Our Ideas About Designing Organs
Analysis of Needs
When planning an organ for a specific congregation and a specific building, we do the following Analysis of Needs:
- Study the functions which the organ is to serve, both now and in the future;
- Get a feel for the expectations of the congregation;
- Envision future possibilities, for the congregation’s future will change when the organ is in place;
- Set specific musical and visual goals for the organ.
If needs are not analyzed, there is danger of using one of the following diversions when designing an organ for a church:
- Majority Opinion
- Design by Consensus
- Whatever the Customer Wants
- Rely on Outside Authority
- Survey of Congregations in Our Denomination
- Historical Reproduction (copy an old organ)
- Copy an Earlier European Style (Classic French, German Baroque, Romantic French, English, etc.)
In most modern churches, congregational singing is the most important musical activity. This has not always been true, particularly of European organs. For instance, the congregation seldom sang in many French churches, and the organ was seldom played during congregational singing in many Dutch, German, and English churches until the last century or so.
We want the organ to be a partner, an inspirer to that congregational activity. This does not mean the organ must always be loud. In fact, we prefer to de-emphasize the leadership and to re-emphasize the accompanying function of the instrument. The organ needs to provide a solid, reassuring foundation.
We want our instruments to be capable of producing the succession of tensions and releases that constitute exciting music. The releases are as important as the peaks.
We are especially concerned with the matter of lucidity. Lucidity is not an emphasis on high pitches but rather the ability of the organ to convey musical ideas in a manner such that the lay listener can hear the parts, especially the melody, and sense the drama. We want the listener to feel like she has been told a wonderful story which she understands and which has meaning. We do not enjoy organs that make people angry, anxious, or confused.
For The Organist
We analyze the function of each rank of pipes in the organ according to the functions of the organ in that specific congregation and building and according to the organ literature. We then voice that rank accordingly.
Lucidity is enhanced by using large scale (large diameter) Principals and small scale Mixtures, the goal being to distinguish between those voices which define and establish pitch (Principals) and those which have so little fundamental tone (Mixtures) that they add harmonics without distracting the ear with pitch lines of their own.
Every rank has a particular range of the keyboard where it should be strong and other ranges where it should be soft. Mutations, for instance, should be especially mild in the bass lest they make it sound like the organist is playing parallel fifths, thirds, etc.
Designing and voicing organ pipes is very much like directing a choir. The techniques are different, but the goals are similar (create a musical line while maintaining appropriate timbre).
A pipe makes a sound roughly similar to a human voice in volume and color. It should be placed in the listening room the same way a singer is placed—facing the listeners, not in a side room, not behind an obstruction.
The organist should face the music in the same way that a conductor does. The organist should be able to hear the organ and the balance of organ and singers as well as anyone. Consoles should not be off to the side.
An organ which is too soft is as bad as one which is too loud, because too many stops must be used too much of the time, resulting in either a high-pitched or a complex sound too often.
It is important that the tension of "hot" sound be satisfactorily balanced by "cool" sound for listeners to feel gratified.
Absorbent surfaces are to music what black paint is to visual art. Listening in a dead room is like seeing an art exhibit in a dark room. One can intellectually make out the tune or image, but one surely loses interest quickly. The padding of American buildings is a great threat to music. Not only do individuals in a congregation become self-conscious about singing, but choirs and organists have a poor medium in which to transmit their message. The great choral music and hymns of the Church were written when and where buildings had lively acoustics.
The sound of the organ should be clear, and clarity should not be confused with coarseness or excessive brilliance. A single 8′ rank communicates melody and harmony well if it is voiced in loudness the same way a choral group is voiced: soprano gets subtly stronger as it goes up from, say, middle e; bass gets subtly stronger as it goes down from, say, the e an octave below; the notes in between are in balance to the soprano and bass. The area of repose is the calmest; the range of extension is louder. If a rank is too weak in the treble, it will sound muddy, and it will not be helped by the addition of a higher-pitched rank. The sound will only be made more complex. As more ranks are added to the basic one, it should still be possible to follow the melodic lines.
Emotional content (variety, excitement, relaxation, brilliance, calmness, satisfaction) must be provided for in our organs if we are to lay claim to public interest and support.
We seek to be knowledgeable about all types of materials and processes used in organbuilding and to be cautious about introducing those that are unproven, especially in regard to reliability and longevity. We seek to build useful 20th Century American organs in response to a correct analysis of the needs of the specific congregation and location based on knowledge about different historic styles. We are members of the American Guild of Organists and the International Society of Organbuilders and have studied organs in Germany, France, England, and Holland.