Friday, May 9, 2014

Window Shopping

After our staff meeting this week I said to our business director, "I know we already signed a contract with the organ company, but I was thinking about some things we could add to the organ." Then I showed him this video demonstration of the organ at St. Paul's Cathedral in London. "See, they've got an extra room there just for their 32 foot pipes, which they've got on their sides. We could build an extra loft space just above the roof of our sanctuary by raising it a few feet and building a kind of large attic. And the thing I really like is how they have two identical consoles which electronically communicate with one another so that a stop setting on one console is immediately transferred to the other. We could put the other console in our South Sanctuary.If we expanded the pipe room to twice its present size by knocking out the prayer garden in between the organ could be heard equally well in both sanctuaries." We might have to pass out ear plugs to the congregants of the chapel-sized older worship facility, I thought, but the sonic results would be worth it. Hardly anybody would complain.

I was kidding about all this, of course, though I said it with a straight face and waited for our fiscally frugal (though not stingy, as you'll see) budget manager to catch on. The total cost of the organ console alone at St. Paul's has got to run into the several million dollars, to say nothing of the pipes, pipe room, and electronic conduits, and so on. We aren't quite that financially endowed. But one can dream, can't one? And in the world of pipe organs there is always something of which to be jealous.

As it happens, though, I've got a lot to be grateful for--enough to, perhaps, make you jealous. This summer we are having some major work done on the organ. It won't expand the organ, but it will take care of some problems we've been having with the connections between the pipes and the console. Back in the 80's our organ builder did some experimenting with some new technology and it turned out not to be such a great experiment. It's been causing us problems since well before I became the organist.

Into the bargain we are going to get a new console, digitized, and with a few more bells and whistles than the old one had. For one thing, while the current one has 24 general piston (memory) settings, the new one will have 100. That is still 700 short of the one at St. Paul's, but since I am the only organist who regularly uses the organ I think I can make do. I usually change the stops manually for the Sunday morning hymns and whatnot anyway, saving the piston changes for the more challenging organ literature. The organ isn't so large that I can't make most of those changes without help.

There will apparently also be transposition knobs, which I am not likely to use (though my successors might) and even a record and playback option that I'm hoping to show off at the re-dedication concert (but don't tell anybody--it'll be a surprise).

Better still, the whole thing will be attached to the pipe room by a single Cat-5 cable instead of the morass of cables that are now in place. That means that, if we can get someone to donate a few grand for a dolly, we can move the organ console, which means for recitals it can be out front rather than back in the corner where it lives now. We might even be able to get the piano to fit snugly beside it again, like it did a few years ago before we got the new carpet and the organ builders decided to put the console back a little to the left of where they found it!

It's not really a bad little instrument. And it isn't really all that little. It has a bit of everything--a couple of reeds, mutations, a few foundations, pairs of flute stops, string, mixtures in each division--and they blend well. And some of the folks who attend the early service think it is already plenty of organ for the size of the sanctuary, and like to keep their hearing aids turned up to hear the sermon, thank you very much.

But you know, organists can't help themselves sometimes. I mean, imagine a nice rumbly 32 foot contra bombard or some horizontal trumpets in the back. Then you would really feel the sound waves ripple right through you!

Not that I'll mind still being able to hear when I'm 80. And I often practice with reduced stops to make that dream a reality. I also enjoy the sound of a single 4 foot flute stop. Bigger may not always be better, but it isn't nothing. Still, I can deal.

In the meantime, I'll guess you'll just have to listen to my playing by way of the internet, instead of just opening your windows. But hey, that way works, too, I guess.

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