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Advice, Please - Hymn Playing Devices - Inhuman Variety!


Martin Cooke
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I am trying advise a local church who need, really (!) to replace their pretty hopless pipe organ. I thought I had identified what, I believe would be a suitable digital instrument for the money they have available but they have now said that they want something that can play hymns when they can't get an organist. as anyone any experience of such devices? A quick google reveals something that makes a truly hideous sound (playing To God be the Glory) but there are also CDs of Francis Jackson which I assume just need a hi-fi system. Is there something that could actually work through a digital organ itself? I appreciate that this forum is meant to be about pipe organs but...

 

Can I also add how much I appreciate and enjoy a visit to this forum most days and am really grateful for the way in which everyone corresponds on so many interesting topics? I don't often contribute, but I value it enormously. Are there any other organ interest fora that I'm missing out on?

 

Many thanks

Martin.

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I hope no one replies in a positive sense to this request. Many organists lose out financially through the advent of electronic "aids" to worship.

It is surely putting another nail in the coffin of the organ and its music if the CD player is allowed a place in churches in place of a real organ and a real organist. Incidentally, I saw a posting on an American forum relating the tale of a priest who had such a horrible machine in his church. During the celebration of Mass (Tridentine?) he had placed the remote control in his pocket and every time he struck his breast at the words" mea culpa,mea culpa,mea maxima culpa",he set off the device . Unfortunately he did not know how to use the control and the machine ground out several verses of each preset hymn every time he inadvertently activated the thing. Serve him right.

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Any digital organ with MIDI input/output (that is, anything built in the last 20 years!) can be played by a machine... if you see what I mean.

 

The device that sends the notes to the organ down the MIDI cable is called a "sequencer". You can either have a hardware sequencer (a little black box that you plug in), or a software sequencer (a program that runs on a PC/Mac, like this one). I suspect there are probably digital organs with built-in ones, too, but the presence or absence of a built-in sequencer shouldn't dictate the choice of instrument.

 

I agree with Denis that this approach should be avoided wherever possible. On the rare occasion where it may be used, though, I'd strongly advocate that the real organist records the hymns into the sequencer for replay later, rather than just using an off-the-shelf collection of "MIDI files". The latter will not be at the speed or registrations that the congregation is used to.

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I hope no one replies in a positive sense to this request. Many organists lose out financially through the advent of electronic "aids" to worship.

It is surely putting another nail in the coffin of the organ and its music if the CD player is allowed a place in churches in place of a real organ and a real organist. Incidentally, I saw a posting on an American forum relating the tale of a priest who had such a horrible machine in his church. During the celebration of Mass (Tridentine?) he had placed the remote control in his pocket and every time he struck his breast at the words" mea culpa,mea culpa,mea maxima culpa",he set off the device . Unfortunately he did not know how to use the control and the machine ground out several verses of each preset hymn every time he inadvertently activated the thing. Serve him right.

 

Hi Dennis

 

What about those many churches that cannot afford to pay an organist - and/or have no tradition of paying musicians?

 

Sometimes we need to be pragmatic. Live music is always the best option - and even a perhaps less-skilled player (as long as there is a reasonable level of competance) is always going to be better than a machine, no matter how cleverly programmed. But there are situatons where the choice is some form of "canned" backings or no music (Singing A Capella isn't an option for some congregations I know).

 

In the longer term, perhaps the church should be more proactive in paying for music lessons for suitable people - but again, it comes down to money.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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I hope no one replies in a positive sense to this request. Many organists lose out financially through the advent of electronic "aids" to worship.

It is surely putting another nail in the coffin of the organ and its music if the CD player is allowed a place in churches in place of a real organ and a real organist. Incidentally, I saw a posting on an American forum relating the tale of a priest who had such a horrible machine in his church. During the celebration of Mass (Tridentine?) he had placed the remote control in his pocket and every time he struck his breast at the words" mea culpa,mea culpa,mea maxima culpa",he set off the device . Unfortunately he did not know how to use the control and the machine ground out several verses of each preset hymn every time he inadvertently activated the thing. Serve him right.

 

Gosh! Let's be clear - this is a TINY church in a remote village. Where do we think these "many organists" come from who will lose out to the reluctant step this loyal and devoted - and very small - congregation has decided to pursue? Even if every church instrument in the country was a superb three or four-manual, there wouldn't be enough organists around to play them every Sunday. I fear they are simply facing the future - and the present!

Martin.

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I agree with Denis that this approach should be avoided wherever possible. On the rare occasion where it may be used, though, I'd strongly advocate that the real organist records the hymns into the sequencer for replay later, rather than just using an off-the-shelf collection of "MIDI files". The latter will not be at the speed or registrations that the congregation is used to.

I suppose one should not forget the historical precedent of barrel organs!

 

Paul

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Guest Barry Williams
I suppose one should not forget the historical precedent of barrel organs!

 

Paul

 

Whenever an instrument is rebuilt/restored with electric action in the Diocese for which I am responsible, I always insist that it has a midi 'through-put' sequncer so that it can be played mechanically, should the need arise. For the avoidance of all doubt, this includes pipe organs as well as synthetic instruments. Pipe organ builders are invariably far more co-operative in providing the apparatus. (It does not fit the 'standard' scheme of the artificial things.)

 

Barry Williams

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Even if every church instrument in the country was a superb three or four-manual, there wouldn't be enough organists around to play them every Sunday. I fear they are simply facing the future - and the present!

Martin.

 

Ah, but there are and there will. I can cast a glance round at the choir and congregation most Sundays and see seven or eight extremely competent organists and probably at least a dozen competent pianists on top of that. They're not out playing because they don't want to - the feel unsupported, got at, caught in the middle of church politics, being told by everyone that they're not doing it how Mr X used to do it, etc.

 

Some actively discourage people playing - one London church I know of relies mostly on CDs called 'No Organist - No Problem' because they won't let anybody in to practice unless they've paid a fee to do so.

 

I was delighted when my boss told me that there was a more or less 'open access' policy with my instrument - if someone wants to play it and there's nothing in the diary, then they can - there's at least half a dozen locals who pop in and use it and some from further afield. We're trying hard to encourage youngsters too - the voluntary after evensong next week will be played by one of my 13 year old pupils.

 

Is this pipe organ really 'hopeless'? (PM me - I'm intrigued!) How about rounding up some piano pupils and getting someone in to do an open day?

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Sometimes we need to be pragmatic. Live music is always the best option - and even a perhaps less-skilled player (as long as there is a reasonable level of competance) is always going to be better than a machine, no matter how cleverly programmed. But there are situations where the choice is some form of "canned" backings or no music (Singing A Capella isn't an option for some congregations I know).

How can they sing nursery rhymes to their children if they can't sing hymns a capella in church? What an indictment of contemporary society! Seriously, would the congregation that can't sing a capella actually sing any better with accompaniment or would the piano or organ just disguise the fact that the only people singing are the minister and the musician? There seems to be no reluctance to sing at Wembley or Twickenham, or even down my street half an hour after chucking-out time; why won't people sing in church?

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Guest Barry Williams

"Even if every church instrument in the country was a superb three or four-manual, there wouldn't be enough organists around to play them every Sunday."

 

I respectfully disagree. There are sufficient organists around. They simply do not find the current repertoire/circumstances of engagement acceptable and thus do not apply for the majority of posts. This is why certain 'plum' jobs attract a large number of well qualified applicants, irrespective of remuneration.

 

Barry Williams

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Guest Barry Williams
Now the cat's out of the bag!

 

Yes! I remember a Vicar in the 1970s, who whilst he could not afford to pay his organists more than an average salary, always had well-qualified and able musicians in the choir stalls and on the organ bench. The music at his churches was the envy of the local clergy Chapter. It was the Bishop was explained why it was so. He showed his appreciation, ensuring that everyone was thanked and gave them nice music to sing. He also refused to 'fiddle' with liturgy. Guess what? He had plenty of people in the congregation too.

 

Barry Williams

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Yes! I remember a Vicar in the 1970s, who whilst he could not afford to pay his organists more than an average salary, always had well-qualified and able musicians in the choir stalls and on the organ bench. The music at his churches was the envy of the local clergy Chapter. It was the Bishop was explained why it was so. He showed his appreciation, ensuring that everyone was thanked and gave them nice music to sing. He also refused to 'fiddle' with liturgy. Guess what? He had plenty of people in the congregation too.

 

Barry Williams

 

Surprisingly there are still a few places like this today thank goodness!

 

AJJ

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Guest spottedmetal
Whenever an instrument is rebuilt/restored with electric action in the Diocese for which I am responsible, I always insist that it has a midi 'through-put' sequncer so that it can be played mechanically, should the need arise. For the avoidance of all doubt, this includes pipe organs as well as synthetic instruments. Pipe organ builders are invariably far more co-operative in providing the apparatus. (It does not fit the 'standard' scheme of the artificial things.)

 

This pragmatism is far sighted and really admirable! The midi-electronics are not that expensive and really add great versatility. The problem is often one of incomplete control with respect to registration and swell pedal, but even if these are lacking, presumably they would not be beyond the skill of whoever stops and starts the sequencer?

 

It's also good because the midi output is helpful in adding versatility to the instrument, as demonstrated by

http://www.streetandwalton.co.uk/church/mu...hurch_organ.php

- an approach that is fine provided it is understood for what it is.

 

Best wishes

 

Spot

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I know of an organ in Guildford that had the MIDI fitted and the organ was left playing scales for 24 hours to really run the instrument in after it had had some work done to it.

 

I remember one of the organs at the old Addington Palace had some sort of MIDI sequencer fitted, and as a 15 year old spent (back in the 80s) a morning trying to master a particularly difficult piece of Bach, recording it, then adding the pedals live.

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Guest Barry Williams
This pragmatism is far sighted and really admirable! The midi-electronics are not that expensive and really add great versatility. The problem is often one of incomplete control with respect to registration and swell pedal, but even if these are lacking, presumably they would not be beyond the skill of whoever stops and starts the sequencer?

 

It's also good because the midi output is helpful in adding versatility to the instrument, as demonstrated by

http://www.streetandwalton.co.uk/church/mu...hurch_organ.php

- an approach that is fine provided it is understood for what it is.

 

Best wishes

 

Spot

 

Thank you. I also insist on 'Pedal Auto Basses' (melodic bass couplers) to help pianists that have to play in emergencies. The pundits are critical. One does have to use the couplers! (Peter Collins fitted them to Quainton - an extension organ he built recently.)

 

I remember using the play back facility on the Chester Organ at Addington Palace to play the Wesley duet with myself. It was a nasty shock to realise that one's playing could be that unsteady!

 

 

Barry Williams

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Guest spottedmetal
Thank you. I also insist on 'Pedal Auto Basses' (melodic bass couplers) to help pianists that have to play in emergencies. The pundits are critical. One does have to use the couplers!

Hi!

 

Yes - those Auto Bass Pedal facilities can be useful for inexperienced hymn players and are often fitted to toasters. However one caused fun today when we wondered why a 32ft was being coupled through to the Great - we had four extra MIDI boxes connected up and couldn't see where the coupling had been brought in . . . my youngest son had been helpful in ensuring that all the main console stops had been pulled out!

 

In expectation of doing the Poulenc concerto I have been tempted to disconnect the Auto Pedal and use the stophead for an extra MIDI output to go to synthesizer to put Timpani on pedals :-) Of course the synth can do other things so had contemplated the tounge in cheek stop label to be

Timp &

Tricks . . .

 

Thinking of that, one of the MIDI boxes has had the French Horn stop replaced by a Salizional which really goes well with the Viola and Viola Celeste. Never having played an instrument with a French Horn stop, but with at least one piece of repertoire calling for it, what's the best synthesis of other stops can one use? Flute, Cor Anglais, Vox Humana?

 

Best wishes

 

Spot

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Hello organist colleagues. This is the first time I have been in on this site. So far, all I have read is this section regarding digital organs and gizmos. 20 years ago, I moved from England where I had two historic organs in my care and went to Denmark to become a full time organist. There is no point in trying to compare the two lands, in Denmark, the Church is maintained by a Church tax, a sytem that would be impossible in todays climate to start in the UK. This means that we have, on the whole, good, well maintained organs, well over 95% of these have modern, light mechanical action which makes playing a pleasure. There has been a lot of discussion regarding digital organs in this country and in general, we are very much against them. Having said that, I know of a Church that has a fine Marcussen organ less than 10 years old. That organ is never in tune and that is in no way the fault of the organ builder, the Church remains unheated all week, the sexton turns the heating on at full blast just a couple of hours before the service and the poor organ stands no chance at all. There is often condensation on the keys as well. Would this Church benefit from a digital organ?

As for cd's and digital aids to play the organ for hymns ----- well, I despair. I have always believed that the most important equipment an organist has is his/her ears. Sensitive accompaniment cannot be recorded --- no way. Who can accurately predict just how much organ is needed to accompany? The organs job, in my humble opinion, is to provide an adequate platform for singing and to underline the text. If the attention is drawn to the organ and away from the hymn, the poor organist has overdone it. How on earth can anyone program this into and electronic gizmo?

 

My best wishes to all.

 

James Lally

organist in Ebeltoft, Denmark

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