There is something magical about modern technology, we know that it works, even if we know not how, or why. Television in the 1930s was a new technology that captured the imagination. Although the wireless was commonplace, the magic of pictures through the aether had to be seen to be believed and, even then, remained totally incomprehensible to all but the technically gifted. In 1937 Logie Baird and Marconi EMI were locked in technical combat, with Bairds Electro-mechanical 30-line system up against EMIs fully electronic 405 line scanning system and, of course, we all know who won. Some of us were to see the Alexandra Palace test transmissions of dance bands fronted by charming young ladies singing of the mystic magic rays that bring television to you, all in perfect BBC English.
But things have
moved on a little since then. In our organ world
Our recent visit
to Mayfield and its
Some members may,
indeed, have been critical of the new
Obviously, the comparison of cost does enter the equation when a church or other institution considers the purchase of a new instrument. Churches, who may opt for an electronic organ, usually do so because they say that it is cheaper. However, the figures below, published recently by the Institute of British Organ Building, suggest that the opposite is true.
life-span of an electronic organ is 17 years a figure
revealed by the annual surveys in The Organbuilder and
Comparison of a two-manual tracker-action organ with
10-12 stops, and three manuals for price of two digital instrument.
Cost of pipe organ 2003: £100,000
Clean and overhaul after 50 years, at
Current cost of £15,000 *£64,000
Annual maintenance: 100 years @ £100 *£61,000
Cost of digital organ 2003: £15,000
Average life 17 years
Replacement cost after 17 years *£24,071
34 years *£39,785
51 years *£65,759
68 years *£108,689
85 years *£179,646
(based on £100 p.a. for latter half of life)
Total cost of digital organ £449,949
* Allows for inflation @ 3% p.a.
It is obvious that the electronic approach is not, long term, the cheapest option. Space for a pipe organ may prove difficult in small churches or in the home, but given a suitable location a pipe organ will undoubtedly be the best option.
When space is at a premium, electronics can, however, prove useful. There are many pipe organs, some in quite prestigious locations, which have used electronics in adding that elusive 32ft pedal tone. This apparent heresy can be introduced into a pipe organ only if the lowest 32ft pitch is strictly used, allowing the real pedal 16ft, 8ft, and 4ft pipes to provide the full harmonic sequence and tonal colour helping to mask the electronics deficiencies.
limited deep-pedal use electronics become obvious, as was
demonstrated this year by the collaboration between the pipe
organ builder Peter Collins and Allen electronics. Peter Collins
provided some six or seven ranks of real pipes to supplement an
electronic organ installed in the Parish Church of Trönö, in
The man on the Clapham omnibus may not be aware of the electronic organs shortcomings as is often painfully illustrated by any film or television programme which depicts an organist, whether it be at a small village church pipe organ or playing something larger; the organ we hear is always an electronic, usually of cathedral proportions. But those of us who are charged with the responsibilities of organ installation or maintenance should be fully aware and act accordingly. We live in changing and sometimes difficult times for our pipe organs and raised awareness of what the real thing has to offer can only be to everyones advantage.
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