• ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    Too loud if:

    -procession to the altar seems dignified (important?)
    -cannot nap through psalm
    -volume encourages active participation in singing the ordinaries
    -disrupts conversations in the nave immediately following dismissal

    This is only a draft. Public domain, others may add to it.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Put John Nash on it, delving for an algorithm.
    Seriously, does no one read what I write anymore (Brian?)- postludes are diamonds. Someone kvetches, you simply respond, uh Mildred, you're supposed to listen. Obvious moral: shut up during postludes. Subtext: shut up before thinking to complain to organist or director.
    It is sad to resort to such colloquialisms vis a vis "Da Faithful." But if they or he/she turns into "master of the fateful," they get their just rewards. Period. (Which is a serious period, unlike someone else's of recent note.)
    Thanked by 1R J Stove
  • Through sincere and mentally calm converse with the organist one could learn and arrive at objective criteria by which to assess organ loudness and softness (and the whys and wherefores thereof).
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,673
    At the Parish I worked at until this past weekend, I would be stopped regularly by folks who thought the organ was too loud. Often times after I walked away from them, I'd be stopped by someone else who heard them who would tell me they didn't think it was loud enough. I think the only real answer is giving out iPods to folks with ear-buds as they enter the church. Set your own volume in your ears.
  • Can the organ be too loud? But of course. An organ is usually an instrument with wondrous capabilities for being powerful, so it makes sense that in can be too powerful for some situations. The volume and timbre can be overwhelming, even deafening.

    A more difficult question is whether certain organists are able to receive criticism well... but that's a question for another post.
    It does muddy the waters when most of the people giving the criticism are not so well informed. Otoh, an organist should be able to weigh assessments from well informed people, incl other musicians.
    Thanked by 1marajoy
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,900
    Are there any technical matters that occasionally figure into issues like this? E.g., the listeners' location; any possibility of microphones picking up organ sound and feeding it into the amplified sound system; location and direction of speakers (for electronic instruments); voicing of the instrument.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,423
    In a big church there can be a wide range of sound levels, particularly if the music is amplified. We worked with a large-space acoustic guy to amplify the sort of transepts we had in one church. People in the central area could hear well, but people in the transepts couldn't.
  • It would also depend on the location of the organ. I tend to prefer the whole loft at the back of the church as I think it spreads the sound more evenly. One place I play the organ is at floor level just in front and off to the side of the sanctuary. I'm sure that people sitting close to the organ find it too loud but those at the back of the church would find it a bit soft. The carpet doesn't help.
    Thanked by 1ServiamScores
  • I would also venture to say that most churches have "sound pockets", so those sitting close to those pockets are going to hear it either too loud or too soft.
  • While most of you are right in your defense of the organ, that it is not too loud, it is only fair to honestly consider the complaint when you receive it. Is the organ, in fact, too loud?

    I want to give the obvious criterion that if you can't hear the singing, it's too loud. However, that might not be helpful if you have a not-very-singing parish. You could crank it down to oblivion and still not hear singing in some places.

    I would also venture to say that most churches have "sound pockets", so those sitting close to those pockets are going to hear it either too loud or too soft.

    This is important. I used to play at a parish where the console was in the south transept while the pipes were still in the gallery. I used to hear complaints of "It's too loud" and "I can't hear anyone singing," all from people who sat in the back, near the pipes, behind anyone who would actually be singing.
    Thanked by 2Liam ServiamScores
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,648
    A Christmas or so ago, I played a Widor piece as a postlude. It was loud from beginning to end. The pastor thanked me for selecting the piece and said it helped keep congregational talking down as they left. That wasn't the reason I chose it, I just liked it. But it's good it worked to keep chattering down.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,514
    ...the obvious criterion that if you can't hear the singing, it's too loud.

    Seemingly obvious, but too soft playing can also squelch singing. I usually find to my surprise that pulling another stop makes the voices even more prominent in the balance.
  • I agree. I think most of us can tell whether we're playing loud or soft; it's the "too loud" or "too soft" where some disagree. I'm addressing the loud end.

    But you're correct. Sometimes more organ support the singing much better.
  • The point of preludes and postludes is to discourage or cover up chatter and other noise as congregations enter and leave the church.
    Thanked by 1R J Stove
  • The point of preludes and postludes is to discourage or cover up chatter and other noise as congregations enter and leave the church.

  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,423
    What if you fix a bucket of water on a slightly inclined board above the organist's head. Anything equivalent to 4 measures of contrabombarde empties the bucket.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,423
    That was purple. Almost entirely purple .
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,648
    As in (purple bold)? You better be careful around those organists. I hear they have fearsome egos and tempers. (purple bold)
  • This reminds me that a gradual loss of hearing may be another cause of an organist playing louder. Or perhaps the loud playing came first, then the loss of hearing.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • Hartley Martin's assertion about the purpose of preludes and postludes is astonishing. Is it made tongue-in-cheek. One hopes so!

    The purpose of a prelude is to offer a musical preparation for the tone, whether joyful, celebratory, prayerful, penitential, thankfulness, meditative, etc., of the theme of the day, and to lead straight into the entrance hymn or introit. Ideally, there should be no interruption of any kind (read announcements and other chatter from some chatterbox person at the microphone) between the prelude and the introduction of the hymn. The prelude, as an ornament to the mass itself, is pointless if it is not conceived of and experienced as an integral element of the introductory portion of the mass, leading DIRECTLY into the entrance hymn or introit.

    The postlude, likewise, is understood properly as a musical summation of the day's mood, an extension of the mass's theme, filling the atmosphere with appropriate music as the faithful depart. It is not just an add-on. So: most people talk and chatter during it? they aren't 'listening' to it? it still affects them and reinforces phonically what they have experienced at a given celebration of the holy mysteries. Even if they are paying it no mind, they still leave hearing the sound of the King of Instruments celebrating the King of kings in his temple. No other instrument can boast of such a pedigree, or of such a vocation and purpose.

    As for it being 'too loud'? Most organists (excepting perhaps some injudicious and sophomoric students) know very well how to judge the loudness of their organs as appropriate to given musical moments. Too, it happens occasionally that we mis-judge or don't get the level of singing we expected and have to lower our expectations and our volume of sound. Those who complain, though, that the organ is ipso facto too loud (conveniently not noticing nor appreciating that it in fact is not continually loud or soft) are very often people who simply don't like what they are hearing. I have actually had more people more often tell me that they love it when I 'pull out all the stops'. Very few have been the times I've heard that the organ was 'too loud'.

  • Discouraging noise is what I cite as a reason to places that are not used to having preludes. Because it discorages noise it is conducive to prayer. A lot of people these days believe that there should be just dead silence until the first hymn. In any casr my favoured practice is to play a quiet improvisation on the entrance hymn or introit.
    Thanked by 1R J Stove
  • Given the types who usually complain about the organ being too loud, my response would be to put on a sad puppy dog face and say something completely inane like, "The organ is only too loud because your heart is too small", because that's pretty much the kind of response you'd expect from a guitarist to make to any criticism.
  • So: most people talk and chatter during it? they aren't 'listening' to it? it still affects them and reinforces phonically what they have experienced at a given celebration of the holy mysteries.

    This is just wrong.

    Their behavior reinforces that there is no reason to be silent and respectful in a church with the Blessed Sacrament. This is WHY Baptists often refer to their worship space not as a sanctuary but as the Auditorium, the place they meet to visit before service starts. They do NOT want to be thought of as being Catholic in any way. And there are low-church episcopalians that are the same war, aghast to find a Sanctuary Candle lit in an Episcopal church.

    There is a strange practice here in the South of the USA to play orchestral background music of gospel hymn arrangements in stores. Major chains, including Hobby Lobby, do this, which really blows the whole idea that there are rooms set aside for religion....instead these rooms have signs telling people that they have to be of age to buy airplane glue and spray paint to the sound of The Old Rugged Cross.

    "people talk and chatter during it? " these people need to spend some time a a TLM where the black-dressed ladies would hush them right out the door.
  • dad29
    Posts: 2,154
    One of the best organists in the area played for a wedding and accompanied a singer there. He was not familiar with the church, and had not played the instrument before.

    He asked for advice on the balance between the organ and singer. Perhaps that's why he's one of the best around, eh?
  • Depending where you go, some parishes can be all about the gathering of the people and they forget that they are gathering for the purpose of worship and not just for socialising.

    Before mass we speak to God. During mass, God speaks to us and; after mass we speak to each other.
  • Bottom line....we can't make everybody happy. Some think the organ is too loud, others want silence, others think it's not loud enough. We have to make decisions based on our own professional experiences and go from there. We can take certain "suggestions" into consideration, of course, but I don't think it's possible to make everybody happy because of the subjectiveness of our chosen field.
  • Honestly, if they are complaining with that few stops on, there's something wrong with them. You honestly shouldn't be complaining unless there's like 4 trumpet stops on. Using 3 non-trumpety stops is quiet, seriously. Some people are just too hard to please I guess.
  • There are also some who will complain about things that we as musicians know are not really problems, per our training and experience, because there is another issue entirely. Such as, some want to bring the Pastor to the table because of another issue they wish to discuss, and for which he has refused to meet. Or it could also be as Adam Wood has often said, and I believe quite accurately, that they have a specific song they want to hear, and any other song played on the organ is "too loud" simply because it's not what they want to hear. Much of what we get as complaints is largely psychological, and always subjective.
  • I once played Amazing Grace in a minor key for a penance service on a quiet few stops.

  • ClergetKubisz speaks of some "want[ing] to bring the Pastor to the table because of another issue they wish to discuss, and for which he has refused to meet." Yes, this seems all too plausible. The sheer plenitude of not-terribly-bright layfolk out there who continue to regard the parish priest not merely as an alter Christi (fair enough) but as a combination of therapist, social worker, ward-heeler, dating agency manager, and police chief - a bizarre hybrid of Mazarin, Anna Freud, Fiorello La Guardia, Bull Connor, and Kecal in Smetana's The Bartered Bride - will forever amaze me.
  • kenstb
    Posts: 364
    One of the factors in varying loudness of the organ is the fact that the actual sound waves produced by the organ vary widely in size. As a result, the apparent volume of pedal tones can change depending upon where the listener is sitting in the church. Also remember that bass notes often sound louder when there are (as in most older churches) hard reflective surfaces everywhere. In my parish, since the organ is in the choir loft, what I perceive is quite different from what the congregation does. It took me quite some time to adjust to the acoustics. Unfortunately, many of us do not have the time to do a proper sound check of the churches we play in less regularly, but in a pinch try lighter pedal registrations and see how it works for you.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,825
    I once had a digital organ and the speaker installation was horrendous! In that case it was the company's poor judge of speaker arrangement.

    However it is a lot of fun to respond to complaints as you are playing something with full organ shouting out,

    "SORRY... I... CAN'T... HEAR... YOU!..."
  • Bill
    Posts: 4
    How exciting would Beethoven's 5th sound if the opening statement were pianissimo? If you are playing the piece as written, no apology is necessary. Also, remember, with hymn playing the organist leads the singing, not accompanies it. For those who can't hear their prayers after Mass, remind them that your Postlude is your prayer after Mass, and God should be able to hear their prayers over the playing!
    Thanked by 1R J Stove
  • Steve QSteve Q
    Posts: 109
    It's a shame that our parish spent over $100k to replace our ancient dying organ with a beautiful brand new instrument - because now it is just too loud!

    Maybe we can get our money back....
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,648
    I found that a complaint about our organ being too loud was understandable. There was a horrid, screechy mixture that grated on everyone's nerves and ears when using full organ. I had the mixture revoiced and the complaints disappeared.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Steve Q
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 8,189
    People who complain about the loudness of the organ don't want to hear it at all. If they did they would have something nice to say about it. I've had a number of persons comment to the effect that 'I don't need my hearing aid when you are playing' - and, they liked it loud.
    Thanked by 2Steve Q Caleferink
  • PhilipPowellPhilipPowell
    Posts: 45
    I always say to play the organ loud and proud.
  • SponsaChristi
    Posts: 329
    Personally, I feel our organ is too quiet and flutey. Not a fan of quiet flutey organ...especially when it sounds like someone’s cellphone.

    One Saturday morning immediately after the morning low Mass ended and I was trying to pray, this very quiet, flutey music started. I thought it was someone’s cellphone. It drove me nuts! I angrily thought to myself, after trying to ignore it for awhile, “whose bloody phone is that?!” only to turn around to leave, look up at the choir loft and notice the parish organist snuck in at some point and started practicing something.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,825
    People who complain about the loudness of the organ don't want to hear it at all.

    I usually have only one person in an entire congregation complain. And they ONLY complain about simulacrums because they are like drinking from a fire hydrant. So in that regard, they are justified.
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 1,643
    I once had a digital organ and the speaker installation was horrendous! In that case it was the company's poor judge of speaker arrangement.

    I did too. The organ itself was nice, and the sounds were not offensive at all, but the installers did the oddest thing. It was a low-ceilinged rectangular sanctuary. They split the sounds C/C# and placed one speaker on either side of the room (so there was no blend within each division). Choir in the front of the room by the altar, Great in the middle, swell all the way in the back:

    C             C#

    C             C#

    C             C#

    It was the STRANGEST installation. Anyone sitting right under a speaker got only half the sound of one division and couldn't hear anything else. They could have simply put the matched pairs high on the rear wall but no... they probably thought "surround sound" organ would be exciting (if you can call it that)
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,825
    I never got a single complaint playing this... ever...

    Thanked by 1liampmcdonough
  • PhilipPowellPhilipPowell
    Posts: 45
    Every Christmas and Easter I hope for at least 3 complaints about the organ being too loud. If I don't get them, I know I wasn't playing loud enough.
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 1,643
    It's interesting reading through this old thread. There are definitely some common themes. I can also echo the Gerre Hancock experience.

    At my current post I was approached by a woman who both wanted the schmultzy stuff that I was phasing out and also complained about the organ being too loud. I patiently listened to her concerns and said I would "see what I can do". I didn't change a thing. A few months later she came to me and was so grateful because "it's so much better now; thank you!". Lol.

    Just two weeks ago we announced to the congregation that we are getting a new digital organ to replace our old analogue that was installed in 1970. Just last week someone told our pastor that she "could really hear a difference with the new organ!" [that wont be installed until September]

    So the moral of the story is, St. Thomas Aquinas was right: things are heard according to the mode of the receiver. If people are well-disposed, they will hear your playing favorably, and if they are not, they will find any manner of things to complain about.

    Regarding hearing aids, I can vouch for that too. I've even heard [from the loft] certain parishioners hearing aids start squealing in response to certain sounds on the organ. I've also had run-ins with hearing aid wearers. Two summers ago we were on vacation in Florida (right before everything shut down; we were very fortunate!) and since I was down there, I made the drive down to Ave Maria University to go test drive the M&O that they have in their oratory. Here I was, special scheduled visit all the way down from Indiana (and I was there with an M&O rep since we were considering purchasing an instrument from them) and a woman downstairs huffed back and yelled at us because she couldn't pray! and it hurt her ears with her hearing aids! The humorously simple solution was to just pop them out so she wouldn't have to hear us... but she much preferred to yell at us instead, alas. Some people are just that way.

    Also, perception is relative. I played for one neo-gothic gem in the middle of nowhere Ohio for two summers. They had an old Hook & Hastings up in the loft that was on the OHS register. This country church, with high gothic vaulting, could probably seat 800-1000 people. I was told that I could only use the 8' principal on the great on the final verse of the recessional hymns. The people had not had any real organists since forever and ever, amen. By consequence, anyone who ever played for them usually used the little half-height spinnet piano, and if they did touch the organ, they were terrified of the thing and only used the softest stops. Now, I'll admit, that the old H&H principal was a tubby old thing; but it was also meant to support a large congregation in a huge church. But the fact that I couldn't use the most basic stop excepting exceptional cases really blew me away. It was all because they had become habituated to anemic music. By consequence, anything with body overwhelmed them. Mind you, I could sit at the console en fenetre with the principal facade inches from my face (the toes were just above the music rack; it was a modest instrument, actually) and I wasn't perturbed by the sound in the slightest, but the old grey hairs 150' away were.
  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 1,006
    Personally, I feel our organ is too quiet and flutey. Not a fan of quiet flutey organ...

    I suppose you wouldn't like Schnitgers, then!
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • GambaGamba
    Posts: 436
    To be fair to the hearing aid crowd: anything >8’ flute, box shut, is way too much sound for the tiny microphone, amplifier, and speaker in a hearing aid to process. There is tremendous distortion and feedback when a device made to pick up a person speaking conversationally tries to amplify that much sound. Every church sound system really should have a wireless transmitter, so the people with hearing aids can just switch them to the T-coil setting. Then they get a nice clean feed of only what’s coming into the microphones (priest, lector) and aren’t trying to amplify organ+singing+reverb.
  • Gamba,

    As one who wears a hearing aid, I wish the places which have amplification systems would just take them out, and use the money on something worthwhile.

    Anecdote: when I said to friends of mine years ago that their autistic son would probably have much more sensitive hearing, much more easily bothered by the feedback of the parish's sound system than they (the parents) were, they didn't believe me at first, until they got into the new church building, complete with its fabulous new sound system, and their autistic child cowered in the pew, holding his ears, trying to shut out the sound.
    Thanked by 1LauraKaz
  • Steve QSteve Q
    Posts: 109
    I've had a number of persons comment to the effect that 'I don't need my hearing aid when you are playing' - and, they liked it loud.

    That's great. When someone comments that the organ is too loud, I am often tempted to tell them to turn their hearing aid down.
    BTW - I am not an organist. I'm just a lowly cantor. But I love the organ and I believe in its proper place in the Roman liturgy.