From the Rector – Column 8

November 7, 2019

Dear Friends,

Thanks to Murray Daniels and the whole Organ Committee for a very informative and interesting update on their work. As you may know, the Organ Committee has been charged by the vestry to research options for updating, repairing, or replacing our organ. Their goal is to give the vestry 2-3 recommendations with a variety of price ranges. The vestry will make the final decision about an organ solution, based of course on your feedback and input. 

Murray started out his presentation by saying just that – that we hope everyone in the parish will take the time to be informed about the issues with our organ and share their thoughts so the vestry can make a good decision. 

Murray went on to describe how our organ currently works:

The pipes, installed in the 1960’s, are in a loft to the right side of the church (the lectern side). The console (or “keyboard”, although it’s actually 3 keyboards, a footboard, and many stops), is connected to the pipes electronically, which means it can be located anywhere (it doesn’t have to be near the pipes).  In the 1980’s it was decided that the pipes did not give a full enough sound so they were augmented with electronic (synthesized) sounds. Some of those electronics are located in the console itself and some are in the pipe loft. The electronic sounds are projected by means of speakers, which are in the lofts on both sides of the church (above the choir’s heads). Right now, the electronic connection between the console and pipes is broken, which means we are hearing only electronic (synthesized) organ sound from the speakers. One thing the Organ Committee is working on is investigating whether this connection can be repaired so we can hear the pipes again. In addition, some of the electronics are now also failing (they are computer parts that are 40 years old…) and several parts of the organ don’t play at all. 

The Organ Committee had an acoustical engineer do a preliminary study of the sanctuary.

He determined that a major problem (and probably the reason the parish decided to add the electronic augmentation in the 1980’s) is that pipe and speaker location in the lofts means the sound goes “sideways” into the chancel/choir area, but not out into the larger sanctuary where the congregation sits. So the choir hears the organ very loudly, but from the pews the sound is more muted. This is why we’ve been experimenting with having sound generated from the balcony and other locations on the long axis of the sanctuary. Murray said that to install a new or refurbished organ into the current location would be a waste of money –we’d still not be able to hear it. Getting the acoustics right will make sure we get the most bang for our buck out of whatever instrument is chosen. 

The Organ Committee has also been visiting many churches to hear various kinds of organ (both pipe and electronic) and meeting with various organ builders and consultants to learn about the options. They have engaged Jonathan Ambrosino as a consultant on a limited basis at this time. Mr. Ambrosino came to the adult forum on Sunday and was able to helpfully answer several questions about organs and their costs.  

The Organ Committee presented what they know, what they think they know, and what they still need to find out. 

What they know: 

  • The main organ is:
    1. Not working fully (i.e., the pipes are not producing sound)
    2. Not reliable
    3. Outdated (pipes circa 1960, console and electronics circa 1980)
    4. Hard to maintain (without major refurbishment or rebuilding)
  • Organ music is central to the Episcopal tradition
  • The small (Bevington) organ has limited sounds and volume
  • Purchase costs for a new or different church organ range from $35K to $850K (or more)
  • Acoustics are an issue

What they think they know (assertions still to be explored further):

  • Some (many?) parishioners have strong and deep-rooted feelings about having an organ to support worship
  • (Subjective) The existing organ is not producing high-quality sound
  • We can’t predict when the existing organ will fail more completely
  • The quality of the organ can be a factor in attracting new congregants and staff over time
  • Sustainment costs can vary widely
  • The longevity of a church organ can vary from a few years (if unlucky) to 100 years or more (with proper care)

The next steps include creating a survey to ask parish members what the most important criteria are in this decision-making process. There are many criteria we could use, including 

  • Cost (both initial acquisition and sustainment)
  • Quality of sound
  • Reliability
  • Longevity (anticipated useful lifetime)
  • Suitability to COOR Music Program
  • Support for traditional Anglican/Episcopalian music
  • Flexibility (e.g., types of sounds, console movability)
  • Impact on worship space
  • Usability
  • Aesthetics (visual appearance)

Which of these are most important to our community? Expect a survey in the coming months to ask your thoughts about this and also about your desires for our music program. 

Our options include: 

  • Do nothing
    1. Rely primarily on the piano and the chamber organ
    2. Possibly augment with a portable electronic keyboard
  • Rebuild the existing main organ
    1. Address known issues with the console
    2. Fix (or replace) the connection between the console and the existing pipes
    3. Move the existing pipes to a more acoustically appropriate location
  • Replace the main organ w/ a different new or used instrument, possibly salvaging pieces of the existing organ
    1. New pipe organ (possibly w/ remote console)
    2. Used pipe organ (possibly w/ remote console)
    3. New electronic instrument
    4. Some combination of the above (e.g., pipe organ plus portable electronic keyboard)

Mr. Ambrosino was asked several questions about the viability of buying a used instrument and installing it at Redeemer, or even re-installing our own organ pipes in a better location (such as the balcony – the console and choir could still be in their current location). He responded that it’s a “buyer’s market” for used organs, especially as churches close or merge, and excellent instruments could be purchased for as little at $10,000. However, the real cost would be in moving it and installing it, which would probably be more than $100,000. This would still (probably) be considerably less than the cost of a new pipe organ, which can run from $500,000 and up. We also have not ruled out an all-electronic (synthesized) organ, which could run anywhere from $35,000 for a “low-end” instrument to $300,000 or more. Murray pointed out that total cost over the long term is an important consideration.  He also said that we want to be looking long term – we don’t want to have to re-visit this decision in 15 or 20 years. 

The Organ Committee will continue its work in the coming months, visiting other churches, speaking with consultants, and researching costs and solutions. An important part of this process is getting your thoughts on what your desires are for our music program, what kind of instruments we may need to support that kind of program, and what are the most important criteria to you in making this decision. So please stay involved and give us your thoughts! 

Thanks so much to Murray and the whole organ committee: Sandy Anagnostakis, Erica Brotschi, Bernadette Colley, Murray Daniels, Bruce Francis, Charles Hornig, Sandy Keshishian, Calie Koso, and Stephen Kukolich.

Peace and blessings,