All Saints' Organ Project
After thorough and prayerful consideration, we have decided it's time to replace our 87 year old Moller pipe organ. We're excited to be replacing it with a fully digital organ from Allen Organ Company, one of the world's foremost designers and manufacturers of digital organs. There are many reasons we’ve decided to take this important step.
So what's wrong with the organ?
There are several problems with the organ:
- Its age and increasing state of decline have made it difficult and costly to maintain. Much of the organ is original from 1929 and refurbished in 1968. Many of the parts are original and need to be replaced due to deterioration with age.
- Its voicing (combination of pipes to produce a specific type of sound) has become too harsh for the Historic Church and for our style of worship.
- The voicing of the organ that makes it sound like specific instruments (called “solo stops”) is poor such that it doesn't really sound like the intended instrument (for example, the trumpet setting sounds more like bagpipes).
- The voicing also makes it difficult to accompany the choir and the congregation.
- Moller made over 11,000 organs in their 115+ year history. Some were good quality and some not so good. Ours is more towards the middle. For example, the metal used to make the pipes is poor quality alloy such that several of the larger pipes are bending or falling over.
- The location of the organ in the gallery at the back of the church contributes to its deterioration and poor sound. While the space is technically climate-controlled, the wide temperature variations throughout the years have caused fatigue and deterioration in several of the components (including the pipes as mentioned above). These wide temperature variations also make it very difficult to keep the organ in tune.
- The condenser unit for the Historic Church Nave air conditioning is located right above the organ (the Chancel has its own AC). This configuration means that there is a potential for condensate to collect and leak into a portion of the organ called the “Swell” if the condensate drain ever gets plugged. This actually happened several times such that we had to rebuild the Swell in 2004. We re-engineered the condenser when we replaced it in 2011 (as part of the capital campaign) so a leak is unlikely (but possible). However, the condenser is still located in the organ loft, which causes slight vibrations, noise and exacerbates the temperature variations in the space, which as we said before, still makes it difficult to keep the organ in tune.
Why can't we repair and re-voice it?
We can and we received a proposal to do just that. However, after long, careful and prayerful consideration we decided that even a repaired and re-voiced organ would still suffer from the problems associated with the location of the organ in the gallery. The location of the AC condenser and the temperature variations would still be a problem.
Why did we decide to go with a digital organ instead of a more traditional pipe organ or a hybrid?
The Organ Committee considered several options and received proposals for refurbishing the organ, creating a hybrid pipe/digital organ, and going all-digital. The committee ultimately recommended that we go with the all-digital solution for the reasons shown below.
Cost was not really a deciding factor since all proposals were more or less similar on cost. Refurbishment would leave us with a pipe organ that would still require regular maintenance and tuning, and the location in the gallery would still be an issue considering the AC and tuning. In addition, the art of organ maintenance and repair is dying.
The committee made several field trips to inspect and listen to both hybrid and digital organs in churches and decided that the digital had the best sound for All Saints'. Considering all of the issues mentioned above, the committee recommended a digital solution considering:
- Instrument quality,
- Environmental stamina, and
- Applicability to All Saints' worship.
How did we decide on Allen?
The committee felt that the Allen Organ proposal presents best value solution. Key decision factors in choosing Allen:
- Committee (including our music director, Carroll Howe) felt Allen was better-sounding instrument than Rodgers.
- The French Console offered by Allen is beautiful, and shorter than a standard 3-manual console, which will facilitate choir accompanying and directing from the organ.
- There could be potential parts/service issues with Rodgers due to company buy-out by a Dutch conglomerate.
- Allen is well-established, reputable company, and very likely to be in business long-term, which facilitates maintenance/service for life of the instrument.
How will the digital organ sound and look different from what we have now?
We are keeping the façade pipes, so the look at the back of the church will not change. Visitors to the gallery area will notice 24 speakers on shelves behind the façade pipes. Ultimately, the old organ will likely be removed, leaving space for other uses.
Some of the chancel pipes will be removed and there will be two speakers installed (inconspicuously) behind remaining pipework. Two speakers will also be placed in the rafters in the chancel.
The keyboard console will be about the same size, but it will have three keyboards instead of the two we have now. The new keyboard will also be on a movable platform. Pictures of the new keyboard can be found here: [link].
The digital organ sound is created by sampling hundreds of renowned pipe organs and storing the samples in digital memory. The digital organ is designed to play these sampled sounds from all of the speakers for any given registration selected at the console when a key is played on the keyboard. Everyone on the committee strongly feels that the digital organ will ultimately sound much better than our current organ.
Carroll will also have much more sound and features at her command. The digital keyboard has a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), pre-recorded music selections, and the ability to record while she plays the keyboard for playback.
What will be done with the old organ?
To make room for the speakers to be installed in the gallery, much of the swell and great pipework will be removed. Our organ repairman/tuner, Mark Steiner, has offered to take some or all of it and use it in other pipe organs. He may also take the old console and recycle it. In order to accomplish this task, Mark will take out the façade pipes and lower the pipework in trays over the gallery on a lift. He will ask for a donation to All Saints' for any useable parts (pipework, console, etc.).
As mentioned above, we plan to leave the façade pipes as-is and place the speakers on shelves behind them.
The organ has intrinsic historical value, and a few parishioners are working on documenting the organ's history at All Saints' and the history of Moller in the context of All Saints'. This includes a paper on the organ, information on Moller and extensive photos of the organ. All of this information will be made available, probably on the website.
Where can I find more information?
Please feel free to contact anyone on the Organ Committee: Mark Gibson, David Haughwout, Sarah Heald, Carroll Howe, Ellis Kitchen, Ian McGreevy, or Rhonda Scott.
Supporting documentation can be downloaded:
- PhotoSet on Flikr
- Notable Allen Organ Installations
- Details about Allen Speakers
- Dedication Recital Flyer
- Organ Committee's Presentation to the Vestry
- All Saints' Speaker Layout Drawings
Info from OHS Pipe Organ Database (www.organsociety.org/database/): Opus 382 (ca. 1900). Organ by M. P. Möller MD, Frederick. All Saints Pentecostal Episcopal Church. 2 manuals. 25 registers.
Opus 5541 (1920s). Organ by M. P. Möller MD, Frederick. All Saint's Protestant Episcopal Church. 2 manuals. 33 registers.