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Why replace a pipe organ with an electronic?

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  • Why replace a pipe organ with an electronic?

    Why do some churches replace their pipe organ with an electronic?

    NYC Farmboy has a Reuter that was replaced with an electronic. He installed it and got it working for a reasonable amount of money. My pipe organ is 79 tears old, has never been rebuilt and works well for a small yearly maintenance expense to touch up the tuning and fix a few bad pneumatics.

    Several ideas occur to me as to why replace a pipe organ with an electronic..
    1. The organist is dazzeled by a huge array of drawknobs.
    2. The electronic never needs maintenance.
    3. ???

    I believe that a relatively small pipe organ nearly always outperforms an electronic, thus the replacement of a pipe organ must require a compelling reason. What can that be?

    My home organ
    Style D Wurlitzer pipe organ
    Five Newfoundland dogs
    Sixteen Tennessee walking horseshoes

  • #2
    Re: Why replace a pipe organ with an electronic?

    Reason number 1 is valid. Forget reason number 2. They do need maintenance.

    Don't forget about those salespeople. They're just like the lobbyists in Washington, DC. Trying to make a buck!


    • #3
      Re: Why replace a pipe organ with an electronic?

      I think some of it is "the grass is always greener on the other side"...

      if you have a small pipe organ maybe you sit there and dream of 300 digital stops when you have only 30 or whatever.

      ---> the multitude of digital stops are fun to play once in a while but the reality is how many 8' flute stops do you really need?

      console envey: those big 3 and 4 manual digital consoles from Rodgers and Allen with all the doodads and geegaws really look tempting....

      But then also every month someone somewhere installs a real pipe organ replacing a toaster....
      sitting at his/her console imagining the joy of making real music (not synthetic), thinking back to the days of Bach and real wind blown pipes etc.....


      • #4
        Re: Why replace a pipe organ with an electronic?

        The organ I am removing has been replaced with electronic for many reasons. I will try to list some of them. I spoke to one who used to work on the organ. Initially it had a very good sound and some recordings were made.

        1. The organ chambers were not properly ventilated and as a result the organ would never stay in tune. Also there were a lot of problems with the relay. There's a fan and heater there now but it was too late.

        2. Regardless of what anyone says, a pipe organ requires continuing maintenance. Without that, even the finest organ will fall into disrepair.

        3. The organist as I understand at that time wasn't very good.

        4. The Paster disliked the organ.

        5. The organ fell into disrepair and was finally abandoned.

        6. Of course this is an opportunity to restore a historic theatre instrument.

        Tired but excited at this opportunity! Any other ideas? How about yours, Allan?


        • #5
          Re: Why replace a pipe organ with an electronic?

          Most of the times: the organ hasn't been maintained for ages and repair -if still possible- would cost a fortune. This then happens when the people involved don't have any interest in organs (or music in general). So they take the easy way out.

          When there is active interest in the organ this seldom happens. Like when the organ is regulary played and receives basic maintenance, or it is used as a teaching instrument, or there are concerts sometimes.


          • #6
            Re: Why replace a pipe organ with an electronic?

            where there is an active interest in the organ.. YES, exactly. If you have a real pipe organ it is very necessary to build interest in it by having concerts, allowing practice time on it, etc.

            The surest way to have a organ lose interest to the congregation is to never allow else to play it, and not to make an attempt to explain the organ at least once every few years to the congregation.

            If you have a real pipe organ, I have a suggestion: every so often play a piece and list the registration of that piece highlighting one verse on a particular stop to educate people in the congregation on the various ranks over time. If the congregation knows and understands what they have they won't be so quick to throw it out.

            It always interests me greatly to know the registrations and history and design of a particular rank of pipes, educating the congregation to understand what they are hearing on occasion maybe would help?

            Emphesis on occasion there, don't over do it. But every few months it wouldn't hurt to list a registration of a hymn in the bullitan and to add a brief history of those organ stops as well. Most people devour church bullitans because they get bored during the serman anyhow. lol Use that to your advantage!

            I think organists take it for granted when they hear a organ because they of course know what is being played, but to most children in the congregation especially, they don't have a clue.

            Education is a important part of any pipe organ in any church.


            • #7
              Re: Why replace a pipe organ with an electronic?

              While your story might not apply to all organs trown out, my guess is that there are a lot in the same situation.

              Something very important in your post: "so my own guess is that playing a organ regularly is very important for the leathers..." While for the leathers it could be that the more constant environment of your house makes a big difference, not playing is bad in general.

              It is important for every instrument to be regulary played and maintained! It sometimes infuriates me when a newly restored organ becomes inaccesible for practise "because it would wear and we now have spend so much on it". Those idiots proclaiming that don't understand that that is the fastest way to more costs. At least when it is played, the dust is blown out from time to time.

              I don't see why you should "clean" your post. I mean, they decided to trow it out, not you. If they now regret it so be it.


              • #8
                Re: Why replace a pipe organ with an electronic?

                reason for cleaning the post,...church politics / relative relations. I still go to church there! (grin)

                as to the leathers, the constant environment you mention must be a huge part of it!!!!!

                My house is more humid than the church, so maybe that helps alot as well... and the constant temperature I'm sure that helps.

                I play the organ about 1 hour per day, sometimes 2...so thats 7-10 hours a week..... For 60 years it was played 3 hours a week (1 hour on saturday for practice, and the 2 services on Sunday)... so its getting more of a workout now than it has in ages.

                The more I play it the better it works...like I noted its trouble free now. When I first installed it it had about 30 troublesome notes.. so anytime I had a cipher I'd go grab the note and pull it out and blow out the debris or just reseat the pipe.... that worked for fixing all but one of the ciphers. (I still have one oboe pipe I have to leave pulled out of the chest).


                • #9
                  Re: Why replace a pipe organ with an electronic?

                  F*** politics (church or other). Sorry, but all that is the reason some things are in the desparate state they are in now. More people should stand up and say what they mean/believe. On the happy side, if it weren't for that, you wouldn't have your organ...

                  Of course it works better if played more. Up to a certain point, an organ I know has problems because it is played too much, but then we are talking 8+ hours a day the year round. Even then it only means more maintenance. If all those articulations never move, they just lock solid from dust, humidity, rust or whatever.

                  It is the same with couch patatoes, normal people and top-sporters. Those having a normal workout have the least problems.


                  • #10
                    Re: Why replace a pipe organ with an electronic?

                    The only other reason, would be if the church happened to have EXTREMELY dry accoustics. Carpet, matte walls, tin ceiling, no hard sufraces, everything is parallel. Then a pipe organ will sound horrible. It will sound like the pipes are sucking the air back in, before you take your hands off of the keys. Electronic organs have artifiicial reverb, which is a good idea. This is the only other reason I could see.


                    • #11
                      Re: Why replace a pipe organ with an electronic?

                      It is tempting to replace pipe organs with electronics - or even old electronics with new ones because of the cost. We are getting ready to replace a 28 year old - and ageing - Allan electronic with a pipe organ. With the going price at 5 ($ xx xxx.00) figures for a stop in pipe organ world- it is tempting to look at electronics! We are lucky that we were able to get an early 20thC. pipe organ (a good untouched instrument) from a parish that was closing. All we have to pay is the extraction cost, storage and restoration. This is going to bring us in at 4 ($ x xxx.00) figures per stop. Now, if you consider electronics -I don't have the exact data- but I know the price will be WAY LESS per stop and you end up with a myriad of stops - not pipes with air going through them though.
                      One dear old soul at my church gave me the press clippings from the late 70's when my church went with their elecronic. Wow - it was a heated debate. The long and short of it - some wanted a pipe organ, the church didn't have the money for that and the diocese gave them X dollars to get the electronic. It, at that time, was a dollars issue. A segment of the church felt the electronic was the 'new thing' the 'way of the future' and didn't they fancy themselves part of that wave. .....fast forward 30 years..... the Allan is almost dead.
                      In my limited experience - and I have had this experience - I would rather play a 4 rank portative (pipe organ) - than a 3m 40 stop electronic any day - this is just my opinion. (mind you a good 4 rank portative could cost you the same as the 3m 40 stop electronic - AGAIN - a dollars issue)


                      • #12
                        Re: Why replace a pipe organ with an electronic?


                        Not necessarily, it just has to be the right sort of pipe organ for dry acoustics. The congregational church in Talcottville, CT is as dead as a doornail and has a 1910's J.W. Steere with nothing under 4' that sounds wonderful in the room. I think the quality of the voicing has to really be dead-on in a dead room due to the sort of immediacy of sound in that sort of space - something that the Steere firm was very good at.

                        At any rate, pipe organs are designed to perform a weekly duty cycle; if they are not receiving this regular usage, they will act up - and rightfully so! I suspect that leaving an allen at idle for a while will also generate dirty contacts and scratchy pots too.

                        I care for organs that do not get used every week, and I encourage the Churches to find people to play the organs to keep them happy. Although pipe organs are not toys, there is nothing a responsible individual or child can do to hurt a pipe organ; they can only help it.

                        One more thing, pipe organs hate being heated - it's no different than placing them inside an oven. It is not necessary to keep a pipe organ heated during the week when it is not in use - it would be much better to let the heat go down to the 50's during the week and then bring it back up early Sunday morning - the tuning of the organ will go right back into place when the temperature is right (unless you have really crappy half-length reeds).




                        • #13
                          Re: Why replace a pipe organ with an electronic?

                          The keys to success or failure of a pipe organ are the installation and maintenance arrangements as well as the restoration. A poor installation will ruin even the finest organ.

                          If these issues cannot be addressed in the long term, then electronic is the way to go. Remember, the purpose of the organ is to support the services. It is not a toy for the organist or music director, regardless of the politics involved.

                          Also electronic is sometimes a better choice depending on the type of services at the church. Many contemporary churches are better with a Hammond or Keyboards. Pipe is just not suitable for revival or "rock" services.

                          A name brand electronic is generally maintenance free and will give many years of trouble free service. Pipe requires occasional tuning and repairs. These repairs should always be done by professionals. Well-meaning amateurs can cause considerable damage.

                          I would hope that the organ you are considering is not a transplanted theatre model. They are just not suitable.


                          • #14
                            Re: Why replace a pipe organ with an electronic?


                            Although I avoid digital organs like the plague, a friend of mine plays a new 3m Walker at church. He says that on its own it is quite nice, but that when accompanying hymns, the organ just gets eaten alive and can't really keep up.

                            It's hard to get over the fact that pipe organs are acoustical instruments and digitals are not!


                            - Nate


                            • #15
                              Re: Why replace a pipe organ with an electronic?

                              I have dealt with a certain church for about 10 years. They had a very large Tellers organ from somewhere in the 1940's. The console needed replaced, it had a few broken miters on some pipes, and needed releathered. Electronic sales people all told the church that the 100+ ranks of pipes they had were old fashioned and could not be reused for anything. The organ had solo reeds, chorus reeds, a few celestes, 32'open in the pedal and was spread out in four divisions in each corner of the church.

                              They opted to replace the organ with the following:

                              New pricipal chorus (pipes) for the great organ in the front.
                              New antiphonal organ (pipes) in the back.
                              About 90 ranks of digital ranks all over the place.

                              Beautiful principal chorus in the front.
                              Beautiful antiphonal organ in the back.
                              About 90 ranks of noise all over the place.

                              The result was an incohesive mix of sounds. (The electronic state trumpet is just plain gross.)

                              They also improved the church acoustics by removing the acoustical ceiling tiles and laying new wood on the chancel.

                              In this case one electronic salesman singlehandedly was responsible for having the entire old organ literally cut up with chain saws and placed in dumpsters.

                              (The church consequently had trouble finding an organist for several years.)