There are many purists in the organ world, people who shudder at the thought of introducing electronic tone generation or MIDI to a pipe organ. Unless somebody is building a tracker organ with no electronics whatsoever, Classic does have a wide variety of products suitable for them. We are however pragmatists. With the changing demographics and aesthetics in main line churches, the desire and/or need for hybrid organs is increasing. I'll look at two types of hybrids in this post; the older pipe organ which you now want to add MIDI to, and an electronic organ which has MIDI output, to which you want to add pipes.

 

Adding MIDI to a Pipe Organ

There are many pipe organs out there that were built prior to MIDI becoming standard (or the original builder was a purist), but now the organist wants to add a MIDI expander. This may be to add specialty sounds (piano, violin) or to expand the tonal quality of the instrument, but the funds aren't there to do it with pipes. Blending pipe sound produced from a MIDI expander with actual pipes can be done reasonably successfully. True, a trained organ builder or organist may be able to tell the difference, but there are very few such people in attendance during a Sunday morning service. The average congregation won't be able to tell the difference.

At Classic we use a MIDI Control Unit (MCU). This is a box about 12" x 7" x 3". The top of the box has several rows of pins where you wire in your keyboards and stops (+12V common), some analog inputs (e.g. expression) and the MIDI DIN plugs for your outputs. The software in the box does need some configuration, i.e. it needs to know how many keyboards there are, what MIDI channels to use etc. This configuration can be done by the builder: however. for an extra fee, we (usually Attila) will configure it for you. So far most people have asked us to configure it.

 

Controlling Pipe Components via MIDI

The other situation that may arise is where MIDI output needs to control components typically associated with a pipe organ. This in itself can take a couple different forms.

One example is when a church might have an electronic organ such as an Ahlborn-Galanti, but they also have some ranks of real pipes which they want to use. In this case we would provide a Pipe Control Computer (discrete boards or in a packaged system), which we have configured to receive MIDI data. From that point on it's just like any other pipe organ. Our software in the PCC is capable of doing some coupling, but typically the coupling is being done by the electronic organ

If all the builder needs is conversion of MIDI note On/Off to key data output that is possible too. We have a couple of boards (negative drive and positive drive) which receive MIDI note on/off messages and outputs parallel key data. This option is a lot cheaper than using a PCC, but you also can't do any unification, borrowing, or coupling. 

Another situation that might come up is a customer has something like a Hauptwerk system. Hauptwerk is designed to be flexible, usually used by a person in their home. It enables the organist to play several different instruments from around the world. This is great for this application; however this flexibility means the console doesn't exactly look or feel like a traditional pipe organ console. We have had a couple situations where a church has gone the Hauptwerk route due to financial constraints, but they still wanted a traditional console, which means drawknobs that move. We can do this. We have a couple of different boards that will receive and transmit MIDI data to control things like drawknobs, lighted rocker tabs, and lighted push buttons.

As the Hauptwerk system is outputting MIDI data, we can add real pipes to it, just like in the Ahlborn-Galanti example above. At this point however, you might want to consider going with a traditional pipe organ control system, and use Hauptwerk like an add on MIDI Expander. Our pipe organ control systems are of course able to use our MIDI keyboards and pedalboard.

 

Conclusion

I've attended several different churches in the past couple years: Alliance, Anglican, Baptist, Bible Chapel, Pentecostal, Salvation Army, and Wesleyan; only the Baptist church used an organ. Congregations are getting older, churches are closing, and there isn't as much money out there for major projects like building a pipe organ. Adaptability is important. The organ builder who can look at what a church has and say "Yes, I can work with that" will have an advantage over the builder who says "No". 

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