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Digital Futures....?

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I agree but when choir and organ both seem to be in terminal decline it all seems a bit sad! A digital piano pretending to be an organ with the real thing still functioning well yet unused in another part of the building is even more worrying.

 

AJJ

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Thankfully, the organist of the next parish church up the road (St Cross) has kindly let me practice there when I want so I can remind myself every now and again what it is like to play a real organ.

 

 

Now there's an organ and a building!! I did my PGCE in Winchester and remember St Cross well!!

 

AJJ

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Guest Lee Blick
I agree but when choir and organ both seem to be in terminal decline it all seems a bit sad! A digital piano pretending to be an organ with the real thing still functioning well yet unused in another part of the building is even more worrying

 

Yes it is all very well complaining that digital pianos are replacing pipe organs but this country is not doing enough to provide organists for the future. Until there is an organised and effective strategy to increase organists in our parish churches then the decline will continue.

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Yes it is all very well complaining that digital pianos are replacing pipe organs but this country is not doing enough to provide organists for the future.  Until there is an organised and effective strategy to increase organists in our parish churches then the decline will continue.
And without the right quality of infrastructure (music, organs) any hopes of a turnaround are a non-starter.

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Thankfully, the organist of the next parish church up the road (St Cross) has kindly let me practice there when I want so I can remind myself every now and again what it is like to play a real organ.

 

St. Cross is just lovely, both the building and the organ! BTW if you want a totally different practice experience, you're welcome to use ours anytime...

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Many years ago, I and a colleague delivered a small (2 stop) chamber Organ to a college just outside Norwich, as part of an exhibition of small Organs. Compton had a large electronic instrument there, and their rep let me have a go. It sounded quite impressive, but when I had finished a member of the music staff asked me to play a few notes on the choir Gedacht. He then played the same few notes on our little chamber job - no contest.

Mention has been made of the limitations of loudspeakers. This Compton had around twenty loudspeakers, some the size of a wardrobe, arranged on the gallery at the back of the chapel. Outside the chapel was a cabinet full of electronic 'gubbins', including some pretty impressive amplifiers. But even then, a small (tiny!) pipe Organ sounded better. I am not sure why, but at least part of it may be the way in which pipes produce sound. Each pipe does one job - sounds like a flute, middle C - whatever. A loudspeaker has to produce the sound of many different stops, many different pitches, and in trying to be a jack of all trades is a master of none.

There is also matter that, as I understand it, loudspeakers work differently to pipes. Pipes move a lot of air a little way, loudspeakers tend to move a little air a long way, especially if you compare 16' basses and big 'speakers. It is certainly true, to my ears at least, that 'speakers (horn loaded for example) which do move a lot of air gently sound more 'relaxed' than normal units that use a lot of power to squeeze a lot of sound out a loudspeaker, and I wonder if this is what is giving your correspondent a headache.

 

Regards to all

 

John

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If I can just justify what I mean about not being organist of a church with an electronic: Having an electronic is symptomatic of a church that does not rate musical excellent as high on the list of priorities or ambitions. Yes, you might get an excellent choir and an electronic organ - Sheffield Cathedral is a good example - but those places are probably looking at a long-term future with a pipe organ, so there is hope. And I would make special allowances if the choir was excellent but the organ not much cop.

 

re. comments about speakers. One of the best electronics I've come across in a church is an analogue Copeman Hart. There are 2 huge speakers the size of a wardrobe and lots of other smaller speakers round the chancel. It works very well and sounds a good deal better than some digital (especially bradford systems, I have to say) organs. I think it has to do with set up, amplification and good quality speakers.

 

But I'm very happy to stick with St. Cross for now, thank you very much... although I might take ajt up every now and again...

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Hi

 

Hymn accompaniment CD's are already available, and have been for some time.  Mayhew's market one set - the one example I heard had a rather poor electronic on it - and there's others available, one of our local Anglican churches uses them (and that sounded like real pipes - given the limitations of any sound system).

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

Yes - I know! But I do not think that there is yet a version for commonly-sung anthems!

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Its interesting to see the different priorities some of us have in deciding which church posts appeal. Although I'd love to have a top-notch pipe organ at my disposal I'm actually far more interested in the quality and scope of the choir. I'd be very frustrated in a church with no choir or a choir with no ability or ambition, but am happy to tolerate a lesser organ for the opportunity to work with a good choir.

 

Well - it is your choice!

 

Personally, I would certainly find this a difficult decision - I am very much interested in accompanying a really good choir - I was really rather proud of our lot on Sunday last - they sang extremely well. However, I could not live with an electronic substitute (save for temporarily, during a rebuild). I love my organ and would find it impossible to live with any electronic - which would, regardless of manufacture, be totally inferior in every way, in my opinion!

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Many years ago, I and a colleague delivered a small (2 stop) chamber Organ to a college just outside Norwich, as part of an exhibition of small Organs. Compton had a large electronic instrument there, and their rep let me have a go. It sounded quite impressive, but when I had finished a member of the music staff asked me to play a few notes on the choir Gedacht. He then played the same few notes on our little chamber job - no contest.

Mention has been made of the limitations of loudspeakers. This Compton had around twenty loudspeakers, some the size of a wardrobe, arranged on the gallery at the back of the chapel. Outside the chapel was a cabinet full of electronic 'gubbins', including some pretty impressive amplifiers. But even then, a small (tiny!) pipe Organ sounded better. I am not sure why, but at least part of it may be the way in which pipes produce sound. Each pipe does one job - sounds like a flute, middle C - whatever. A loudspeaker has to produce the sound of many different stops, many different pitches, and in trying to be a jack of all trades is a master of none.

There is also matter that, as I understand it, loudspeakers work differently to pipes. Pipes move a lot of air a little way, loudspeakers tend to move a little air a long way, especially if you compare 16' basses and big 'speakers. It is certainly true, to my ears at least, that 'speakers (horn loaded for example) which do move a lot of air gently sound more 'relaxed' than normal units that  use a lot of power to squeeze a lot of sound out a loudspeaker, and I wonder if this is what is giving your correspondent a headache.

 

Regards to all

 

John

Yes, this was a very similar experience to the one I had. Unfortunately, it was in the showroom of a well-known eletronic manufacturer who was trying to sell me a toaster. It was just a Renatus box organ - but the difference between the pipes and the speakers was enormous.

 

To give the salesman credit, he did acknowledge the difference and took such pride in the organ with real pipes, I warmed to him a lot and eventually bought an organ from him, which I've been very pleased with.

 

However, the week before I had been in a showroom where there was a Yamaha Grand in the corner. The salesman was giving the pitch that "eletronics are just as good as pipes and they've got so many advantages" and was really quite condescending that he actually quite annoyed me. Five minutes on the piano convinced me I would gladly pay £7k for the grand piano but wouldn't consider £4k on an electronic organ.

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Well - it is your choice!

 

However, I could not live with an electronic substitute (save for temporarily, during a rebuild). I love my organ and would find it impossible to live with any electronic - which would, regardless of manufacture, be totally inferior in every way, in my opinion!

Yes, this has been my experience. I have been living with an electronic while our organ is out for a rebuild. I'm finding the electronic is hard work, I'm losing interest (i.e. stops - I pull out what is about right but can't be bothered to spend ages finding a nice sound or even setting up pistons because nice sounds just don't exist on it) and I really can't wait for the pipe organ to return.

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Does the toaster give you a headache when you play for moderately extended periods, Colin?

 

The temporary Rodgers at Goucester was notably bad, in this respect.

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Yes - I know! But I do not think that there is yet a version for commonly-sung anthems!

 

 

Presumably that is commonly sung anthems at the places where these are still sung! In no sense am I hostile to the singing of anthems but I have never heard one sung in the church I attend now. Of course I accept that quality and quantity are not the same thing even if the spelling looks similar but it is my clear impression that anthems are now sung in only a relatively small (and constantly diminishing) number of places of worship. Even where the practice is still observed it seems that the frequency of use has diminished, so that what was a regular occurence is now confined to special occasions. The number of places where you get an anthem every Sunday is surely only a tiny percentage of Anglican churches and even smaller percentage when you count all places of worship.

 

If this impression is right (and I would quite like it to be wrong but I do not believe it is) then the demands of anthem accompaniment are at the tail rather than the dog end and will thus be that which is being moved rather than that which is doing the moving - in other words their influence on what is going on is going to be fairly insignificant.

 

BAC

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I also work in the technology sector. I could speak for hours but in a nutshell all I would say is that the improvement predictions pundits predict of improvements technology never materialise to the quality they predict in the timescales they mention.

 

We are now in a phase of evolution of digital and speaker technology and I do not believe we are going to see the massive improvements in quality of sound we have seen over the past 20 years with the advent of digital technology. There's nothing on the cutting edge of sound reproduction I know of that is going to come to the leading edge over the next 10 years. And having heard a eletronically reproduced flute and a real flute in the same room against each other, there's still a gulf to overcome.

 

I am inclined to think that this may well be correct ,however, the original question simply asked if it was forseeable that digital technology could advance to the stage where it posed a real threat. Since to be forseeable something has only to be a mere possibility rather than a likelihood or a probability, the only realistic answer to the first limb of the question is yes. The significant issues all relate to the second limb.

 

I would not be a participant in this forum if I were not an enthusiast for the pipe organ and I find myself agreeing with many of the views expressed here. However, it would be unwise to ignore the distinct possibility that the majority opinion here is not necessarily the majority opinion of the wider worshipping community. A number of points can be made

 

(1) In a world where accountants rule the earth little (if anything) has value which does not contribute to the bottom line. The superior quality of a genuine pipe organ does not stack up against an electronic machine that does an acceptable job at a fraction of the cost.

 

(2) The durability of electronics as against pipes is obviously a consideration, though it has already been pointed out that a decent electronic instrument might well be expected to last for the same length of time as the interval between major work on a pipe organ, at least judging by what has happened to a number of Cathedral organs, including one we are not allowed to mention. However, the replacement of a defunct electronic is likely to be lot quicker and a lot less disruptive than the replacement of a defunct pipe organ. Moreover, it is not inconceivable that a craft of electronic organ maintainers could grow up using considerable technical wizardry to extend the life of the electronic instruments in the same way that organ builders keep pipe organs going. Another niche market for all those budding entrepreneurs!

 

(3) The standard of musical ability and taste generally displayed by members on this board (excluding myself) appears extremely high. It is far from clear that this is the standard which would be accepted as appropriate everywhere. Indeed it appears that some of the more successful approaches to attracting worshippers in the modern world (and you need them, because you need their money) are ones which either have little regard for the contribution of music to worship and/or favour a type of music which certainly does not require an organ for its performance.

 

(4) In terms of concert instruments , the organ recital, even when given free of charge, attracts tiny audiences with the exception of a few players. Therefore, the willingness of municipal authorities to provide the necessary funds to keep our concert organs in decent condition should not be taken for granted, especially if there is a squeeze on local authority revenues. The experience of the RFH organ surely demonstrates that even an instrument of exceptional historical importance is not guaranteed a secure future.

 

At the end of the day the really significant question is not so much whether the digital organ has progressed to a stage where it cannot be distinguished from the pipe organ (Anyone remember Howard Goodall's TV Programme on the Organ and the experiment he conducted in the Alexandra Palace ?) but whether it has reached a stage where all the cost/benefit calculations work out in its favour.

 

Brian Childs

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Guest Lee Blick
And without the right quality of infrastructure (music, organs) any hopes of a turnaround are a non-starter.

 

Well then it is a hopeless cause. We will see a terminal decline of traditional music in our churches.

 

But I would rather see a strategy for revival and it has to come from somewhere, a concerted effort by church and organ organisations. But somehow I don't think that will ever happen because not enough people really care.

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Yes - I know! But I do not think that there is yet a version for commonly-sung anthems!

 

Hi

 

Given the decline in church choirs and the vast potential repertoire I doubt if there's a viable market.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Hi

 

Given the decline in church choirs and the vast potential repertoire I doubt if there's a viable market.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

Unfortunately I fear that you are probably correct.

 

In my view, there has also been a decline in good taste.... This extends to things such as television programmes and many other spheres of life. There is a certain sense of 'dumbing-down' in a number of areas.

 

However, the news is not all bad - the boys' school at which I teach sells excellent home-made sticky buns at break-times....

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In my view, there has also been a decline in good taste.... This extends to things such as television programmes and many other spheres of life. There is a certain sense of 'dumbing-down' in a number of areas.
I'm very much inclined to see dumbing down as an inevitable product of our soundbite culture. People want and expect instant gratification. They have no concept of the deeper satisfaction obtainable from the more profound utterances in whatever medium because they have not been taught to put in the necessary time and effort to gain the required understanding - and consequently they don't see any point in doing so. There is no appreciation of technique, only of effect. Thus The Sun has a greater circulation than The Times, people cut cows in half instead of painting haywains - and people prefer worship songs to anthems. Perhaps some of these people might think twice if they stopped to draw the obvious sexual parallel.

 

I find the current low regard for the high arts deeply depressing. I retain a slight, but possibly naive, faith that these things go in cycles and that some day we may see a different attitude come into fashion. If and when that happens, I hope that there is something left for them to appreciate.

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... I retain a slight, but possibly naive, faith that these things go in cycles and that some day we may see a different attitude come into fashion. If and when that happens, I hope that there is something left for them to appreciate.

 

Well, just so long as flared trousers do not become de rigeur again....

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At the end of the day, though, it is hard to criticise churches for taking the short-term view of opting for a digital organ; after all, how many churches have a long term future with declining congregations? I only really know the Church of Scotland situation, but I suspect it is similar elsewhere. In my immediate area, for example there are 3 churches very close together, with my own holding a congregation of about 80 (average age 75!) each week. It makes far more sense economically to merge the 3, and this may well happen. Thankfully our modest, but actually quite nice, organ works well despite various problems over the years, but if it were to suffer major problems the money would not be made available for a major repair. I can understand this, although it would be a great pity. There has to be a greater effort to promote the organ as a musical instrument outside of the church setting. Although in my city (Glasgow) the 2 major concert venues (one built about 20 - 25 years ago and the other recently extensively renovated) do not hold pipe organs, which is a travesty, and you have to witness the ridiculous spectacle of an electronic organ being hired when those works requiring an organ are performed. To me this a worse situation than churches opting for digital instruments.

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Guest Lee Blick

I agree Dulcianna.

 

That is why I believe the home organ market is important to encourage more people to take up thbe instrument. The digital manfacturers are doing will that respect. It is time for for pipe organ builders to realise that fact. But I see very few of them if any interested or willing to develop that area. There is no reason why classical organ playing should not follow a similar path as theatre organ/keyboard players, I mean not by playing their music but building a community style culture where players and their admirers can meet outside of the church arena to play and appreciate classical organ music together.

 

By the sounds of it there would not be many takers here as those in their 'ivory towers' have no need to have much to do with the ordinary parish organist and an organisation such as the RCO doesn't have enough clout to start something like this. It has to come from outside the church because in main people are not interested in the traditional churches anymore.

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...By the sounds of it there would not be many takers here as those in their 'ivory towers' have no need to have much to do with the ordinary parish organist and an organisation such as the RCO doesn't have enough clout to start something like this..

 

Well, speaking personally, the only ivory I can see around here is that of the three claviers and the sixty-eight draw-stop heads on my own church instrument.

 

I regularly teach a few 'ordinary parish organists' - I am doing what I can to encourage and guide them. In turn, the pupil gives of his or her talents in a local church, thus completing the circle, if you will.

 

Incidentally, each possesses a two-clavier electronic substitute organ - of uniformly unpleasant tonality - but, at least they are able to practise at home whenever they wish.

 

The instruments in the churches are, in fact, pipe organs - one of them particularly good, but in need of a thorough restoration.

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Well, just so long as flared trousers do not become de rigeur again....

Well, they were de rigeur again quite recently.... and girl's fashions were quite 1960s again quite recently - they now seem to be a bit more extreme. I don't mind one bit but they must get very cold bearing all that mid-riff in the depths of winter.

 

Back on the subject of electric verses pipes and house organs - it's worth bearing in mind many organ builders now make small 2 manual and pedal organs of about 5 or so stops. Usually, these end up in the £25-£35k bracket - so what you would expect to pay for a new 5'6'' to 6'6'' Grand piano by a reputable maker. And they are very much the equal of a good grand. I guess, given a few years there will be second hand ones about, roughly in line with 2nd hand grand piano prices...

 

For those of us, who don't have pockets or space for these, then, just like clavinovas, there are your Wyvens and Viscounts at a fraction the cost... I see quite a lot of parrallels between the house organ market and the piano market.

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