Why a Pipe Organ is Better than a Digital
  • TCJ
    Posts: 975
    Have at it!
    Thanked by 1LauraKaz
  • francis
    Posts: 10,700
    Lol… no explanation needed… yes?
    Thanked by 1ServiamScores
  • TCJ,

    A pipe organ is a work of great craftsmanship. A digital instrument is a work of a different kind of craftsmanship, some of which is great. The craftsman of the digital instrument is (if I understand correctly) less-proximately connected to the work being crafted, fulfilling more an overseer role.

    A pipe organ makes its sound in the same manner (by putting air through pipes) as the human voice it frequently accompanies. A digital instrument has sampled sounds from other instruments, at least in many cases nowadays, but does not produce the sound in the same manner. It is the difference between listening to a recording of a Mozart Horn Concerto and listening to the same horn concerto in the same room as the performers at the time the performance takes place. Both are beautiful, each in its own way, but they are not the same.

    The purpose for which the organ is used, namely, the worship of Almighty God in several modalities, matters. An AI can not validly receive the sacrament of Penance, not because there's something wrong with the priest. That doesn't mean that an AI can't do all sorts of other things. Tape-recorded music, while sometimes used to accompany devotion, can't be an act of devotion itself, though the people who sang or played it at the time of recording may have been, at the time, engaged in an act of the worship of God.

    Through the centuries, the Church has promoted great works of art and craftsmanship. Never, to my knowledge, has she promoted or condoned the replacement of humans with machines when the work in question could be done by a human instead of a machine, and never has she promoted the displacement or replacement of human work in the worship of God.
  • DavidOLGCDavidOLGC
    Posts: 75
    Good points about how the pipe organ produces sound acoustically.

    Both the pipe organ and digital organs are man-made items.

    A pipe organ of course is the ideal and best option.

    A digital organ is better than no organ! (or guitars or piano in my opinion)

    Neither instrument plays the music for a service without a human players.

    Your point about a pipe organ moving air from the pipes and opposed to a digital organ moving air from speakers reproducing samples is an important one.

    Thank you.
  • Star Trek food replicators come to mind. [Bear with me: I used to be a fan of Star Trek, and I still find an occasionally valuable point there, in programs no longer on the air.]

    A food replicator can synthesize a ham and cheese omelet, or chocolate swirl fudge sundae or Earl Grey Tea, hot. It can even synthesize non-intoxicating alcoholic beverages from all sorts of worlds. Nevertheless, even if the Star Trek food replicator has the ability to change the entire substance of the pre-replicated matter into the entire substance of the omelet, the sundae, the tea, or the Gin and Tonic, these are all synthetic representations of the real thing. Nothing on Earth, certainly not digital organs, can do that, and so what we're left with (however cool the synthetic Lieutenant Commander may be) is just that: synthetic. Cain and Abel.
  • DavidOLGCDavidOLGC
    Posts: 75
    Again, same basic idea - and my response is much the same, allowing for your replicator analogy.

    Real food is best.

    Replicated food is better than no food.
  • TCJ
    Posts: 975
    Lol… no explanation needed… yes?


    I would agree. I just wanted the discussion to be here and not elsewhere. CGZ basically wrote something very similar to what I say when I discuss this with people.
    Thanked by 1DavidOLGC
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,922
    Wait - Khan Noonien Singh was genetically engineered. Does that mean that the organ world fearfully anticipates the coming of the Uberhammond?
  • Stimson,

    No, but AI and a digital instrument could soon lead to the extinction of the human parish musician. [Please note the conspicuous lack of purple].
    Thanked by 2CharlesW francis
  • Pipe Organ with Musician, or, Caliope with player scroll. I might be inclined to compromise with the digital instrumentation. Hold on pipe organs are the original digital instruments.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • RMSawicki
    Posts: 122
    After tending to the tuning and maintenance of pipe organs for nearly 35 years I feel I've earned the right to this personal conclusion: the pipe organ is the material object/device/machine that comes closest to resembling a human being. It has a skeleton (structure & framework), lungs (the blower), a diaphragm (the bellows and regulators), vocal cords (the pipework), a spinal cord (relay), nervous system (switchstacks) and a brain (the console). Like the human body, if you give it the regular care and nourishment it needs (tuning, regulation, and servicing), it will function normally almost indefinitely - I say "indefinitely" because the human faces mortal death eventually, but the well-maintained pipe organ can continue to function for centuries. The digital/electronic organ has its place - in my mind that is the poor parish who can't afford the real thing. Truth be told, with the advent of digital sampling, and ever-higher rates of sampling (when Allen was bragging about 42Hz, Makin was already sampling at 52!) the digital imitations are more frighteningly realistic than ever and qualitatively worth every penny paid for them. But eventually there will come some technological breakdown (an EMP burst from an enemy power, or perhaps a solar flare from a sunspot?) that may render all the imitation instruments inoperable. If we can retain the ability to build manual pumping systems, such as was standard for the industry during its first 1,000 years (give or take), wind-blown pipe organs may survive like the proverbial cockroach after a nuclear blast and still be the most viable option in the future. (Okay, back to work. "Give me the 4' Principal on the Great coupled to the 8' Krummhorn on the Positiv...middle C going up chromatically. Next! Next! Next!")
    Gaudete in Domino Semper!
  • DavidOLGCDavidOLGC
    Posts: 75
    RMSawicki 9:08AM
    .... The digital/electronic organ has its place - in my mind that is the poor parish who can't afford the real thing.


    Amen to that...and that's why our parish is lucky to even have a donated digital organ.
  • lmassery
    Posts: 407
    In my experience a digital feels like the sound accosts you in a direct and pointed beam of sound, whereas a pipe organ hugs you with a surround sound that penetrates and supports you without hurting you. There is an immediate difference in the sound to my ears. A small pipe organ, well placed and voiced, is far better than a large digital. But a digital is far better than a piano.
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,764
    One misnomer about digital organs is that they "don't move air". They do, albeit in a different way. There's no doubt that the projection of pipes is more natural and 360º, however, ultimately, they really project most if their tone out of the mouths and then a bunch of the rest out of the top. Certainly the pipes themselves resonate to a degree, but not as much as someone who has never attempted to tune an organ might think. Pipes are more resonance chambers, than resonators themselves (at least where well-massed wood pipes are concerned). With the advent of bipolar speakers, the specialty suspended cubes by Phoenix, rotary subs (subs with literal fan blades that blow copious amounts of air) or even Keinle resonators, this distinction is actually diminishing.

    Many of our speakers lie on their backs or are angled in advantageous ways, so that by the time the sound reaches the listener it is dispersed and broad, just like real pipes. There is divisional separation for our system as well, so you can distinctively perceive the swell and choir are speaking from opposite sides of the instrument—again, like a real instrument. And, in the case of our organ, we also have two Walker subs that are literally taller than my refrigerator, (that nearly share its the fridge's internal volume,) each with two 15" speakers that weigh 100lb each. That means that when I play a pedal note, there is literally 400lb of mass pushing air in the loft. Air is moving, I assure you. My 32's speak with authority.

    I don't disagree with lmassery that the sound can sometimes feel more pointed, and this is indeed a shortcoming. (It's also physics. Trebel ascendency causes this naturally.) That said, it is controllable to a degree, by having more channels, well-dispersed, that are not aimed directly at the listener. It's the smaller installations with only 2-4 speakers mounted directly on the wall that suffer the worst from this.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • francis
    Posts: 10,700
    When the electric goes out, may you enjoy your acoustic instruments (piano, guitars, etc.) I totally agree with Imassery. A small pipe organ is much better than a large digital. Somewhere on this forum I gave an in-depth reason why a pipe organ is different from a simulacrum.
    Thanked by 1DavidOLGC
  • TCJ
    Posts: 975
    When our digital goes out we just sing a capella. No acoustic instruments. Human voice is higher than the pipe organ!
  • DavidOLGCDavidOLGC
    Posts: 75
    francis 3:45PM
    Posts: 10,354
    When the electric goes out, may you enjoy your acoustic instruments (piano, guitars, etc.)


    Well, although I have not yet had to do use this rig during a power outage, I have a battery-operated Yamaha Reface YC combo organ and a battery-operated portable amp as backup.

    Actually, when I first started playing at church a few years ago, I was asked to play guitar by the previous pastor, and began using that Yamaha for traditional hymns that just were just better on organ.

    TCJ 4:44PM
    Posts: 884
    When our digital goes out we just sing a capella.


    And we do sing a capella too.
  • The laws of physics determine that the sounds of an organ and a simulacrum (read that magical word 'digital'), cannot sound the same because of the sound of each is from different sources - one, by air moving through pipes, the other from more or less highly sophisticated speakers.

    Those who advance the tired argument that 'oh!, but we have made recordings of historic instruments' are (blindly) admitting that you are hearing a recording of someone else's historic instrument.

    Those who say that 'you can't tell the difference' either have hearing trouble or are lying.
    Ultimately people will buy what they want regardless of the objective arguments from either side.

    This is no rant against those stalwart souls who simply and really don't have the wherewithall to buy an actual organ but wish they could.

  • Jackson,

    This is no rant against [....]

    It's not a rant, regardless of the caveat you provide!

    May I add, though, that just as God doesn't need hearing aids, and God can read hearts, he knows the difference between a pipe organ and a digital simulacrum just as he knows the heart of the person playing.
    Thanked by 1DavidOLGC
  • francis
    Posts: 10,700
    Truly, the major difference is in the physical properties of vibrating elements. With a pipe organ, the entire pipe is vibrating and sending air and sound waves into the room with two pipes speaking you double this reality with 10 pipes speaking it is 10 times the reality. Furthermore, these pipes and the air set up a sympathetic vibration with the organ case and that wood begins to vibrate sympathetically. This is why somebody explained above that the sound from a pipe organ “hugs you.”

    A simulacrum utilizes speakers. Many of the speakers are one directional. In a feeble attempt to overcome this problem numerous speakers are employed, various sizes are incorporated in the attempt to simulate the real thing. Notice that I say “simulate“, as that is exactly what it is.

    The amount of money that you would have to spend to attain a truly comparable digital would then begin to approach the similar cost of a pipe organ.

    One of the often overlooked and under mentioned downsides is longevity. A digital organ will last a decade or maybe decades if you’re lucky. A pipe organ can last centuries, and the sound mellows with age as the molecules begin to align them self as with all acoustic instruments. This is where the term “age gracefully” comes into reality with quality instruments.

    OK. So the priest is wearing polyester vestments. Can you make them look the same as high quality vestments? Yes, but why? Does God care if the priest wears polyester or silk? My only answer to this is look in the old testament, where God prescribes what is fitting for worship, and what materials he requires.

    Reminder: https://www.drbo.org/chapter/42001.htm

    In my mind, the problem is much greater than kind of instrument we employ. The problem is churches are built inexpensively with no mind for grandeur, with no intent to spare no expense, and so when it comes to a real organ, there’s no place to put one as no space or value (and the money to back it up) has been allotted for it and the whole process of building a church gets diminished to the point where the church is no different than a strip mall building. In the end, we do ourselves a disservice, the people a disservice and ultimately, we are dis-serving God.

    Do I even dare get into the theology of the parallels between old school churches versus new school churches and their accompanying rites? I need go no further…think about it.
    Thus saith the Lord of hosts: Set Your hearts upon your ways: 8 Go up to the mountain, bring timber, and build the house: and it shall be acceptable to me, and I shall be glorified, saith the Lord.

    If you go back to the beginning, could this be the smoke of Cain or Abel?
    Thanked by 2LauraKaz DavidOLGC
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,764
    In my mind, the problem is much greater than kind of instrument we employ. The problem is churches are built inexpensively with no mind for grandeur, with no intent to spare no expense, and so when it comes to a real organ, there’s no place to put one as no space or value (and the money to back it up) has been allotted for it and the whole process of building a church gets diminished to the point where the church is no different than a strip mall building. In the end, we do ourselves a disservice, the people a disservice and ultimately, we are dis-serving God.
    This is indeed a real problem. When Rosary Cathedral was built in Toledo, many of the parishioners re-financed their mortgages to make sure that it was built the way it deserved to be, and it shows. I cannot imagine modern man going to such "extremes" to do things for the glory of God. At least, it's comparably rare.

    One of the often overlooked and under mentioned downsides is longevity. A digital organ will last a decade or maybe decades if you’re lucky. A pipe organ can last centuries, and the sound mellows with age as the molecules begin to align them self as with all acoustic instruments. This is where the term “age gracefully” comes into reality with quality instruments.
    This is true, materially speaking; an instrument with pipes can last a very long time. Musically speaking, this is a canard. Pipe organs require regular (expensive) maintenance, and once they degrade to a certain point due to use (or, ironically, disuse), they become mere shadows of their grander, healthier selves, and then they can even become a burden. A friend of mine just had his instrument rebuilt/retrofitted (saved a large Kimball from demise) and the rebuild cost over 1mil. All the pipes, much of the mechanism, and the console shell were all extant. So let's not pretend like just because you purchase a pipe instrument, you're set for the ages. And we all know parishes that have closed down because the maintenance costs were too high. I shudder to think the number of lovely historic parishes that have been crumbling at the seams and eventually razed because the communities that inherited them were ill-equipped (and ill-financed) to handle the burden. So just because you pony up extra now doesn't mean a thing. You could end up providing an instrument that goes mute in 50 years and gets replaced with a digital anyway, because no one can afford to renovate the instrument back to working condition. Granted, it will be fodder for later generations to potentially restore, but there's no guarantee.
    Thanked by 2DavidOLGC CharlesW
  • DavidOLGCDavidOLGC
    Posts: 75
    So we've established that a real pipe organ is better than a digital organ, and have many reasons why.

    Isn't the real issue about why the organ is not used in Catholic worship as much as it could - or should - be?

    I see the problem as being much less about pipe vs. digital organ as it is about ANY organ vs. the current "popular" guitar and piano based worship music.
  • TCJ
    Posts: 975
    One major problem of why pipe organs are ditched in favor of digital is new construction often doesn't take into account obtaining an instrument until AFTER the plans have been made and construction started (if not much later). I've heard many times how a musician (organist) was never consulted in regard to the organ/choir space should be designed, with the result that organ lofts (if they exist) have no space to hold a pipe organ or do not have the structural stability to withstand the weight. Someone needs to convince pastors (and building committees) that these things have to be considered in the initial planning stages and not left as afterthoughts.

    Note: This happens even with pastors who approve of pipe organs.
  • DavidOLGCDavidOLGC
    Posts: 75
    TCJ - very good points indeed!

    Part of the issue is financial, part is just short-sighted planning, and part is due to the focus on the "popular and "entertainment" oriented church music that is not organ based.

  • francis
    Posts: 10,700
    ServiamScores

    Stick with trackers
  • TCJ
    Posts: 975
    Part of the issue is financial, part is just short-sighted planning...


    Those two are linked. The latter ends up causing either 1.) no pipe organ ever or 2.) a lot more money spent which negates any initial savings from being cheap.
    Thanked by 2LauraKaz DavidOLGC
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,764
    Francis, I have played more than my fair share of terrible trackers… they are not a panacea (although I will certainly grant you that few things are is pleasurable as a very nice, high-quality tracker!). Then again, few things are is hellish to live with as a terrible tracker action. And a nice action does not necessarily equate to finely-voiced pipework, and v/v, just as an electric action does not mean it is "bad" or that the instrument is somehow of lower quality.
    Thanked by 2DavidOLGC LauraKaz
  • francis
    Posts: 10,700
    ServiamScores

    What I was alluding to in a tracker is that there is a lot less to repair and maintain over decades including no electronics and which builders make very fine instruments to boot.
    Thanked by 1DavidOLGC
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,951
    Pipe organ manufacture has long ago lost any economies of scale it once had. Long gone are the days when Moller was turning out an organ a week. I once heard the tonal director at Austin say that the firm once built 100 organs a year but now builds 10 - that "now" was a number of years ago when I heard it. This has made pipe organs horribly expensive.

    Then there are the fickle organists. They throw out perfectly good instruments because they can only play Bach on the latest tracker, whacker, or whatever and because the old organ doesn't have a reed that sounds nasal and congested enough. BTW, trackers cost just as much to repair as other actions since the labor costs are not different. Technicians don't work for free. You might save some on re-leathering but other costs can make up for that savings.
    Thanked by 2DavidOLGC LauraKaz
  • francis
    Posts: 10,700
    Again, I must reiterate that God is worth everything we can give him, including upkeep of a pipe organ. Money follows ministry, not the other way around. With people who are devoted to the faith, it can happen! In my previous position this was what was acquired just before I arrived.

    https://www.saintbenedictparish.org/organ
    Thanked by 2DavidOLGC LauraKaz
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,992
    If pipes are missing you can use the human voice:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8sLNOhA7C2Q

    Thanked by 2CharlesW DavidOLGC
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,951
    LOL. Anyone for an accordion mass? It's wind-blown just like the human voice.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,700
    Liam

    I will definitely not be involved in your music program.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,992
    Francis

    The vox humana stops on that particular organ were one-of-a-kind.

    Thanked by 2DavidOLGC CharlesW
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,951
    Liam, that organ definitely sounds like North German voicing.
    Thanked by 2DavidOLGC Liam
  • DavidOLGCDavidOLGC
    Posts: 75
    francis 2:50PM
    Posts: 10,360
    Again, I must reiterate that God is worth everything we can give him, including upkeep of a pipe organ. Money follows ministry, not the other way around.


    God is of course worthy of all we can do, but I'm not sure I can accept your concept that money follows ministry.

    Have you spent some time in a parish that has many devout parishioners who do not have a great deal of wealth? They give a lot, but only have so much money to give.

    Anyway, enjoy that lovely organ at your church.

  • A hundred organs a year? An organ a week?
    One would think that with all the time saved the quality of craftsmanship would soar.
    The two organ builders you mention do not have a reputation for such craftsmanship - one of them bit the dust some years ago.
    Thanked by 2DavidOLGC francis
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,951
    Oh, I think Austin has established a reputation for reliability for over a century. I know of one of their organs the organist said came up and operated flawlessly for 50 years with no downtime. Many other builders can not match that. Granted, the Austins don't screech and grate enough for some "modern" ears, but more power to them. They build some beautiful instruments. Thank God someone is not building so-called "neo-Baroque" instruments.
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,764
    One would think that with all the time saved the quality of craftsmanship would soar.
    sadly, it was the exact inverse that happened. Mollers became dime-a-dozen instruments with little soul. They were not scaled or voiced properly to their rooms. At least for their catalogue / mail order instruments. They were going too fast, and became infamous for just plopping an instrument in a room and driving away. (This is not true for their big custom instruments, but you certainly couldn’t expect the care or detail if you simply ordered a little artiste unit organ.)
  • francis
    Posts: 10,700
    Moeller and Austin definitely fall in the category of mass produced
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,951
    Moller was a study in extremes. I have heard really bad Mollers that were not scaled for the room. I have also heard some that were good concert instruments. Austin can build some fine instruments. I heard one in the northeast that had some pedal reeds with a definite French growl to them. Many of the so-called "craft" builders order their pipes from the same suppliers as the "mass produced" companies. A good bit of the custom vs. mass produced arguments are based on pure hype. It is the sound the instrument produces that matters - and will it last through the heavy use churches put their instruments through. Too many organists want the churches to provide instruments for their once or twice a year recitals, but are often not good service instruments for worship.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,951
    They were going too fast, and became infamous for just plopping an instrument in a room and driving away.


    An insider told me that Moller reached the point where they only wanted to build those large instruments. He said it doesn't take substantially more time to build a large console than a small one. What do you do with the console crew sitting on its hands between those large builds and getting paid for it? He also said labor troubles helped do them in.
  • ...wanted to build...
    Isn't that what happened to Aeolian-Skinner?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,951
    I understand that A-S had to give their building to the city at much too low a cost. They were not fairly reimbursed for it. That and some management goofs helped do them in. I remember their organs being priced much higher than other brands.
  • Palestrina
    Posts: 394
    Truly, what I don’t understand in all this is why parishes don’t go for more small (properly scaled and voiced) unit organs. Three well scaled ranks should be enough to fill a building in most instances. Tonal variety? Not so much. But then it’s up to the organist to know what they’re doing, rather than fiddling around with too many registration changes!
    Thanked by 2francis DavidOLGC
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,764
    I spent two years on a 4 rank Schantz unified to kingdom come. That was enough for me, thanks.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,700
    With a 4 rank organ the spaghetti doesn’t get lost in the tomato sauce… it also steers the musician to be a true artist of sacred music
    Thanked by 1DavidOLGC
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,951
    If you only accompany mass parts and choir, you can get by with a small instrument like that. Forget doing much recital literature because those small instruments do have limitations. Play a trumpet voluntary -oops, there's no trumpet. I played a 10-rank instrument for years and did fine with it for worship. When I did concerts, I did them somewhere else.
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,764
    You can practice doing reharms, and making sure your service playing is rock solid… but there’s little-to-no splendor for the Gloria. No text painting. No expressiveness to choral anthems. No grand improvisations while the bells ring before the Gloria on Holy Thursday… half the repertoire you’d like to play is immediately ruled out because the instrument just…can’t offer the resources needed.

    It’s a bit like saying, “a real artist has no trouble painting with only two colors!” …except eventually, that artist could reallllly use the other primary colors, even if it’s only one or two shades and not the whole pallet. The artist eventually tires of “blue” when blue only comes in two shades and it’s the only color they have. You can’t paint a pink dawn when blue and white are the only colors available. So let’s not pretend like a few more colors aren’t necessary for even a modest instrument to be well rounded. Unless all you’re doing is continuo, or it’s in a tiny chapel only used for modest week-day liturgies, 4 ranks is not enough, frankly, to be a sufficient service instrument, let alone concert instrument.

    People complain about “settling” for a digital when they could have bought pipes… and what, pray tell, do you think the church did in 1985 when it installed the 4 rank unit organ? Lol. I invite all the organists who are enamored with tiny instruments to joyfully fill all those posts, and relinquish their 48 ranks to those of us who apparently lack the requisite skills or understanding to live peaceably with the smaller instruments. May their artistry shine bright on all 4 colors!
  • francis
    Posts: 10,700
    I guess if I had a choice between a digital 48 rank and a real 4 rank, I would probably go with the four rank… but you have to remember I don’t like to play anything composed after the mid 1700s… I don’t care to play an organ as a simulation of an orchestra. I guess I am a small minority in the class of organists who hold this philosophy.
    Thanked by 2DavidOLGC LauraKaz