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Digital Futures....?


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What about the pipe organ builders who also produce hybrids or stand-alone digital organs.

Can you name some please? I'm really stuggling here.

 

I have always believed, a decent bespoke digital organ is always to be preferred to a clapped-out pipe instrument...

The use of the word "believed" is interesting here. I sense some subjectivity here - what one person might called "clapped out" another person might call "worthy of restoration"...

 

Sometimes electronic substitute organs may be the best option: some churches don't have a suitable place for a pipe organ to go. It is replacing pipe organs with electronic substitute organs on overriding grounds of cost by uninformed people that rises my ire.

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I do not agree with an extended discussion of electronic instruments in a pipe organ forum hosted by Mander Organs, so I shall refrain from further comment on this thread. This Board is about organs i.e. pipe organs and closely related matters.

 

I agree with Mr Carter's comments that it is not a matter for this Board and I hope that this will be the end of the matter.

 

I can understand Barry's point of view and sympathize with it somewhat. I certainly wouldn't want to feel that we have in any way caused embarrassment to our generous hosts by discussing electronic organs.

 

Actually, I must confess to feeling some discomfort towards the feelings of those at Manders when I read of the publicity being given to a recently completed organ in Oxford, and another new organ which is being erected in the unmentionable city, fascinating though these threads are. I think these threads are potentially more discourteous to our hosts (in that we are giving "free" publicity to other organ builders) than discussing - mostly - the pitfalls of electronic instruments.

 

However, electronic organs exist and are a fact of life. I guess that at least 50% (and probably much higher, actually) of those who post on this board and who are organists own an electronic organ for home practise, and very useful these instruments are too. I actually find mine to be a very pleasant and musical instrument in its own right; indeed, far superior to a number of second and third-rate pipe organs I have played. Of course a fine pipe organ is almost undoubtedly the correct instrument for churches which can afford them. But electronics do have their place where a pipe instrument is unsuitable or unaffordable - chiefly for home practise.

 

I doubt that many places which would be looking to have a new organ built, or an existing instrument rebuilt by our hosts would be the sort of places to consider an electronic substitute anyhow.

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All of these comments relate directly to (and prove) the utter, complete and total inadequacies of the electronic industry to use their technology correctly, let alone adequately. The people who install the machines have no knowledge of what their systems can achieve. With very few exceptions indeed they lack the basic knowledge of acoustics that has been around since the nineteen thirties. None of them has pipe organ training in voicing and it shows, horrendously.

What a sweeping statement. I believe the voicer that voiced our Wyvern organ in St. Mary's Charlton Kings works as a voicer of both digital and pipe instruments.

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Guest Barry Oakley
Can you name some please? I'm really stuggling here.

The use of the word "believed" is interesting here. I sense some subjectivity here - what one person might called "clapped out" another person might call "worthy of restoration"...

 

Sometimes electronic substitute organs may be the best option: some churches don't have a suitable place for a pipe organ to go. It is replacing pipe organs with electronic substitute organs on overriding grounds of cost by uninformed people that rises my ire.

 

Pardon my ignorance, but what does a small parish church with an equally small and declining congregation and with only a couple of thousand pounds in the bank do when it will cost £30K to restore it’s fast failing (perhaps failed) pipe organ? Oh, and I can assure you there is no morsal of subjectivity in either my earlier or this comment.

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I can't understand why any of the recent discussions should be an embarrassment to our hosts.

 

There might be an issue if it was argued that electronic organs are both cheaper AND superior to pipe organs. If this was generally accepted it would damage the pipe organ business, but so far I have not read of anyone on this board arguing that this is true.

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Guest Barry Oakley
I can't understand why any of the recent discussions should be an embarrassment to our hosts.

 

There might be an issue if it was argued that electronic organs are both cheaper AND superior to pipe organs. If this was generally accepted it would damage the pipe organ business, but so far I have not read of anyone on this board arguing that this is true.

 

 

I agree with you David. And I'm sure John Mander and his team have no worries about digital competition. The excellent qualities of their pipe instruments is the bedrock on which they continue to build their business.

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Pardon my ignorance, but what does a small parish church with an equally small and declining congregation and with only a couple of thousand pounds in the bank do when it will cost £30K to restore it's fast failing (perhaps failed) pipe organ? Oh, and I can assure you there is no morsel of subjectivity in either my earlier or this comment.

Very simple:

  • Launch a fundraising appeal. I know of one very small country parish church that's just launched an appeal for £70k to re-do their wainscot paneling. It can be done.
  • Do what it can to shore up the organ it's got until more prosperous times arrive. For example, they could just do the bare minimum to keep the organ struggling on (i.e. a lot less than £30k). It's possible to keep a pipe organ struggling on for a long time on very little money without an overhaul.

A good quality electronic simulation is going to cost 20-30k by the time there's a small 2 manual motorised drawstop console, a suitable speaker system and professional installation - this is very much the same cost as overhauling a small parish church organ. I can't think of many DACs which would allow anything less to be installed in one of their churches.

 

If the church is really lacking enough energy to launch a fundraising appeal, has a dwindling congregation and no money, I'd worry far more about the prospects for the church, let alone their organ...

 

I suspect you may have misinterpreted my comment about subjectivity - I was just commenting that what one person might consider "clapped out" may not be another person's judgment - I've seen this numerous times.

 

I suspect that the real problem with churches with struggling pipe organs is people titivating the church that something must be done about the organ, even if there's no money (or knowledge or confidence) to do something worthwhile. The electronic simulation option always appears to be the quick and easy option, so tempting to the committee making the decision at the outset, but in practice the pipe organ can keep going on for a lot longer than most people think.

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I can't think of many DACs which would allow anything less to be installed in one of their churches.

 

I think you must be fortunate with the DACs which you've come across. Certainly, I've seen far worse than you've described installed in some churches. And I've come across the odd case of purism where a pipe organ hasn't been allowed reasonable updating and modernizing for dubious "historic" reasons.

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I think you must be fortunate with the DACs which you've come across. Certainly, I've seen far worse than you've described installed in some churches. And I've come across the odd case of purism where a pipe organ hasn't been allowed reasonable updating and modernizing for dubious "historic" reasons.

 

Yes! So have I, even with DACs that are quite switched on! But it doesn't mean that the poor installations were done with the DAC's agreement or knowledge...

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Yes! So have I, even with DACs that are quite switched on! But it doesn't mean that the poor installations were done with the DAC's agreement or knowledge...

 

True! But, in my experience, the DACs are unfortunately often more concerned about the alteration to, or the removal of what's presently in the church, rather than what is likely to be installed.

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Can you name some please? I'm really stuggling here.

 

 

 

 

The use of the word "believed" is interesting here. I sense some subjectivity here - what one person might called "clapped out" another person might call "worthy of restoration"...

 

Sometimes electronic substitute organs may be the best option: some churches don't have a suitable place for a pipe organ to go. It is replacing pipe organs with electronic substitute organs on overriding grounds of cost by uninformed people that rises my ire.

 

I think that Rogers started to produce hybrid instruments in the 1970's

 

It might raise your ire, but try telling that to the young mother whose baby has just crapped itself in church because there are no toilets or changing facilities within the building. A pipe organ V Digital debate is just not going to cut it with her, me thinks.

 

When it comes to a new roof/heating system/toilet facilities etc.etc, a digital organ is going to win every time. Sad, but true.

In Scotland, 3-4 pipe organs are being replaced by digitals every month.

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I think that Rogers started to produce hybrid instruments in the 1970's

 

It might raise your ire, but try telling that to the young mother whose baby has just crapped itself in church because there are no toilets or changing facilities within the building. A pipe organ V Digital debate is just not going to cut it with her, me thinks.

 

When it comes to a new roof/heating system/toilet facilities etc.etc, a digital organ is going to win every time. Sad, but true.

In Scotland, 3-4 pipe organs are being replaced by digitals every month.

I know, I've been in these situations before.

 

And what a lovely new H&H pipe organ we now have as a result!

 

Colin :)

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I know, I've been in these situations before.

 

And what a lovely new H&H pipe organ we now have as a result!

 

Colin :unsure:

 

The fame of which has gone out all over the land! :)

 

Colin, I should very much like to come and see it. Regularly play in Winch. on Sundays.

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The fame of which has gone out all over the land! :rolleyes:

 

Colin, I should very much like to come and see it. Regularly play in Winch. on Sundays.

That would be fine. PM me and we'll set something up.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Having "lurked" on this highly informative forum for some time now, I've finally decided to take the plunge and post! Please treat me gently, for my subject is somewhat contentious.....

 

I should perhaps first explain that although I'm somewhat "out of the loop" as an organist these days, not having held a post for the last twelve years or so, I have in the past had the privilege of playing many fine instruments in this country, particulrly in my university days when "visiting choir" duties allowed me to accompany services at several cathedrals. These day much of my work involves using computer technolgy to produce music, orchestral arrangements, scores etc.

 

Everyone who posts here is obviously a lover of the organ, as I am myself, so please be assured that I'm not trying to start some sort of "pipe v digital" argument here, since that would be shot down in flames very rapidly, and deservedly so. However, as technology advances, I think we would be foolish to argue that digital organs not only HAVE improved vastly, but will continue to do so.

There are certainly issues with regard to harmonic development as touched on by Mr. Mander in the thread on Southwell Minster, but given the accuracy of current digital sampling, I'm inclined to think that the main problems are in reproducing the sound to the listener, i.e. loudspeaker systems.

 

My question, therefore, is -

 

a) can we forsee a point where a point where digital technology faithfully reproduces the sound of pipes, and

b)if a) is is achievable in theory, what are the implications for traditional organbuilding given that electronics will become cheaper as the cost of craftsmanship and materials rises?

 

I hope this won't just produce a lot of sniping from entrenched positions - I see this as the biggest threat to the organ as we currently know ( and love ) it.

 

Thoughts.......?

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I think loudspeakers are the weakest link in the chain. There is no way loudspeakers will move the amount of air like a 32' open wood at large volumes. When digital organs have been used at the Royal Albert Hall, they always fail to impress on low pedal notes. It just does not happen. And it cant happen. Loudspeaker cones and their suspension just cant handle the punishment at high sound levels at 16hz. to try and make it sound like the real thing.

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Dear Neil,

Thanks for your sympathetic remarks! However, you need not have spared my blushes on this one. I went to Upton for the choir (a keen, friendly bunch) not for the organ* which cannot ever have been much good. As it stands at the moment, it is virtually inaudible from the body of the church and (even if you can hear it) it behaves pretty poorly too.

 

In my two years as Titulaire, I never set foot inside it - I could see that if one were ever to start trying to improve things (such as finding replacement pipes for missing notes) one could get horribly bogged down. It is the first electropneumatic action job I've ever played where the organ sounds just like a heavy tracker viz. the more stops you draw the less in tune it is - almost as if everything starves.

 

*This is a small old 3-manual Nicholson rebuilt by the present Nicholson firm a while ago. It's on NPOR, but I wouldn't recommend anyone to look it up. The best bit is the early 19th century case which is more-or-less in 18th century English style. Even this has seen much better days.

 

The Upton organ, however good or bad it may be (and it's bad!), is in the worst place possible. The Swell strings are nice though.

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Guest Cynic
The Upton organ, however good or bad it may be (and it's bad!), is in the worst place possible. The Swell strings are nice though.

 

 

You must be easily pleased!

Either that or Trevor has managed to improve things on a tuning visit.

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You must be easily pleased!

Either that or Trevor has managed to improve things on a tuning visit.

 

Possibly. Perhaps I was thinking relatively against the rest of it. It's certainly an unrewarding thing to play and I can never get comfortable at the console.

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I am ready to be proved wrong so I issue this challenge: How many of our readers are still organist (at church) of an organ-substitute and have been more than five years in the same post? I don't think we'll get more than ten replies.

In response to recent posts on this subject I have re-read, with interest, our previous discussions. Whether I achieve the 5-year milestone remains to be seen (its 4 and counting), but if I do move on it will be as a result of frustrations with the choir and nothing to do with the organ. I have the good fortune to have access to many of the "great" organs in the midlands and south west of England. In the last year or so I have played at Truro, Gloucester, Bath, Bristol, St. Mary Redcliffe, Exeter, Salisbury, Hereford, Tewkesbury, Wells, Worcester (before and after demolition), Romsey, Sherborne, Birmingham, Malvern and elsewhere. I don't think I have ever come back to my own church (with its Wyvern digital organ) and felt hard done by.

 

My church choir have in the last few years sung services at Hereford, Birmingham, Worcester, Llandaff and Exeter. On each occasion I have noticed afterwards the degree to which they are inspired by, and respond to, the quality and excitement of our Wyvern organ to a far greater degree than they respond to the more famous instrument in other surroundings.

 

I remain a passionate supporter of the pipe organ, but believe we should all accept that there are a lot of very poor instuments out there that are simply not worth saving.

 

What price art? How many millions of pounds will it take for Worcester to complete their ambitious proposals? What is the final price that Cirencester are prepared to pay for their ludicrously grandiose scheme to improve an admittedly horrible instrument? Does there not come a point at which even the enthusiast should look at the wider picture to ask whether this is money well spent and, above all, can it be morally justified?

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I think loudspeakers are the weakest link in the chain. There is no way loudspeakers will move the amount of air like a 32' open wood at large volumes. When digital organs have been used at the Royal Albert Hall, they always fail to impress on low pedal notes. It just does not happen. And it cant happen. Loudspeaker cones and their suspension just cant handle the punishment at high sound levels at 16hz. to try and make it sound like the real thing.

 

 

===============================

 

 

I recall being dragged kicking and screaming into a disco ("Buddies" I think it was called) in Boston, Mass., USA, to savour the local scene.

 

They had huge, oil-cooled bass speakers mounted on the wooden dance-floor, with all the rest of the speakers mounted above head-height. The place was quite enormous for a disco, and when those bass speakers kicked in......they kicked in with a vengeance.

 

They not only moved air, they sent low-frequency shock-waves through my entire body, and I can only ever recall Wurlitzer cinema-organ diaphones doing anything similar. It must have been very psychologically damaging and disorientating, because the next day, I found myself waking up in downtown Boston rather than Harvard. (That was my excuse anyway! :o )

 

I suspect that with big, powerful speakers, it is not so much the case of what is possible, but rather what is affordable.

 

MM

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Guest Cynic
snip

 

What price art? How many millions of pounds will it take for Worcester to complete their ambitious proposals? What is the final price that Cirencester are prepared to pay for their ludicrously grandiose scheme to improve an admittedly horrible instrument? Does there not come a point at which even the enthusiast should look at the wider picture to ask whether this is money well spent and, above all, can it be morally justified?

 

 

I have a great deal of sympathy with this view. Some of the figures put on recent schemes have alarmed me on several levels.

I think of such figures as that mentioned at St.Mary Redcliffe (an organ which I much admire). I haven't got the exact figures with me now, but I remember it being well over £200k for a clean and overhaul - not a single new pipe, with the adviser being paid (allegedly) approximately the price of a flat in Bristol for his work.

 

 

My concerns

1. How can even the most illustrious firms justify this level of charge? New switching is cheaper and quicker to install than it has ever been. With careful handling of pipework, only a tiny amount of revoicing, rebalancing should be necessary in a historic organ.

2. How can the church consider that a clean and overhaul ought to cost anything like this? They only have to see what was charged by the same firm a matter of twenty or thirty years ago, even with inflation, this overhaul is as expensive as a full-blown rebuild.

3. The message it sends to other churches with lesser resources and fewer visitors.

'if you want to do anything at all with a pipe organ, the work will be extremely expensive.'

and almost...'and we'll think of a number and put it at the bottom of the last page!'.

4. It makes a moral issue out of the task of simply preserving something valuable from an earlier age. How can one justify paying that amazingly high sum in a world with so many hardships and difficulties when the instrument will sound (virtually) identical afterwards?

 

Now most ailing organs only need a good clean and a patch, but this work just doesn't get done. A high-flying professional adviser will recommend a number of companies (probably all of them well-known) who will all include the cost of taking most of the instrument back to the works in their budget. Does this need to happen? No, it's just much easier for the workmen. A job that ought to take two weeks of intensive work on site - pay two trained men £200 per day and allow £200 for a few basics, 14 days B&B, a sheet of sheepskin, some glue, some oil... the whole job might easily cost less than £6k!!!

 

It was well-known in Gloucestershire (where I was for fifteen years before moving to the frozen north recently) that no local organ-builder would touch an organ for less than £15k for anything other than tuning. No wonder churches think that they are making a sensible decision when they opt for what appears to be a low cost, low maintenance replacement.

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The team I work with has a very good reputation for investigating large-scale price-fixing allegations. This sort of thing when it happens is always bad for the long-term health of an industry. It's in no-one's interest ultimately.

 

Trouble is, we'd probably quote about £200k for the investigation...

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I don't think I have ever come back to my own church (with its Wyvern digital organ) and felt hard done by.

 

This is personal experience - recently I have played a number of weddings at a church with a large (+/- 50 stops) digital - and have therefore had to get used to this instrument in a way I previously not had to. It is not a Wyvern. Despite the fact that I do have a Wyvern in my front room which I would now find it very hard to be without the church device above continues to leave me cold and (in my hands at least) just does not see to work. The complexity of sound ('can't think of another way top put it) of a good pipe organ of similar size is not there - may be something to do with speakers v pipes in the actual air moving process in the building perhaps - a problem specific to here/ - I can not say. Consequently it feels rather like trying to accompany a congregation/choir using - say - a backing CD. All the stop names are there, all the sounds are sort of there but the expected 'reaction' from choir and congregation is not there. So - I found that whatever I tried this expected reaction was never terribly positive. This all sounds very 'fluffy' but the problem I find is hard to describe but very much there. The instrument in question is not old but possibly the speakers are not well installed or just not 'right' or maybe the brand (well known and well advertised) not as good as it is made out to be.

 

AJJ

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Guest Stanley Monkhouse
My concerns

1. How can even the most illustrious firms justify this level of charge? New switching is cheaper and quicker to install than it has ever been. With careful handling of pipework, only a tiny amount of revoicing, rebalancing should be necessary in a historic organ.

2. How can the church consider that a clean and overhaul ought to cost anything like this? They only have to see what was charged by the same firm a matter of twenty or thirty years ago, even with inflation, this overhaul is as expensive as a full-blown rebuild.

3. The message it sends to other churches with lesser resources and fewer visitors.

'if you want to do anything at all with a pipe organ, the work will be extremely expensive.'

and almost...'and we'll think of a number and put it at the bottom of the last page!'.

4. It makes a moral issue out of the task of simply preserving something valuable from an earlier age. How can one justify paying that amazingly high sum in a world with so many hardships and difficulties when the instrument will sound (virtually) identical afterwards?

 

Cynic for Prime Minister, with Jeremy Clarkson. Seriously. I've two churches with organs that will soon need attention. One is two manual B&F much mauled, shoved so far back in the vestry that little sound gets to the nave (sounds OK in chancel). Bring the whole thing forwards - there's about 18 inches of unused space behind the front pipes? Money, money. money. Speakers to transmit the sound to the nave? Anyone any experience? The notion of fat fees to advisers who recommend a bit of soapy water, a good hoover and twiddling with the action and attending to soundboards and wind - well, this just aint going to happen, or at least over my absent body. A while ago on this forum I asked for advice about a village (not my present parish) raising money for a restoration. It was for 11 stops. Assuming Redcliffe has 7 times the number of stops, that means a price of about 120K including a reasonable contingency fund. As Sugar said in Some Like it Hot, it makes a girl think.

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