experience was, and still is common, on hybrid organs of that period. Early on digital sampling of real pipe organ sounds included all the notes of a given stop. I tuned one of these - the Great 4' Octave was derived from a different sample than the 8' and 2' Principals. Those two stops were from different organs, with different temperaments on them. Which one should I tune the 4' Principal pipes to? Sorry - it just doesn't work! You're still going to use the whole setup as an ensemble! The newest "cutting edge" digital organs use digital audio wave files. These are derived from pipes from a particular stop, but then the wave form is actually tuned to whatever pitch/temperament note by note. Indeed, an organ "voicer" can now (and should) spend just as much time/effort voicing the digital voices as the pipes!

    Caveats also to the Organ Clearing House projects. Do you have an organ expert who is an expert in organs of that period and/or of that builder? Is the organ still in its original installation? If not, who removed it? What is your expert's experience with this type of project? I have seen more poorly executed "re-assemblies" of old organs than careful rebuilding and proper installations. Many of these organs really should be kept and given new life. And there is a lot of money to be saved in not manufacturing from scratch all the windchests. But if pure "economy" is what is driving the church in this project, it is bound to be a fiasco, and not be kept for any more than one generation.

    Again, the hybrid organs that I am interested in utilize the absolute BEST of BOTH worlds - neither the digital nor the pipes should take second place to the other. And the first use of the pipes is to lead the congregational singing.
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  • francis
    Posts: 10,639

    Bad installation? Yes, that is PART of the problem with this digital. But I still will never hear the full range of harmonics and unique character of a pipe organ on any digital. And I beg to differ with you about the movement of volume of air.

    The same goes for pianos. I took the Roland digital piano in the sanctuary and swapped it out with the old Knabe in the choir room. I tuned and voiced it and it sounds absolutely wonderful compared to the relatively new Roland. When I play the piano, the sound comes out from everywhere and goes in all directions. That will never happen with a speaker system. Acoustic instruments surround you with sound. That does not happen with digitals. The nature of speakers are uni-directional.

    IMHO digital pianos are a joke. I guess the true driving force (most of the time) is money on the purchase of an instrument. However, what I truly think is that because digital instruments are a fraction of the cost, it becomes the scapegoat for the time, energy and money that SHOULD be spent on acquiring the best one can afford.
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,605
    Francis, it should interest you that the inventor of the Allen Organ, Jerome Markowitz, had one major disappointment in life. He never was able to create an electronic or digital piano that was good enough to market....the difficulty of creating all the harmonic patterns for every single variance of touch on each key is way beyond any computer that is affordable.
  • Lawrence
    Posts: 123

    Please show us where any person on this thread exhibited elitism as in the definitions you gave. Insistence on quality music and arguments about the minimum requirement for such are related to meritocracy, not elitism.

    I also think it's maybe just a little bold to throw around such terms, let alone unhelpful, especially when a number of my observations listed above have gone, as yet, unanswered. Are we going to try to engage in a real dialectic or are we going to just pull our favorite epithets out of the dictionary?
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,605

    1. There is phasing in the speech between the pipes and the fake sounds. Those who know more about this stuff than I do and whom I trust tell me that there is no way to fix this. It is not all that noticeable in a chorale situation, but if you crank it into high gear for a fast fugue, you're going to be begging for mercy. It is utterly distracting.>

    [There is no such thing as phasing between electronic pipes. There is obviously something that you hear that you find disturbing about the difference you hear between the sound the pipes make and the digital makes when you are playing. This may be the dip or sag in pitch experienced when the reservoir drops a bit as air escapes through the pipe. Most digitals have a setting that creates this, but many installers disable this.]

    [i can add that if the digital has the potential to alter pitch in response to additional notes being played, if this is overdone some organists feel that the organ is "falling behind" when they play.]

    <2. Unless the organ is comprised of mostly real pipes, there will be tone color problems. Real tone color can only come from real pipes. Electronic stops all blend together. I will never forget the day that I played Messiaen's Apparition de l'Eglise Eternelle and then played it back on the midi. I went downstairs to listen to it and immediately noticed that I could have gotten the same effects by pulling out an oboe and a string and using the swell pedal. There was no appreciable difference in tone color between stop changes until the high mixtures came on. This monotony can be felt in hymn-playing, too.>

    [Electronic tones can definitely all blend together. The designer can diminish this by creative speaker placement and routing of stops so that they have a chance to develop in the air rather than in the surface of the speaker cone. And many, many speakers and channels are needed. Otherwise the sound will blend togther. in addition many installers defeat random tuning and also retune the digitals dead on, causing them to stick out with a thin, knifelike tone. This is most often when the company installing the digital organ considers itself a pipe organ builder.

    These people spend hours tuning a pipe organ perfectly and it begins to drift within days or even minutes. That drift causes a multitude of beats which give a pipe organ that "warm sound" that people love. However, these misguided installers defeat the same thing in the digital so then within days the digital sticks out instead of blending with the pipes.

    The absolute worst hybrids I ever had to work on were hated by the organists. While employed by the pipe organ company I was able to get them to the point that the organists enjoyed them and then I began to get calls from teh organists that the pipe tuning crew had been out and the organ sounded awful again. And yes, they had reset the digital to be sterile, cold, thin and downright miserable...I wasn't employed long...and was told in the midst of this by another voicer who had turned down the staff job because he had been roundly chewed out by the owner for making digitals sound too much like pipes...my employment there was short]

    <3. In working with digital organs, I have noticed that the independence of the voices is completely lost. Many fugues just start to sound like a mush of sound. I have experienced this in my own playing and have heard it in concert, even at one of the most infamous digital organs known to man.>

    [It would be helpful to know which infamous organ you refer to. I am supposing that you are talking about the Marshall-Ogletree organ in NYC. It is entirely possible for a digital to not turn into mush IF it has been installed properly. And many, many pipe organs do turn to mush as well, especially Austins on the Universal Airchests, which give such a constant air pressure so that there is not articulative dip in pitch on neighboring pipes when a new pipe is played]

    I remember listening once to an episode of pipe dreams which featured a new pipe organ at a Catholic cathedral somewhere in Ohio; I can't remember where exactly. The organist made a great point: The Church uses, indeed requires, real candles and real flowers. And there is the Real Presence. The organist went on to say that this requirement for authenticity even has implications for the decisions we make about the organs we build. This is a worthy point, and the fact that most modern ears are accustomed to synthetic sound should not really be an invitation to cut corners. Where there is dedication, things can happen. Think of what our organs would be if half the effort were devoted to them that is devoted to the local Catholic school basketball league...

    [I agree that the church requires real flowers and real candles. This has nothing to do with the Real Presence. Using the Real Presence as an argument is even weaker than my words about printed music vs. hand-written chant...which I was called on...and I agree that was a foolish statement.

    Should the church require REAL organs or none? I agree. But the church should also require participation in Unemployment and COBRA insurance for all the organists who will be put out of work as a result of this. And they won't do this in many diocese of the US]

    Finally, some may consider certain criticisms of synthetic organs to be overly-particular and too focused on what arsty-fartsy types obsess about. If we are to expect music to be treated seriously, however, then we must treat our art with the respect it deserves and uphold its integrity at all times. Which part of the Pieta should we hack off in order to save space? None? Then neither should we install inferior instruments.

    [Hacking off parts of the Pieta...great idea, let's ban all but the finest hand-hewn art. All statues must come from blocks of marble, no man-made stone....no plaster....This also means that most churches will celebrate Mass without a corpus on the cross the moment this goes into effect.]

    I really did not want to participate in this entire discussion and have deleted many answers...I've been irked by many misconceptions that people have been led to believe over the years and I apologize if I have irked anyone in the process.

    In closing, I once assisted a professor of organ at a well-known college as he presented a paper on the digital organ industry, the product of a sabatical trip he tooks traveling and playing organs in the US.

    At that point I was working as a rep for one of the big 2 digital builders, it does not matter which one. He and I were good friends and he took me aside and said, "Noel, I have to tell you that having traveled all over the US, there are places I'd choose an Allen and places I'd choose a Rodgers...it all depends on the abilities of the local dealer to install and voice organs."

    And...I have never heard a Johannus I liked...but that does not mean I have stopped listening to them and evaluating them when I get a chance to hear one...and now it has been 13 years since I have heard one, so I must bow to Steve's knowledge of them rather than saying anything myself. I can say that I have been in touch with the factory in Holland about a project and they were extremely friendly and helpful.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,639
    Wow, Noel. That is quite a post!

    Well, I don't know if this conversation has made things muddier or clearer for those concerned, but it certainly was interesting to hear the pros and cons from both sides of the fence.

    I am getting ready to do an all Bach concert on our Allen, and its only the artsy fartsy partsy of me that is not excited about the venture. I have a great little recording system, and I will record it and see what I get.

    There is a quaint little (new) Casavant just around the corner at the Episcopal church, however, the acoustic there is like singing into a pillow at point blank range. What a shame for such a beautiful instrument.

  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,204

    I prefer pipe organs, and will always strongly encourage churches to purchase them over electronic/digital simulators. However, as I said in my previous post, I did get a certain degree of satisfaction "revoicing" and playing a broad spectrum of literature on the Rodgers 960D at my former church, problems with playing counterpoint not withstanding.

    And perhaps here's another little wrinkle to throw in. Most (if not all) digitals have extensive MIDI compatibility. When I first arrived at my previous church, the associate director/organist was incorporating MIDI sounds (piano, harpsichord and other orchestral instruments) into her registrations for hymn-playing. I encouraged her to avoid the practice, and explained the various philosophical reasons for my objection to their use.

    The cathedral in Covington, KY has an enormous pipe organ with a MIDI module, and the organist there (during an NPM event) used ocean, breeze and other ambient "space music" effects via the MIDI module along with the pipe organ. I found it to be really disturbing, and could only imagine how many poorly-trained "organists" in the audience were chomping at the bit to go back to their digital/MIDI instruments back home and start putting "space music" sound effects into their hymn and service playing.

    Danger Will Robinson!
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  • Lawrence
    Posts: 123

    We could go around and around on this, and I don't expect the two of us necessarily to come to agreement, but just a few things.

    1. The point about the Real Presence is indeed relevant. Electronic sound waves do not have the same characteristics that acoustical ones do. The late great Sergiu Celibidache talked about this constantly, and it was the principal reason that he refused, all through his tenure, to allow recordings of his Munich Philharmonic orchestra to be released. So while we might not be dealing with a contrary situation in which the extremes of "real" and "false" are reached, we are dealing with a situation in which one type of sound--the electronic type--is missing something, which is the epiphenomena that acoustical sound has. The acoustical space can mitigate this problem a bit, but that is no more an endorsement of digital sound than it would be of one of those harsh instruments from the ill-conceived Orgelbewegung.

    2. You address what I have to say with respect to tone colour problems and the problems associated with playing contrapuntal music. You say that such issues can be overcome by proper installation, etc. However, I have yet to hear a hybrid organ that overcomes these problems. So are they all being improperly installed? This reminds me of the apostles of certain political philosophies who always say, "Oh, it really DOES work, it just hasn't been done right yet."

    I will grant one exception to what I have just said, and that pertains to an organ that is at least half, if not more than half, comprised of pipes. Moreover, it is in a live space.

    In addition, how many different speakers must be used to solve problems of independence of line, and how fast does such a project come close to eclipsing the cost of a pipe organ? Granted, some organists want 300 ranks, etc, but many of us would far rather have 20 ranks--or even less--that are tasteful and varied enough to do the job.

    3. "There is no such thing as phasing between electronic pipes..."

    My ears hear it, and so do the ears of other organists, and not just on one organ. I don't care what causes it, whether it's low barometric pressure in the wind chamber, or a trough of low pressure in the blower room (if I may make an inadequate attempt at humour), or whatever, it's there, and it affects the music, and that is my principal concern. As I mentioned earlier, I have been informed by people who have served as consultants on these kinds of projects that there is nothing that can be done about this.

    Two final thoughts, and I promise this is the last I will say on this subject:

    A. In the Middle Ages, despite all the complicated theories and theological insights on what constituted good art, there was but one additional aspect: a kind of intuitive sense of the beautiful. This stemmed from the attitude that some works of art were just simply ravishing, and there was no need to go further than that. Colors are a good example of this. The same is often true, I think, with music--especially when it comes to sound quality. Some sounds ravish us on the spot, and others we find to be revolting. In general, I am simply revolted by electronic sound, and not just when it comes to organs. Are we in a situation where some are sensitive to electronic sound and others are not?

    B. I was at a recital a couple of years ago and was sitting as far away from the recently installed hybrid organ as we could get with a friend of mine. (The room was quite small.) At an appropriate moment the recitalist pulled on the digital 32' Bombarde. "Oh God, it sounds like a bunch of garbage can lids being banged together!" my friend exclaimed--to my embarrassment, despite my substantial agreement. And this is the rub: as long as these organs can leave such an impression, they will be inadequate.
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  • FrSteve
    Posts: 2
    The case against pipe/digital combinations could be made with more conviction 20 years ago than now. The big problem with them was tuning. The electronic components would stay put, and the pipes would drift a bit according to humidity, temperature etc. Nowadays, a responsible builder takes that into account, and there is some sort of computer device that adjusts the digital stops to the pipes. It's really quite miraculous. If you are going with a hybrid, make sure that the tonal finisher really knows what he is doing and has experience. It's worth a plane trip, even, to hear the work.
    Finally, it comes down to space and money. In my current parish, owing to a botched redesign, space is really at a premium. For the same money, we could have gotten a modest 8 to 10 rank instrument with pipes, or one with the tonal resources of fifty ranks. We went with the latter. No sense having an organ if it is inaudable, or has no tonal variety.
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,605
    It quite often comes down to having two tonal finishers, one for the pipes another for the digital.
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,021
    Maybe. Sort of. For real consistency throughout the organ, one person should be doing the work. The problem is that the "viocers" of digital organs tend not to be inventive or closely listen to each note of each stop. They tend to plug in samples from the library, and make just a few overall adjustments "by the book". That is not sufficient. The tonal product is part of the most subjective aspect of the organ. Pipe or digital, one person's like is another person's hate. There is never an objective approach to the sound of any organ, anywhere. It's all personal opinion. Therefore, a totally digital organ has the advantage of easily changed voicing. Some even have digital storage for multiple voicings of the entire organ, include odd-ball historical tunings for the more subjective organist!
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  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,605
    Steve, I agree, unfortunately some of the best in the field or pipe and digital fail when trying to do both. It seems to really be hard for the pipe people to have to abandon the search for perfection when they move to the digital side.
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,021
    It's actually simpler than that. The best in organ building still disdain anything digitial, so they won't use their skills to make the best of both worlds. And the digital organ companies are more than willing to work with any pipe company willing to work with them, so often you get really good digital stops with awful pipework. Virtually no one is attempting to marry the two, and create the absolute best of both worlds.

    And yet, why should they? Some people just want big and cheap, others are pipe organ (often tracker) purists. No need for a supplier to attempt to supply a missing segment of the market.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,927
    "And yet, why should they? Some people just want big and cheap, others are pipe organ (often tracker) purists."

    It seems that many organists these days don't want a service instrument that can be used for a variety of music from different periods. What they want are niche instruments that do one thing, only. It's crazy, but affects both digital and pipe instruments. The hybrid instruments are like some additions by Austin - don't want to insult them since they can build fine instruments - all the old pipes and the new pipes on the side, but with no attempt to integrate the two.
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,021
    Right, Charles. The primary owners of any church organ are the members of the congregation. The primary function of any church organ is to provide leadership, accompaniment, and inspiration to that congregation. Anything else it does is icing on the cake. IOW, there was a reason for the classic American organ design of the mid-20th century - the liturgy. Even protestants have it, but we Catholics started it!
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,741
    Icing on the cake? An accompaniment machine that plays 5 stanzas of a hymn with varied full registrations and in a temperament that allows semitone modulations is (dare I say) not a particularly Catholic conception of the organ's role. I enjoy rather more playing from the treasury of alternatim music on small colorful instruments in meantone.

    I have had more-or-less happy experiences playing the hybrid described by eft. Its exasperating problems are with the electric action which affects pipes and speakers alike. My recital debut was preceded by a frantic service call, with the technician demonstrating that everything was fixed by playing gfedc: what I at first couldn't believe I was hearing was Papageno's birdcall, so I asked him to please do that again before pointing out that great C was now at the right end of the keyboard. I then adapted my program on the fly to antiphonal and swell, with the great as a coupling manual... Currently the swell is only usable in pieces that do not use A or G# singlely. But as far as hybridization goes, it's fairly successful at making a ~19 ranker into an 'American classic' I can play Messiaen on, and the digital clarinet does nicely enough for Couperin recits.

    At the other extreme is an electronic I played for a very short time that had a few scraps of upperwork added as pipes. Full organ became sort of bearable, if not exactly appetizing, with the addition of the pipe mixture, but the tenor c 4' bourdon (designed to mask the electronic chorus) seemed really pointless. Even a full compass 2' would have given me a practice instrument I could stomach for an hour or two at a time. I think on such a small scale two tiny instruments are a better buy than one hybrid.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,639
    i can't see why a hybrid...
  • BenBen
    Posts: 3,114
    "Icing on the cake? An accompaniment machine that plays 5 stanzas of a hymn with varied full registrations and in a temperament that allows semitone modulations is (dare I say) not a particularly Catholic conception of the organ's role. I enjoy rather more playing from the treasury of alternatim music on small colorful instruments in meantone."

    [Thumbs up]
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,927
    While I am no fan of German Baroque instruments, I would say that a church that has any kind of pipe organ these days is lucky. Many Catholic churches trashed their instruments years ago.
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  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,605
    Small, colorful instruments in meantone are an awful lot of fun to play, but, unfortunately, relatively useless for accompanying a choir or even worse, a congregation.

    In a monastic community where the organ basically gives pitch, that sort of instrument would be ideal, especially in alternatim.

    But, it's not a hymn machine. Hymn machines also have their place.
  • redsox1
    Posts: 215
    In too many cases, churches are given the line that because of financial constraints a small pipe organs can't possibly fill a large space, or have enough color to carry out its function. As a result, many churches make the mistake of buying an electronic organ, or end up with a "hybrid" which often means 50 digital stops and 3 pipe ranks. It's a complete sham and this course of action is almost always unnecessary.

    A well-designed small pipe instrument with scaling sensitive to the space, as well as judicious unification can be VERY satisfying both in terms of filling the space and giving sufficient color for accompaniment, organ literature, and leading hymn singing. I would urge folks to visit the websites of organbuilders such as Kegg (keggorgan.com) and Patrick J. Murphy and Associates (pjmorgans.com.) Both companies employ all-electric action (Kegg exclusively, with Murphy it is an option,) which is extremely reliable and long lasting. With the use of expansion chambers under each pipe, as well as good voicing, this action allows excellent pipe speech while allowing flexibility in the specification. It also takes up minimal space and is inexpensive to build compared to other actions. It is also easy to maintain. A well-conceived and well-executed instrument of 10-12 true pipe ranks will blow the doors off "hybrids" with double or triple the number of digital stops.

    I think, too, that too many churches don't pursue the option of organs coming from closed parishes, or organs that are being replaced by larger pipe instruments. There are deals to be had out there. The cost in many cases is a fraction of a new instrument. Check out the website of Czelusniak et Dugal (czelusniakdugal.com) a small but reputable firm in Massachusetts. He has relocated and restored many instruments. The results are stunning.
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,605
    It's hardly a sham, and speaking that way undermines all the good things that you have said, and the expansion chambers you are touting are there due to try to overcome an inherent weakness in purely electrical pipe keying systems.

    You have failed to explain that these builders use this electrical system to falsely expand the stoplist of the organ, adding drawknobs for ranks that simply are not there and leaving dead notes galore when hymns are played, making these instruments inferior to real, full pipe organs.

    Now, what's a sham, expanding a few ranks of pipe with digital, or building an organ with more stops than ranks.

    It is NOT because of financial constraints that churches choose mot to purchase small pipe organs, but is due to the fact that a small pipe organ in a typical US Catholic church with sound deadening tile in the ceiling, mold and polled trapped in the carpets that have replaced tile and marble because they are cheaper and require less upkeep because the dirt and crud are still there, it's just hidden in the carpet.. Small instruments cannot deal with these problems.

    Often the money spent killing acoustical life in a building would go a long way to purchase a small pipe organ that in such a live room woudl work nicely.

    Relocating a pipe organ is within dollars of the price of a new one. Any attempts to cut costs by using volunteers almost always results in instruments that are failures and end up being removed. New organs tend to stay since they were designed for the building.

    Transplanting a heart is simple compared to transplanting a pipe organ...
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,927
    The building can enhance, or kill a pipe organ. I have heard some small instruments in "live" buildings that sounded great, and some large instruments in padded rooms that sounded horrible. Placement is not everything, but it is definitely important.
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  • redsox1
    Posts: 215
    Frogman: No, there really is no inherent weakness in this type of action-it has just taken time to "get it right' since so many builders were scared off from further developint the action because of the questionable quality of Wicks, which actually was more about bad voicing than action. I challenge you to listen to the work of the builders I stated above and tell me there is anything less artistic about the voicing of their organs on this type of action. Would I prefer mechanical or pitman chests? Absolutely. Electric slider chests? Maybe. This type of action has its own inherent problems that need to be dealt with-stop placement on the chest, speed of action since there is more mass to move and the pull-downs must be properly regulated. I prefer electro-pneumatic slider action, especially the design created by Goulding and Wood. It's an ingenious design-very little mass to move. I also would prefer an organ on EP unit chests-like what Schoenstein uses. However, this is EXTREMELY expensive and takes up so much room! BTW, they use this action for reasons of unification, quite creatively, and I know of no respected organist who would call the quality of their work into question. They are one of the very "high end" builders in the trade. Getting back to all-electric action- it has its place and I think it's too bad that snobbery and incompetence by some builders has given it a bad rap.

    And yes, the example I used of 3 pipe ranks vs. 50 digital stops is a sham. I have seen this type of scenario over and over again. Why even bother? And please note that I used the word "judicious" when speaking about unification. There absolutely MUST be a true, independent principal chorus, or choruses. There is absolutely nothing wrong with extensions for color stops, even chorus reed stops or flute stops. This is common practice on moderate-sized pipe organs. The use of variable scaling, skipping pitch levels-ie. unifying a flute stop at 16 and 4, as to avoid "losing notes" are all important factors. This can be done, is done all the time, and with very musically satisfying effect. I am not at all saying that digital additions are necessarily bad. In fact, I play on such an instrument. However, this instrument contains 60 ranks of real pipes. The pipes can most definitely stand on their own. Many organs advertised as "hybrids" are not pipe organs at all. I'm sorry, that is a sham. Call them what they are- electronic instruments.

    In terms of the lack of viability in transplanting a pipe organ, you are just plainly mistaken. I will concede that is is challenging, but certainly not impossible like you seem to imply. Go to the website of the builder in MA I mentioned above. A Casavant tracker was transplanted into a 1970's A-frame building. The church put new tile on the floor to replace the ugly blue-green (probably original) carpet. The organ sounds 100 times better in it's new home than it ever did in the church it was built for. This report comes from parishioners from the former church to came to hear the organ in its new home. No tonal work of any kind was done. The organ was simply taken out of the old church and placed in the new church, with a few alterations to the action and the addition of an electro-mechanical combination action. The organ cost a FRACTION of what a new instrument would cost. An old Casavant tracker from 1897, one of the oldest playable in the US, was placed into another church after the original church was closed. The dimensions were similiar, which certainly helped. New trackers, which were extended 6 inches, were installed using a carbon-fiber material. The action is light and responsive and the organ sounds like a million bucks. The cost, again, was a FRACTION of what a new instrument would cost, and in fact, was not much more than a middle-of-the-road digital organ. The workmanship was first-rate and in both cases, the organs look and sound as if they were designed for the space.

    Granted, if the organ is a complete wreck to start with, yes, it will cost much, much more to renovate and install and the benefits of transplanting such an instrument are greatly diminished. And one has to take into account compatability between the two spaces, both dimensional and acoustical. With all the churches closing, however, there are plenty of organs with life left in them needing new homes. Check out the Organ Clearing House.

    In terms of problems of carpet and other acoustical issues, these problems also hold true for an electronic instrument. Digital organs sound so much better and realistic in good rooms. They sound much more artificial in the type of space you describe. Let's face it, the "room" is the most important stop on the organ.
  • redsox1
    Posts: 215
    I also meant to mention that EVERY action has its challenges: all-electric and electric slider as noted above, plus, the many challenges of building a sensitive and light mechanical action and the limits in terms of layout and distance from console to pipes, etc., and we all know of the expense of releathering an EP chest years down the road.
  • This past weekend, I played a 6 pipe rank/100+ digital rank Rodgers hybrid organ for a liturgy. The organ has a thermometer that is supposed to adjust the pitch of the electronic ranks to the pipes according to the change in temperature, and it wasn't working. The electronics and pipes were horribly out of tune with each other, and whenever I would spin the manual tuning dial to fix the problem, it would automatically jump out of tune within a couple of minutes. I have played many hybrid organs (all Rodgers models) and none have impressed me for this same reason; they are too hard to keep in tune.
  • pipesnposaune
    Posts: 113
    Thurifer: That happened to me as well. It sounded like a calliope. The pipes and digital stops were a full half step apart. I quickly got out the manual and 'tuned' it myself. This particular organ also had problems with the digital not speaking to the pipes. One time the entire organ went silent, and another time tutti. This particular Casavant/Johannus hybrid had major issues.
  • hartleymartin
    Posts: 1,447
    An organ of 4 extended and unified ranks can provide excellent service. The Moller Artiste was an example of such an instrument. They were stock instruments made in a case not more than 8' tall so that it could fit into small chapels. Typically, they have a diapason rank, flute rank, string rank and a reed rank. Such an instrument is no longer available as a stock item, but could easily be built by any competent organ builder, using second-hand pipes. You would only need diapason, flute and a reed stop of something like an oboe.

    In fact, the situations often described sound a lot like the troubles that St Bede's Catholic Church at Pyrmont went through:


    I've recently been to a church with a hybrid organ. The digital stops were mostly useless. I mostly made use of the trumpet stop and the diapason rank, which was available at 8', 4' and 2' pitches. I was able to play a few English voluntaries, but the rest of the digital sounds were woeful.
  • hartleymartin
    Posts: 1,447
    Here's an example of a 3-rank Moller Artiste:

    http://www.stjoearts.org/agencies/AGO/AGO Living Community.htm

    I think that organ builders need to wake up to reality and start making instruments like these again.
  • advocatusadvocatus
    Posts: 85
    "Small, colorful instruments in meantone are an awful lot of fun to play, but, unfortunately, relatively useless for accompanying a choir or even worse, a congregation."

    Sort of depends on what you are accompanying. Victorian and Edwardian music can get a little sticky in meantone. While I did have an "out" with the alternative well-tempered tuning at the cathedral in Omaha, my experience and that of my successor is that an awful lot of liturgical music sounds fabulous in meantone, and that congregational and choral singing improved significantly because of it. Read all about it at at:





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  • francis
    Posts: 10,639
    a good musician can make just about anything "work". if all i had is a piano, i'd make it work.
  • Palestrina
    Posts: 362
    I'd like to add a few comments to this discussion.

    1. Surely, it's not the size of the pipe organ, but the scaling and voicing of the pipework? Comments about an instrument of X ranks being unsuitable for a congregation of X people seem entirely out of place to me: if the scaling is right, you never need to draw much anyway. If the Diapason chorus on the pipe organ isn't enough for your congregation, that's when you have a serious problem, and I don't think it matters what you add around that - the organ will always sound wrong. In my opinion, adding digital bits around it will just make it sound like a 'louder kind of wrong'.

    2. (Pursuant to Point 1) I think that we should be building smaller and finer instruments - impeccable voicing, winding and beautifully sensitive actions - rather than larger and louder things. If we want to encourage artistry among organists, then they must have beautiful, responsive instruments to play.

    3. No instrument is going to play the entire repertoire. Music directors need to be realistic when setting music programs. That said, an instrument that is well built (ie. is a truly musical instrument) will usually do a lot more than its specification would suggest.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,639
    and... a digital organ far beats a piano anyday... even a concert grand because it approaches liturgical music with a sentiment that faces the right direction
  • hartleymartin
    Posts: 1,447
    I'm gradually becoming convinced that what we need to see on the market today is a modern version of the Moller Artiste. A flute rank, diapason rank and some sort of reed rank all unified on a universal windchest. A String rank would be good, but not essential in most parish situations.

    It would be an instrument that is reasonably compact for a pipe organ, and reasonably-priced. I would hope that such an instrument would be cheap enough to be competitive against digital organs.

    I should be an organ-builder... ey?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,927
    Don't know about the string not being essential. When I combine the 8' string with a 2 & 2/3, I get a decent krumhorn. With a soft flute added, it's more like an oboe. Strings are good for creating other sounds in combination with other stops.

    I agree on the Artiste. A simple instrument, with standardized design and materials could be produced at a more reasonable cost than custom builds.
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  • Some people may not be happy about me resurrecting this thread (if so, spare yourself and just move along…) but I’m curious to see if any perspectives have shifted in the intervening decade(!) since this thread was last active. Our church is considering buying a new digital, and eventually transitioning it to a hybrid instrument as funds permit. I obviously cannot go into all the details, nor do I feel compelled to. Suffice to say, this is where we’ve landed after considering a myriad of options and even keeping our eye on organ clearing house for two years.

    A few thoughts to start as I’m sure I will receive pushback:

    1.) we are very limited space-wise, both in terms of footprint and height to accommodate pipe work. This would necessitate, essentially, a chamber instrument if we went pipes only, in a room that can seat about 430 people. There is also currently HVAC infrastructure in the way* that will cost a very significant amount of money (c. 10k) just to relocate it before any pipe work could be installed. Consequently, it seems beyond the current scope of our project, although a two-phase approach, in combination with a broader capital campaign might make these adjustments possible at a later date. (*Prior to my arrival, two massive AC handlers—as large as refrigerators—were installed laying down in the “organ chamber” blocking tonal egress (of our current analogue) out either side. Suffice to say, I was very upset when I discovered this, but the damage was already done, and the units are essential in the summer when we have masses at capacity.)

    2.) I have played Möller artistes extensively (we had them as practice instruments in grad school), and I would be loath to make a career on one as my only instrument. I suspect those who are advocating for such an approach have never actually tried to live with such an instrument. If they have, I have to believe that purism seems to be trumping any lived experience or practicality. I suppose if you’d be happy only playing what amounts to an aggrandized continuo instrument, more power to you.

    3.) I spent 2.5 years playing for a church that had a small 4 rank instrument. Beautiful old gothic church with lovely acoustics and the organ was up in the loft. Flute/String/Principal/Trumpet. The flute was unified 16’– 1 1/3, principal was unified 8’–Mix, trumpet only available at 8’ pitch on the great and in the pedal, and a string at 8-4-2 2/3. It was VERY limiting to play, despite all the unifications. It’s all fine and dandy to claim that all the stops were real, but that doesn’t change the lived reality that I would have just about murdered for even a select few digital extensions including a celest, harmonic flute, 16’ reed in the pedal, etc. I also spent two summers playing other similar instruments at another church where my cousin is priest. In all cases I found myself disappointed.

    All this to say, I have lived experience on small pipe organs and no matter what people say, they are limiting. They are fine for what they are, but they also… are what they are.

    4.) Digital technology has come a loooooong way in the intervening decade. I have subbed on multiple occasions on a gorgeous 4m Walker that filled a 1100 seat sanctuary. It was absolutely realistic, and thanks to one of the renown walker subs, even the 32s were very exciting (particularly the sub bass which was felt, and not “heard”) and left a physical impression upon the hearers, even all the way on the opposite side of the room. It is true, that the instrument reaches a certain point where, close to tutti, the organ ceases to increase in sonic pressure but only changes tonal color, whereas adding real pipes at that point would both change the tonal color AND add extra “pressure”, so-to-speak, with extra columns of air. Regardless, it was a thrilling instrument to both play and hear. (It was carefully voiced after Skinner and was a real gem.)

    Curiously, I’ve actually heard two large Walkers (each 4m, c. 200-250k instruments in large churches built by the same firm with the same layout, so, relatively comparable, all things considered) and I found one installation to be much more successful than the other. I chalk this up largely to voicing and chamber placement, as the more successful one has had extensive voicing at the helm of an extremely competent organist.

    5.) I played nearly 3 years on a (now) c.8 y.o. Rodgers that did, in all honesty, sound pretty darn good. The installation was bizarre, and suffered at the hands of an incompetent installer (again, happened immediately antecedent to my arrival) but the stops themselves sounded really good. Even though the organ had its flaws due to the manner in which the speakers were placed in the room, I found it an incredibly fulfilling instrument to play on and it was very flexible. This memory stands in stark contrast to my memories of playing the little unified organs (cf. #3) waxed poetically about by those who immediately preceded this post. We all knew the Rodgers was a digital organ; a simulacrum, but it was a satisfying simulacrum, and I was able to make some wonderful music on it.

    6.) I should clarify that I’ve also had terrible interactions with some digitals. Things sounded terrible/they were failing/didn’t sound realistic at all (c. 1990’s Johannus reeds, anyone?) and any other myriad of common issues. (My favorite was that the LED drawknob for the party horn burnt out on one organ… not the stop you don’t want to know if it’s on or not!) Similarly, I’ve played TERRIBLE pipe organs, both large and small. In my eyes, the fact that it is a •pipe• organ makes it no more worthy an instrument than a digital is “unworthy” just because its method of tone production is different. While at face value, I understand the “fake flowers” argument, on the other hand, organs are not static things, and they only produce sounds under the hands of living-breathing people, so in this sense the musical offering is real, even if the way the air is vibrating differs.

    7.) two years ago I did a tour of some hybrid instruments in Chicago. One firm’s instruments really surprised me (in a good way). There was one instrument, in particular, that was about 50/50. I can honestly say (and I have an MM in organ performance, so I know a thing or two) that with that installation you couldn’t tell where one ended and the other started, at least for certain stops. There was one flute stop, in particular, where I genuinely couldn’t tell where the pipes ended. It truly astounded me. I had no idea that digitals had come THAT far. Here again, though, the organ had had extensive voicing work done, in other words: it was a •finished• instrument, and not one of the myriad of examples a console plopped into a loft with a few speakers up on the wall. The tonal finishing seems to be the bit that makes all the difference.

    At any rate, I’ll stop blathering on now, but I’m curious if others are finding the newest generations of instruments to be more satisfying or palatable, or if there is some other wisdom we seem to be overlooking.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,927
    Yes, some of the digitals have improved while some brands sound pretty much like they always did. As I have said many times, the building acoustics can make or break the instrument. You know the space you have and whether or not you have room for pipes. Even with the space you could end up with a horrid layout. You are correct about small instruments. I played a 10-rank Schantz for years in a highly reverberant room. It sounded great but let's face it, there was plenty of literature I just couldn't pull off on such a small instrument.

    End result: You know your situation and should do what works best for you and your church. Another thing, be extremely cautious with organ dealers and company reps. Their object is to sell you something. There are some real charlatans in that industry so don't believe everything they tell you.

    I have heard Walkers and they are a cut above most other brands out there.
  • Unfortunately, we were priced out of getting a Walker, as even two years ago, their STARTING point was about 150k, and that was reusing an existing console.
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,927
    Yes, they are expensive. I am a bit leery of Hauptwerk since they almost seem to need constant tinkering to keep them playing reliably. Fine in a home but I don't know how reliably they would stand up to church demands on the instrument. There is always Allen and they do seem to have a reliable dealer network, at least more reliable than some other brands. Allen did some digital additions to a 62-rank Schantz in my area because the chambers simply couldn't hold any more pipes. It sounds better than I thought it would.
  • May I suggest Phoenix Organs? They are a builder near Toronto. They've done lots of custom work, including hybrids, voicing, custom consoles, and far more. The starting point is far more reasonable than the 150k from Walker that you were quoted (although I do not feel that I can disclose the Phoenix starting price publicly). Some of the bog-standard samples aren't the best in the world, but the pre-loaded specs are very usable, customizable after the fact, user-voicable, and can be easily swapped. The drawknob consoles are nicer than many (dare I say, most) new pipe organ consoles by reputable builders. They can be interfaced with pipes and expanded at any time (though, if that's a consideration, make sure to tell them upfront that you wish to expand down the road). I have a Phoenix in my home and have played a number of Phoenix organs in churches in the area and have been nothing but impressed.
    I can also highly recommend the Phoenix speakers. They have been upgraded and improved since my organ was installed, but even my older (2016ish) speakers are very impressive in both a home and fairly large church setting. But if you have a sound expert, they've seemed to be happy to work with them to use even third-party speakers to create massive installations.
    As for Hauptwerk, it can work, but you have to choose samples carefully and you will need to do a lot of tinkering. It's satisfying but intensive.
    If anyone wants to PM me about further personal experience with Phoenix, feel free.
    Oh, and also, I can't steer people away from Allen fast enough, mostly because of the speakers and voicing. (Although I'm sure that's customizable.)
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,927
    Both Allen and Rodgers can be voiced. A lot depends on how close the nearest service is if the things conk out. The Phoenix looks interesting but there isn't a service facility nearer than 1000+ miles from my location. You may end up with Bob the fixit guy instead of a trained factory rep. Something to consider.
  • I have had recent occasion to play a Hauptwerk for several Sundays and was surprised at how CLOSELY it sounded to an organ. Closer than an Allen and certainly a Rodgers.
  • I'm leery of the HW route for church; I've played a large HW installation in a church but I came away underwhelmed; I have HW at home and love it, so I know how good it can sound. My main fear is that even if I was perfectly happy with it, what would happen to my successor if they aren't tech savvy and have to troubleshoot... I just think it's risky business for a sanctuary/industrial application.

    RE: allens, I've read that they are still using the same generation of tone from the late 90's in their new organs (which, if the promo video they posted last year is anything to go by, sounds about right... ) sigh.
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  • Allen featuring duplexing on a digital instrument convinced me that they don't deserve my business.

    The issue with Hauptwerk (and, to an extent, all digital instruments) is that it's very easy to choose an instrument that's oversized for the parish.

    "I have played Möller artistes extensively (we had them as practice instruments in grad school), and I would be loath to make a career on one as my only instrument. I suspect those who are advocating for such an approach have never actually tried to live with such an instrument. If they have, I have to believe that purism seems to be trumping any lived experience or practicality. I suppose if you’d be happy only playing what amounts to an aggrandized continuo instrument, more power to you."

    For the purposes of liturgical use in the Catholic Church, that is all that is needed. Maybe one cannot play the entire gamut of organ literature on it, but one would be hard-pressed to do so on most American instruments with any degree of sincerity. (Perhaps at Saint-Sulpice it may be possible...) I would be very happy playing some of the more intimate Baroque repertoire on such an instrument, just as I would be at home with the Romantic literature on a large European instrument.
  • The entire notion of a hybrid makes my blood boil…

    If an organ builder is incapable of building an instrument with adequate scaling and voicing within limitations of budget, no amount of electronic augmentation will fix it!
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  • francis
    Posts: 10,639
    a very interesting thread I ran across just now that hits on some of these ideas... of course, this thread is talking about listening to CD recordings of the organ itself and the Hauptwerk rendition of the same, but the whole 'immersion' thing is something that is really important.


    One very important consideration.... When the lights go out, can you have the altar boys pump the bellows???? It's ELECTRIC! (boogie woogie woogie woogie) At that point it is a pile of wood, metal, silicone and wires that have no purpose in reality.

  • Hybrid = Frankenstein. This and that stitched together to make what would be an organ.
    Thanked by 1francis
  • "Hybrid = Frandenstein. This and that stitched together to make what would be an organ." And thus it is not a true instrument. Like any work of art, an organ must form a perfect whole from its constituent elements. To demand any less in this day and age, with technology and scientific knowledge far surpassing Mutin, Cavaillé-Coll, or Silbermann (and with five hundred years of hindsight) is nigh criminal.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,639
    Everyone who subscribes to electronic substitutes, I mean no offense nor to demean your choices... these days, churches exist in the lowest of spiritual, financial and social ebbs... you can only do what is offered to you, but I MUST say what I MUST say...

    Simulacrum... no way around it. Plastic Flowers, Polyester Vestments, Electric Candles (push the button and pay 2 dollars please!), {or, oil filled substitutes... (is God removing the beeswax?!)} Electroplated Monstrances, (GIA, OCP and WLP... gag me with a drawknob)... can we think of some more excuses for real (and of utmost wothy) things?

    Problem: "I want more options on the organ in my small church"
    Answer - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Get REAL! (in other words, get the real thing)... the novelty of electronic and digital elements will quickly lose value in all ways in a short amount of time.

    I'd rather have this than a 20 rank digital... there is nothing more beautiful and simple to accompany the chant or polyphony in the catacombs.


    More about Catalina here: