Jump to content
Mander Organs
mrbouffant

Adding Digital Stops To Existing Instrument..

Recommended Posts

I have a largeish organ in the shires which was rebuilt in 1990 or so. It is split with swell/great/pedal at the East End and the same plus a choir division on the West End.

 

It's played from a bespoke console (draw stops for the west organ, tabs for the east)..

 

Whilst the instrument is eminently fit for purpose, it does lack in two respects. The first is the west pedal division is wholly underwhelming, especially when pitted against a full congregation. It has Trombone 16' extended into a Trumpet 8', an Open Diap 16' which extends to a 8' principal and a 4', and a Bourdon 16' which extends to a 8' flute and a 4'. The second respect is the East End lacking variation for accompanying the choir. The great overpowers, the swell is small and there is no choir division.

 

I have funds available to remedy this. The Southwell Minster idea of digital pedal stops is an obvious means of solving the west end problem.

 

Can anyone comment on the success or otherwise of this approach? How does the digital part of the instrument fare when pitted against the tuning changes that will come about from changing temperature and humidity?

 

If the idea works for low-end stops, can it be applied to provide a whole new division (i.e. the east end choir in my example). Do you think it would be possible to blend a digital chorus across the whole range of the pipe organ?

 

If anyone can contribute some ideas I would be most grateful ! With thanks !

 

--mrb

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Barry Oakley

I have listened to the Southwell Minster organ on many occasions and have never been aware of any temperature fluctuation affecting the relationship between the conventional pipework and the electronic stops. Pipes and electronics have been a successful amalgamation in this instance to solve a space problem. However I have heard a particularly bad example of amalgamation at a church in Shelton, Stoke-on-Trent. It all depends on who does the work.

 

My friend, George Sixsmith, the Mossley-based organ builder, has successfully achieved pipe/electronic amalgamations in may instances. He rebuilt an organ in Sale several years ago, adding a complete electronic Solo division as well as augmenting its Swell and Pedal divisions with electronic flues and reeds. Two eminent cathedral organists performed opening recitals and they could not detect the electronics, so successful was the amalgamation.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The organ at the parish church in Egremont, Cumbria, has had a substantial digital addition to the existing pipework.

 

While I've never played it, I gather that there is a dial on the console to make fine adjustments to the pitch of the digital section in order to ensure that it's in tune with the pipes, and not causing a giant celeste effect. Perhaps such a facility is needed more for upperwork than for 32' pedal stops.

 

However, I've never seen or heard it!

 

Andrew Caskie

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It is difficult to suggest the direction for a possible solution without knowing all the facts. Are we talking about what were once two distinct instruments at either end of the church? Or was there one large organ origianally, that was split and altered?

 

Is there an organ loft at the west end of the church where the 'west end' organ is sited. Did the choir once sing from that loft? If so, that might explain why the choir division is in the west end of the church, rather than the east end.

 

Was the east end division added because the church preferred to bring the focus of the musical liturgy closer to the altar? Or was it the other way round?

 

I'm curious about the underwhelming pedal division in the west end. That could be a problem of where the instrument is sited, or where individual departments are sited, or could be something to do with the accoustic of the church.

 

Can you describe the accoustic of the building and the kind of materials inside. Is there carpeting or other sound absorbing material? If so, its removal might solve a lot of the problems. Sorry if this sounds like stating the obvious.

 

While the amalgamation of digital and pipes maybe worth researching, it would be best to bear in mind that the digital solutions of other churches may not necessarily suit your church. If you have a very dry and unforgiving accoustic, I suspect the blending of pipes with digital may be very difficult.

 

I don't know how large the funds are. Is it possible that work on the pipe organs might help? It sounds like you may want to talk to some experienced consultants and form a committee before making any major capital commitments.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
It is difficult to suggest the direction for a possible solution without knowing all the facts. Are we talking about what were once two distinct instruments at either end of the church? Or was there one large organ origianally, that was split and altered?

 

Is there an organ loft at the west end of the church where the 'west end' organ is sited. Did the choir once sing from that loft? If so, that might explain why the choir division is in the west end of the church, rather than the east end.

 

Was the east end division added because the church preferred to bring the focus of the musical liturgy closer to the altar? Or was it the other way round?

 

Can you describe the accoustic of the building and the kind of materials inside. Is there carpeting or other sound absorbing material? If so, its removal might solve a lot of the problems. Sorry if this sounds like stating the obvious.

 

 

FYI, the East End organ is the original, although it's been moved and chopped about since it was new (c1895). The West End organ was purchased at the time of the rebuild. It was a redundant instrument that was remodelled to fit on top of a vestry at the West End. There is no gallery. There is no room to add extra pedal ranks. I suspect a large amount of compromising went on to fit the redundant instrument into the West End. There is just about enough room at the top to fit a horizontal trumpet, which is part of another plan :angry:

 

The choir have two sets of stalls. The 'eucharist' stalls are midway along the south wall. The evensong ones are under the East Organ, by the High Altar.

 

The acoustic is pretty dead.. the building itself is modest, largely C14. The roof is wood, there are wooden pews and a stone floor.

 

Thanks for all comments.. Next stop (so to speak) will be the diocesan organ advisor, but who knows what his attitude will be? In a sense, the current situation - an amalgam of different instruments and a bespoke moveable console - means at least the die is already cast in terms of not having to follow a particular style or school when considering ways of improving the usefulness of the instrument.

 

--mrb

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Perhaps you could add a digital horizontal trumpet?

 

I heard the Southwell Organ last summer when I sang there. Personally, I felt the eletronic reed stood away from the rest of the instrument when heard in the crossing after evensong but I guess it fulfils a purpose (like making us giggle when we looked at each other hearing the thing). I don't think tuning variations at those low pitches are much to worry about.

 

Good luck with your venture. I hope that it is in the interests of what is best for the church, liturgically, musically and economically. It rather sounds like your church is rather struggling with the aftermath of a fairly meglomanic rebuilding project which hasn't quite worked. It would be a shame to perpetuate that approach. I hope you get good advice from your DOA and any organbuilders who visit.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I may be wrong but doesn't the original advisor for the work at the above church now have Southwell connections himself. If so maybe get him back to advise again!!

AJ

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, I wouldn't want to stich this chap up... This is probably a dark subject but dare I mention the words "Collins", "Allen", "Parnership" "Trono, Norway", "IBO" and "Reaction" in the same sentence??

 

The Southwell project has undoubtedly provided a successful and practical long-term arrangement for the organs. Reading Paul Hale's book, it appears that it has been difficult to get an "organ solution" that works well in that delightful building so credit is due to all concerned in the project.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

With regard to the digital 32ft basses at Southwell, the pitch remains remarkably close to the pipes because (i) the cathedral is kept at a reasonably constant temperature so the pitch of the pipes stays the same (actually both organs are wonderfully stable in tuning and hardly have to be touched), and (ii) because at such low frequencies beats are very slow. We hardly ever tweak the tuning knob - perhaps twice a year [mid winter and mid summer] for the nave organ 32fts (yes, it has them too) if the pitches of the two organs have drifted apart. The screen organ, by the way, is used for 35-40 hours a week on average (it's automatically metred) and is now nine years old.

 

I still feel a twinge of guilt at including the 'cheats', but not enough to outweigh the musical advantages of having tolerable 32ft stops. Interestingly, an internationally super-famous recitalist, not knowing the stops were pipeless, once commented on how fine they were.

 

The whole Pedal Organ is loud in the Crossing because it is at the back of the organ. Naturally the 32ft devices are also loud there - the 'reed' especially so. The whole organ sounds odd from there because it all points East, of course. It's balanced to sound fine in the Quire.

 

I can't say we think about the digital nature of the 32ft stops from one month to the next. Once they were revisited (and softened) by Mr Hart after the organ had been used for some months they blended in well. They do their very occasional job as well as many pipes at this pitch - for which we simply didn't have room - and better than quite a few 'real' polyphones and half-length reed basses.

 

Paul Hale,

Southwell Cathedral

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Roffensis

What a interesting organ you have there!!!!........ if you can afford it and the church can agree to spend on it, I would get a good builder to completely rework it, keeping any decent pipework, but for pities sake putting the organ back as an integrated instrument. What we like is a logical spec, logical departments, well voiced and with as few gimmicks as possible. Sadly, we seem to have erred in our paths, and there is no help in us!!!!! Good luck!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Roffensis

Well given the rebuild of Rochester, which is nothing short of magnificent in all areas, I am most surprised at you Mr Hale! I am interested to observe that you have a "twinge of guilt" regarding the electronic "devices" at Southwell, they will never match pipes, as anyone will surely realise. They are a cheap alternative, both in terms of money and space, and you may realise (!)I hate all electronics with a vengeance..... So much lost in many churches for so little. Far better to keep an organ as an organ, and leave the "devices" to party time at the local!! Sorry to be so blunt, but electronics may well evolve into the most horrible cancer........I could never advocate anything that threatens musical instruments,whether one stop or a whole job.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Apart from the artistic reasons that might speak against electronic stops, we need not to forget an organ isn't heard with the ears only, but with all the body.

I cannot imagine any loudspeaker able to reproduce that.

The different locations of the pipes in the case or the building, the distance between them and the public, their relations with the room's acoustics...

While a loudspeaker is nothing else as a piston pushing the sound in front

of itself.

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Alright, I admit it, I'm going to be rather cheeky here, but my question is ultimately a serious one.

 

Our comments in other threads (particularly "The State of United Kingdom Organ Preservation" in the general discussion forum) have shown that, being enlightened folk, we're more keen on restoring and preserving than changing too much - certainly when the instrument in question has intrinsic merit and historic value. What then with hybrid instruments containing digital stops? At what point do we say of an organ, "this hybrid has historic value, and we should preserve the digital stops as well as the *real* ones"? Or do we say, "it's only an organ worth restoring and preserving to the extent that it is really a pipe organ"?

 

My personal view is that, if such an instrument is otherwise worth restoring and preserving, and funds and space exist at the time of restoration for the substitution of real pipework, sympathetic to the original style, then that is what should be done.

 

Regards

Malcolm F

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Barry Oakley

I think that where the funds are available or can be raised, pipe organs should be restored pipe for pipe. But unless we adopt a system such as in France where central and regional governments come up with the necessary funding, dwindling congregations in many of our local parish churches will mean that money will just not be available for renovation and organs will disappear. It is already happening.

 

Where I live in Staffordshire my local parish church has had to retire its pipe organ because it could not afford the cost of repair and has installed a digital organ. Whilst I would prefer the pipe organ to be restored, I would rather hear a good electronic substitute than the twanging of guitars and the mindless banging of drums.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

An interesting question.

 

I have to say that I have grave doubts about all this electronic substitution. One organ we worked on (that at Christ Church Cranbrook in Detroit) had electronic basses in the form of a Subbass and its extension added after we had finished rebuilding the organ. As the instrument was not a new one of ours and belonged to the church, there was not a great deal we could do about it. But once it was installed, it did not work right. It was so loud that it shook the doors and the windows and was anything but musical. I did go along and tried to adjust it with the help of the manufacturers although strictly it was beyond our remit to get involved. It ultimately proved impossible to get the stop to the point where it made any significant difference to full organ without then being too loud for use under (say) Swell strings with the box closed.

 

The problem (I believe) is the harmonic development of such electronic stops. Certainly digital sampling was used, but from a stop which was all solid foundation with not much harmonic development. A good 32ft Subbass has quite strong harmonic development, particularly with the first audible harmonic of the stopped pipe the 10 2/3 Quint element. On its own, it does not make much sound, but when combined with 16ft registers (Open Diapason 16 in particular) the 10 2/3 and other harmonics combine with the 16ft to make a resultant 32ft pitch which is audible. So the 32ft sound "grows" with the adding of other registers. This is not a phenomenon I have as yet observed with any electronic 32ft anywhere. I am not sure why it is not possible to achieve. At Cranbrook, the electronic manufacturer under my suggestion changed the relationship between the foundation and the harmonics of the 32ft, reducing the foundation and augmenting the harmonics as much as they could on a laptop computer. It helped, but it still did not achieve the extent of the result one experiences with real pipes.

 

As a matter of principle, I don't honestly think that such stops have a place in a building or organ which is too small to accommodate them. I think the organ should match the size of the building, or its case and be honest. In a later rebuild, one might add such stops with real pipes if the building and case warrant it, but otherwise I think they should just be removed.

 

Call me a Luddite if you will. I have yet to be convinced that any of this "combination organ" stuff has a future except as a sideline where artistic compromise for whatever reason is seen as acceptable. It is certainly NOT the way forward for organ building as a whole.

 

John Pike Mander

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Roffensis

Yes Mr Mander, I quite agree about Organs matching buildings in terms of size. There are many instances of Organs being perfect without any 32' stops. It seems to be a trend to want them still though,......personally, I look forward to seeing such electronic devices being confined to Digital Heaven. Call me a Puritan, but speakers will never reproduce pipes. It aint gonna happen!!.... I recall one fine but generally unreliable Liverpool organ being "stored", with the console ripped out, and speakers bolted to the gallery to enhance the pedal(!), not to mention the nice little doors above the swell keys so you could switch from French to English voicing!!!! Who is kidding who? the organ could have been restored even in stages as funds permitted, and this is one regrettable instance of electronic cancerous growths. By allowing any such device into a pipe organ, even one "stop", we open the door for others to copy, or extend the philosophy. "I want a 90 inch Tuba that is electronic, we already have the 32' Contra Bombarde so one more wont matter...."(French voiced, sampled at Notre Dame and faithfully reproduced through a 1mm thick flapping piece of paper, yeah right). I would never take a position as Organist anywhere that did not have a pipe organ, and those churches that have electronics cease to be buildings in my opinion. I am glad we have still some excellent first rate English Organ Builders with principles.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I also agree with Mr. Mander as far as the organ is concerned, but sometimes I wonder if there is a (positive) result to be expected in a combination between a large 'real' organ and electronics (like synthesizers) that are not used as replicas (or replacements) but produce there 'own sound' and somehow dialogue with the organ (... thinking of the Ondes Martenot in Messiaens Turangalila ...).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This could be unfair for the synthetizer, because it will sound very, very poor in comparizon. I remember in the seventies when there were trials to combine electric guitars and organ (Yes, for church services!!!). The result was so awful that the guitarists soon disposed of...The organist (of course).

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with JPM's comments on how well electronic speakers and real pipes work together (or, more accurately, not) based on my own experience.

 

I also agree that we should take a natural approach to the stop list of the organ, based upon the size of the room and space available for the organ. I have played some very dimiutive old organs abroad, quite capable of making their presence felt in large churches, really performing outside what I thought it was physically possible for a small organ to do. I couldn't help feel that Harry Potter and Dumbledore may have built them and infused a few "special features" inside them. A stop list is more to do with the tonal resources of the instrument, rather than its decibel output or ability to "fill the building". Filling the building is more to do with the design of the organ, the position of the organ, the acoustics of the room and the nature of the pipes rather than whether you have bombardes at 16 and 32' pitch.

 

I remember playing a chamber organ at Oundle in Fotheringhay church. The organ, a small Nigel Church instrument consisting of a few flutes and a pedal Sourdon (a strange, very quiet 16' reed), placed on the ground at the west end of the church, gave the impression of a full-toned organ throughout the church and was quite happy accompanying a full congregation and large choir duing a service (for which I didn't play), despite its fairly anorexic pipes and tonal appointment.

 

...my local parish church has had to retire its pipe organ because it could not afford the cost of repair and has installed a digital organ...

 

We had a similar question raised when considering work on our organ. We did a cost analysis over 80 years and concluded that a pipe organ made better financial sense than replacing an electronic every 20 years. PCCs and church comittees need to be made to think long term about organs' costs and have it demostrated that pipe organs beat electronics on the eletronic's trump card - cost - for the electronic question to dissappear. Only then introduce the effects an electronic will have on the church's music and artistic arguments. I remember one church trying to "poach" me with an offer of a large, well appointed electronic to play every Sunday. You can guess how many "f"s there were in my response...

 

If it's not viable or desirable to repair the present instrument or money doesn't allow a replacement pipe organ, don't discount an organ transplant, which usually comes in the same price range as a quality eletronic and has a much longer operational life before an overhaul/replacement. It needs to be done well to work though, like all good organ building.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think Colin Harvey raises a very good point: that, in the longer run, a suitably sized pipe organ can be, and in all likelihood is, more viable economically than three, four or five generations of digital or electronic alternatives.

 

However, I wonder if the "longer term" is itself part of the problem: a good many churches have real difficulties in simply continuing existence in the present. I moved to a new area almost exactly a year ago, only to find that the local church of my denomination had recently closed. Its congregation had dwindled to the point where the diocese had apparently taken the decision that the church could better serve those remaining by absorbing them into neighbouring parishes (themselves somewhat struggling in numbers).

 

In these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that many churches do not take a long term view. Their needs are firmly based in the present, and I expect that even a digital or electronic substitute can represent a fairly large commitment for a good number of parishes. Cheaper again than these are guitars, etc. Churches understandably want to attract a new generation of worshippers, so that "updating" to modern music must seem a natural way of including them, while at the same time keeping costs down. Indeed, I suspect that there would be nothing cheaper than guitarists bringing their own instruments. I suppose this gives "Praise the Lord with drums and cymbals" a new meaning.

 

I don't think that there is an easy solution to this. I do wonder, though, if church rationalisation will actually work in the interests of organ builders and organists. Combining parishes for viability must surely ease the economic burden, and - I hope - sufficient numbers will continue to take a sound, long-term view. Who knows, perhaps some lead guitarist might even think that the pipe organ sounds pretty cool ...

 

Regards

Malcolm F

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I would never take a position as Organist anywhere that did not have a pipe organ, and those churches that have electronics  cease to be buildings in my opinion. 

I moved about a year ago from a church with a good 3-manual HNB organ to a church with a foul (analogue) electronic. My new church is a very fine and historic building - unfortunately it was not designed to house an organ and it would be very difficult indeed to find a location for a new pipe instrument even were funds available.

 

We are well advanced in the process of investigating a replacement organ and the digital option is the only realistic proposition. Whilst the cost model if projected over 100 years+ may possibly favour pipes there is real difficulty for many parishes in finding sufficient capital outlay up front - this would be £300,000+ in our case - not a trivial sum.

 

Personally it is the quality and repertoire of the choir, and the way in which this is integrated into the liturgy, that attracts me to a post, even if this means living with an unsatisfactory instrument.

 

Also do not believe the claims of all digital organ manufacturers. I've done a lot of research in the market place over the last 18 months and some of the instruments that claim to be world leaders in sound quality are very far short of the best that I've heard.

 

Pipe organs remain the ideal and I'm sure are every organists preference, but not all ideals are attainable.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The matter of the possible use of electronically generated sounds which are not intended to replace or replicate organ sounds is one that needs to be kept quite separate from that of "combination" organs or digital substitutes. Instrument makers and composers have been searching for new sounds for as long as they have existed; I often think, heretically, that the best electronic "organs" there have ever been were the "B" Hammonds! They sounded like Hammonds, and not like organs.

 

There have been some experiments with midi-interfaced synthesizers attached to "real" organs (Beckerath built one in Blankenese / Hamburg for the composer Hans Darmstadt , then organist there, about 15 years ago). So far they haven't proved to be very fertile earth. And of course, those peculiar organs so beloved in Germany about thirty years ago which consisted largely of peculiar mutations - think builders like Bosch - were in themselves an attempt to make pipe organs sound like synthesizers.

 

I can sympathize with cathedrals feeling they really need a 32' - soft flue, preferably. Never heard a synthetic reed I could love...... But that really is the limit. Electronic mixtures? Forget it!

 

Cheers

Barry

 

 

I also agree with Mr. Mander as far as the organ is concerned, but sometimes I wonder if there is a (positive) result to be expected in a combination between a large 'real' organ and electronics (like synthesizers) that are not used as replicas (or replacements) but produce there 'own sound' and somehow dialogue with the organ (... thinking of the Ondes Martenot in Messiaens Turangalila ...).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

At the risk of making inaccurate and uninformed judgements, I would agree with the above comments concerning the addition of digital or 'sampled' stops to pipe organs. 'Inaccurate and uninformed', because I have not yet heard either of the Southwell organs in their natural environments. However, my own experiences with electronics (including recent examples) do not encourage me to believe that the results will be successful.

 

Insofar as the question of space is concerned, there was previously a certain amount of pipework situated in the (south?) triforium. Presumably that space is still available. How about putting a 32' rank there? If, as was formerly the case at Gloucester, the sensitive acoustics of the building gave the impression of a unified sound-source, then personally, I would feel far less guilty about siting such a stop away from the main instrument, than I would if I were to add digital ranks.

 

Personally, I would rather not have any digital ranks on any instrument which I played regularly. My own church instrument, despite having quite a large pedal organ, does not possess any 32' ranks and, whilst it does lack gravitas, I would rather fake 32' effects, than add plastic ones. Actually, it does quite a nice job of faking both loud and soft 32' effects, in various keys - often with quite bizarre combinations of notes. No respect for the laws of physics, here!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Something came to mind, and I went back to a book that I had read a while ago now. Sure enough, combining pipe and electronic registers in fact seems to go back quite a long way - much longer, indeed, than I had expected.

 

In his study "The American Classic Organ: A History In Letters", Dr Charles Callahan quotes a letter dated 15 October 1947 (!!) from G Donald Harrison (then President of the Aeolian Skinner Organ Co) to Henry Willis III: "As a matter of fact, I doubt if we will ever put a real 32' reed in this [the Ernest White residence organ in New York] particularly as Michael [GDH's son by his 1st wife], since he has been here, has developed a really magnificent electronic 32' reed, and indeed it is so good that it seems sheer folly to use up all the material and space that one requires for the real thing. His device is capable of giving several 32' effects such as the 32' Fagotto, 32' Bombarde, 32' Contre Bass and 32' Bourdon ..." Although I think that history will judge GDH kindly, it's not hard to see why some regard him as having taken some things to extremes ...

 

In his rather non-committal response of 11 November 1947, Willis III noted that Hill Norman & Beard had "fitted a 32' electronic device at the Cinema-type job in the Dome Pavillion, Brighton" that had, to his information "been out of use for years". (That would have been Percy Whitlock's organ, I assume.) (He also noted an electronic 32' Sub Bass at St Mary Abbots, Kensington.) If the Brighton electronic reed had been out of service for years, when had it been installed? It surely must have been pre-WWII ...

 

Regards

Malcolm F

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

No - Percy Whitlock's organ was that at The Pavilion, Bournemouth. He also had a church post at St. Stephen's, Bournemoth (which has a wonderful Hill organ) until some time during 1935.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...