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A Further Update

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  • A Further Update

    Hi all,

    I believe it has been about 2 years since I made my last update about my time being a sub organist. Since my last long-term subbing period from about the end of Epiphany into Lent of 2017, I had continued to sub many, many times at Trinity. In 2018, I was asked to sub at a local Presbyterian Church that has a wonderful Zimmer & Sons organ (which went well, by the way). In my Junior year of college, I found out that there was a new department head of music who happens to be an organist. I subsequently found out that private organ lessons had been offered for many years there but hadn't had a student for years. After some communication with the department head, lo and behold, I began private lessons (with college credit) with the minister of music at St. Georges Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg, VA (of which I took 4 semesters). Lessons really helped me expand my repertoire and my skills in order to do more than I had been (I even performed in a couple of organ recitals there as part of my jury). After that, I continued to sub at Trinity for about a year and a half.

    Recently (May 11th) I graduated from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg with a Bachelor's degree in Anthropology and now have more free time on my hands (for now). In late February, I found an organist position available at a small Catholic Church in Spotsylvania while browsing their website. I knew I had the qualifications for the position so I went in for an interview, which went well. As of now, I am a contract organist for them. The period under contract began March 22nd until after Easter which meant I got through my 1st Holy Week as an organist. The pastor offered me the position last week and am planning to accept it on Tuesday.

    Much has happened at this church. There had been a great organist and director for many years who is considered the director Emeritus. When she retired, another lady came in but left the music ministry a broken one. Many people left because of a bad relationship between her and the choir, cantors, and the clergy. Right now, I am working with a fellow cantor who happens to be a choir director at a local Methodist church to help rebuild the music ministry.

    The organ is quite nice. It is a 7 rank, 2-manual (fully enclosed) Hamner organ built by Hamner organs of Williamsburg, Va which replaced a Rodgers analog organ in 2015. It is so loud that I have to have the shades open just a crack!
    Attached Files

  • #2
    Congratulations on the new position. Sounds like this is just what that church needs and its music program will surely benefit in the near future.

    As to "so loud that I have to have the shades open just a crack" ... remember the sound can be much different in the nave of the church. I see that you are in the rear balcony ... one needs to play the organ for how it sounds downstairs. Have someone play some chords with the shades closed and open while you listen on the nave floor - be sure to listed to the organ from the very front (altar area) of the church as well.

    Where I sit in my church the organ sound is almost deafening ... but it isn't that deafening out in the nave where the congregation sits.


    • #3
      The way that the shades are set now are an acceptable level (with help from the pastor and deacon for an extra set of ears). The clergy and the congregation enjoy singing with an organ that is not too loud. Apparently, the last director received many complaints from the clergy and members of the congregation for playing too loud.


      • #4
        Re: Loud organ

        If I hear that an organ is "loud", my first question is "Screechy loud or boomy loud?" so I get an idea whether it's one end of the sound spectrum that is particularly to blame.
        -- If it's too screechy, avoid or reduce the use of mixtures and upperwork. If the 8's and 4's fill the room clearly, you don't need the upper stops.
        -- If it's loud on the bass end, tend toward the 8' flutes and strings rather than the foundation principals.

        Sometimes, "full organ" is made available not as a day-to-day option, but for those special events/services where you get a standing-room-only, full house of enthusiastic singers. The standard day-to-day registration needs can be handled by the less assertive stops.
        I need to turn this into a question.

        ASSUMPTION - If you're only using something like the 8' Flute, you can open the shades all you want.

        QUESTION - As you add progressively louder stops, at what point do you need to start to close the shades? At what point do you definitely need to close (or almost close) the shades? Which particular stops are the culprits? Are there some stops that definitely need the shades closed? Are there others that are in that gray area - you can get away with partially closing the shades? If so, it will help to know which stops fall into each category of "this is too loud for me."
        Last edited by regeron; 05-13-2019, 06:10 AM.


        • #5
          Originally posted by regeron View Post
          Re: Loud organ

          ASSUMPTION - If you're only using something like the 8' Flute, you can open the shades all you want.

          QUESTION - As you add progressively louder stops, at what point do you need to start to close the shades? At what point do you definitely need to close (or almost close) the shades? Which particular stops are the culprits? Are there some stops that definitely need the shades closed? Are there others that are in that gray area - you can get away with partially closing the shades? If so, it will help to know which stops fall into each category of "this is too loud for me."
          I tried 8' stops only with the shades open all the way and they said it was too loud. I even asked them if the registration or the volume was the concern. They said it was the volume. I can use mixtures and reeds so long as I keep the shades open just a crack. One Mass I did not realize I had the shapes open just a tad too much and the pastor let me know that the volume was too loud. It is amazing how just how much a difference the volume is with how little the shades are changed.


          • #6
            You are wise to play very cautiously, considering the complaints registered against your predecessor and the advice of the church leaders. While as a purist one might prefer the freedom to open it up wide and raise the roof at least part of the time, when a congregation has a bad taste already in their mouths on account of an organist who was evidently "tone deaf" to repeated admonishments that the organ was too loud, you are courting trouble if you try to push the envelope.

            Also, I strongly suspect that the "emeritus" organist was a very tame one who probably played the organ in a very conservative manner, which is to say with a mild and mellow sound. After all, until four years ago they had a Rodgers analog, which was surely far less powerful than the new pipe organ. And that may be the kind of sound that folks have in their heads as "the way an organ is supposed to sound."

            And on top of that, this organ could be one of those where the builder unwisely voiced it too loud and strong for the church. You'd think a good company would know better than to do that, but sometimes they can overrule the desires of a church where they're getting their very first pipe organ, and there really isn't a strong concept of how aggressive the organ needs to be.

            So keep your head down, let the anger over the previous person die down, be a servant to the church and respect the wishes of those in authority (which is different from letting oneself be intimidated by a lone vigilante who might still think it's too loud). Play beautifully and artistically and with feeling and spirituality and they will appreciate and love you and you can stay as long as you want.

            *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!



            • #7
              Even the 8' Stopped Diapason or 8' Viola is too loud with the box open?


              • #8
                With the shades open all the way, yes. They suggested to close them, but leave them open just a crack, which allows me to use mixtures and reeds without it being too loud. I have received many compliments about my playing from many members of the congregation and how it is not loud as opposed to how the previous organist played.


                • regeron
                  regeron commented
                  Editing a comment
                  I know it's wisest to not comment too much unless you've actually heard or played an instrument yourself, but if the 8' Flute is too loud with the box open, something is drastically wrong.

                  How big is the room? How many people can fit in for a full house? And what is the acoustic like? Live or dead or somewhere in between? Lots of carpet or lots of acoustically reflective surfaces?

              • #9
                Congratulations on the new gig! From the looks of things I am not sure I would enjoy a Hammer organ either. That console looks ready to fall apart after only 4 years. The keyboards truly look like they are hammer'ed keyboards. I am sure that it was not an inexpensive instrument, but based on the poor quality console I have to ask myself did this builder have any clue how to design / voice an instrument for this space? Some organs just naturally play well in the church space, and others will fight you the entire time you are attempting to play them. This one, from your description sounds like a fighter. It probably is much better suited for a theater,or auditorium. I have subscribed for many years to the keep those registrations simple philosophy. Sometimes 2, or three stops with pure, natural sound is all you need to make a beautiful noise.
                Until The Next Dimension,
                Admiral Coluch.

                -1929 Wangerin Pipe Organ Historian
                -Owner 1982 Rogers Specification 990


                • #10
                  The console is pretty old, but updated with Syndyne controls with pistons and memory.


                  • #11
                    I don't know that church or organ, but know the builder (lived a long time in Tidewater). I'm not surprised that it's too loud/brilliant for the church. And the tonal design is, well, unusual. I've never seen a 5-1/3' stop on any manual division without a 16' stop, whose third harmonic it is. And the mixtures are fake if the organ is only 7 ranks. Whatever you do, avoid the octave couplers like the plague, which on a typical unit organ make the organ screech, unless the ranks have variable scaling throughout their compass, which I wouldn't expect from this builder.

                    Would this be too loud for the hymns--Great 8 Viola; 8 Stopped Diapason; 4 Octave Diapason; suitable pedal; shades fully open? If so, I personally would have to find another church...
                    R, Bill


                    • regeron
                      regeron commented
                      Editing a comment
                      Yes, strange things in the stoplist:
                      - a Pedal 32' but no Pedal 16' other than a reed and a flute.
                      - a IV Mixture derived from the string - if the fifths aren't pure, I'd hate to imagine what the tuning could sound like.

                  • #12
                    Here is a link to the specification to this organ if anyone is interested:



                    • #13
                      I agree with piperdane. Get someone (like your professor) to play while you walk around the church and listen for yourself. If you get your professor to help, then definitely trade and you play while they walk around listening to the organ from different places in the chapel and get their feedback. Your professor's insight could be very useful in figuring out what is going on (and whether the organ is actually to blame). It might also be good to take a meter and measure the sound pressure levels, too. This is a guess, but I would think that an over 90dB reading for full organ and open shades would definitely qualify as way too loud.
                      If the organ is way too loud by all accounts, it might be worth it to have someone revoice the instrument to a lower pressure so that you can utilize the full expression potential of the organ.
                      If the organ is just fine (loud but not deafening at full organ and voiced reasonably well), you might try conditioning the congregation to the new organ. Gradually, over months/years increase the volume of congregational hymns. You can also add repertoire (for any solo segments that aren't specifically supposed to be reverent) that pushes the envelope a little (volume and registration wise) for short durations so everyone gets used to the organ.
                      Home: Allen ADC-4500 Church: Allen MDS-5
                      Files: Allen Tone Card (TC) Database, TC Info, TC Converter, TC Mixer, ADC TC SF2, and MOS TC SF2, ADC TC Cad/Rvt, MOS TC Cad/Rvt, Organ Database, Music Library, etc. PM for unlinked files.


                      • #14
                        Well I officially signed all the employment papers and am now officially St. Matthew's organist. I asked Deacon about how the volume of the organ has been since I've been using Mixtures and Reeds and he said the volume is very good to the point that the congregation is actually "picking up the hymnal and singing" so that's a plus. I actually have a few videos of this organ being played by me including this one I uploaded to Youtube which is the hymn "O Worship the King, All-Glorious Above" to the tune Hanover. This video will give an idea of the range of the instrument and most of what it can do. The link is here:


                        • #15
                          Thank you for sharing your video, Grayson. It is nice to hear what the organ sounds like in the room. I have one suggestion that you might try sometime for that hymn. Play everything just as you did but when you get to stanza 5 "Frail children of dust..." use a softer registration. This will do two things. One, it will make people focus on the text and make people aware that the organ accompaniment helps to interpret the text. The second thing this will do is make the use of full organ for your free harmonization on stanza 6 "O measureless Might..." have greater impact.

                          If your congregation sings well, you might even consider introducing stanza 5 on a quiet registration and then stop playing and let them sing that stanza a capella. You might want to wait a while before using this technique until they get to feel confident in your leadership of hymn singing. I would not do this unless they knew the hymn well. Also, the first time, clue the choir in to the fact that you will be doing this. Once your congregation gets used to this, it can be very effective. You may also hear people singing in parts.

                          Best wishes in your new job.

                          My home organ: Content M5800 as a midi controller for Hauptwerk