Fantastic Singing on Sunday! Many thanks to our instrumentalists and vocalists who provided strong leadership without the organ.
Now an Update on the organ…
The organ was upgraded with the last major capital campaign around 2005/2006. The majority of the upgrades were to the console and electronic systems. Quite a number of digital voices were added at that time. ‘Digital voices’ are sounds reproduced through a high-grade speaker and computer system instead of pipes. To my knowledge there were no changes to the pipes other than where they are placed. The changes to the pipe configuration was done primarily to change the look of the case and to accommodate the speaker systems which delivered quite a number of new sounds not available with the pipes that we have.
A new console was installed at that time also. (The organist plays the instrument from the console.) Virtually all organs have a system through which the stops (sounds) can be changed quickly called a combination action system. The combination action allows the stop arrangement to be set in advance and changed in fractions of a second between pieces of music or while a piece is being played. This stop changing system has been slowly failing since late spring of this year. There are several aspects of it that simply stopped working. Until Sunday its failures were somewhat predictable. I sort of knew how the organ was going to behave within about a minute of starting it up on any day. Sunday was different. During my play-through Sunday morning the entire organ would magically come on along with bells (zimbelstern) and chimes. Then it would start randomly changing stops on its own. (If you’ve ever seen the Don Knotts movie from the 70’s, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, it was similar. Except in the movie when the organ started doing its own thing it was at least melodic.)
The combination action system is managed by a computer. It is now 16 years old and it appears that some of it may have been re-cycled from the previous console or another organ since some of the components are marked 1997. If you’ve had an experience with an aging computer that is beginning to fail, that is how this part of the organ is behaving. Additionally, there was a lightening strike to the organ in 2012. Even after having major damage from that repaired, there have been small, odd console problems crop up frequently. Those problems have been difficult to pinpoint and permanently correct. There’s no way to know if this is the result of damage from the lightning strike or failure due to age.
The organ technicians were here Sunday evening and Monday morning troubleshooting and disabling the memory system so that the organ will be available through the end of December. Even though the organ will have to be set by hand, this shouldn’t cause a tremendous disruption except for the occasional awkward silence while the stops are reset and limiting music to pieces where large numbers of stops don’t have to be changed quickly.
Beginning January, the organ will be disabled for about 6 to 8 weeks while the old combination action system is removed from the console and a new one is configured and installed. Repairing the one we have is possible, but it is so outdated that replacement parts are becoming increasingly rare. Many organ companies are refusing to work on them. Additionally, whatever money is spent on the older system would likely have to be followed by more money several months down the road to repair a part next to it or a few inches over.
So, practice your singing voices in the shower or the car or wherever you may be. We need them every Sunday, but we’re going to especially need them in January or February.