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August 18, 2004
Vol. IV, No. 23

"No! No! No! No! No!"
I was truly surprised to read in August's issue of The American Organist (TAO) how the National Council of the American Guild of Organists decided this past spring that they just weren't doing enough to promote digital organs. Actually, I thought they had been doing a pretty good job of it. In fact, in the very same issue of TAO, 75% of the major instrument advertisers were manufacturers of some form of digital instrument. Hey, follow the money, I guess.

Based on recommendations adopted by the Council at their spring 2004 meeting, the AGO will now enter a bold and bright future where AGO leaders at all levels are urged "to be more open regarding their use of digital technology for performance, teaching, and services;" where information about non-pipe instruments will no longer be noticeably absent from the pages of TAO; and convention planners are urged "not to shun arbitrarily non-pipe technologies when structuring their programs, and that issues particular to non-pipe technologies be addressed in workshops."

Finally, help is on the way for the digital organ.

For those of you who don't read The American Organist, an article appeared in the August 2004 issue entitled "A Guild for All the Members? A Report on the AGO Task Force on Digital Inclusiveness." Apparently, AGO members who don't play all-pipe instruments complained at the spring 2002 National Council meeting that they "feel consigned to a second class status with the Guild." The accusations listed in the article were:

--reported hostility among some Guild members towards instruments (and those who play them) whose means of sound production is anything other than pipe;

--the leadership of some chapters who promote the idea that venues with non-pipe instruments are inappropriate for Guild events;

--while The American Organist (TAO) has excellent content, its near-total emphasis on pipe-only organ issues may foster inappropriately the notion that non-pipe instruments can produce credible musical results;

--that many Guild documents seem to suggest pipes as the obligatory method of sound production, with little regard to the actual quality of their sound.

Wow! Honestly, I can't believe the Guild has been so insensitive. Imagine, calling it a PIPE Organ Encounter. What about the educational value of an encounter with a digital instrument? There's so much to learn, like, don't ever stick a fork in it--you might get electrocuted.

But seriously, I'm sorry that some AGO members who advocate pipes-only organs are making members who play digital instruments feel bad. Gee, with a digital-to-pipe installation ratio of 15-to-1, it's not like the pipe advocates should feel threatened or anything.

Fifteen-to-1, that's some ratio, huh? It sounds like the digital instrument manufacturers have done a good job of convincing small churches that a digital instrument is actually a better buy than a pipe organ. Too bad the AGO didn't step up on that one before it got so lopsided. Hmm, I wonder if they'll ever start defending the pipe organ as the underdog. Maybe when the installation rate is 30-to-1? How about 60-to-1? The only overtly pro-pipe content in the August 2004 TAO is a full-page ad by APOBA on page 88!!! That's not exactly shoving the pipe organ down people's throats, you know.

Speaking of APOBA, a concern had been raised at the same 2002 National Council meeting about the potential for "harming the valued relationship between the Guild and the Associated Pipe Organ Builders of America (APOBA). Members of APOBA...have long been extremely supportive of the Guild, and TAO serves as APOBA's official journal."

That sounds like a valid concern. It was raised in response to a motion made at the meeting, subsequently tabled, suggesting that the Guild condone "instruments of quality, regardless of the technology employed to produce the sound." Yes, I can see where that might bother APOBA just a wee, little bit, if not insult them completely. After all, those builders put their sweat and blood into their instruments, more often for love than money. You know, if I was APOBA, I think I might just tell the AGO to go take a walk.

One digital instrument manufacturer is advertising their $75,000 digital instrument that's a European organ and an American organ all rolled into one. I'm sorry, if you can afford to spend that kind of money, the Guild should be there to tell you that you can actually afford an extremely nice pipe organ that's tailored to your space and isn't trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Remember, if you don't play in a European cathedral, your organ probably shouldn't be sounding like a European cathedral pipe organ. That's not the art of organ building. That's more like putting on a CD.

After the AGO gets done proclaiming the virtues of the digital organ, perhaps they'll find a little time to educate their members, not just about how to play some keyboard with pedals, but also about some of the things that make a pipe organ special. I would start with the relationship between an organ and the space in which it's installed, and how that intimate relationship is at the core of all we do as organists. That might begin to help them understand exactly how much they are sacrificing for the opportunity to sound like some European organ they heard on a CD.

Oh, well, it's probably too late anyway. Without some sort of immediate intervention, the digital-to-pipe installation ratio will continue to climb, fewer and fewer organists will learn to value the unique playing experience a pipe organ provides and pipe organs will become more and more irrelevant. Given the current recommendations of the AGO National Council, it's not hard to imagine the future: "Hardly anyone plays them anymore. Let's just drop them. They're old-fashion. They'll go the way of the horse and buggy. What's a horse and buggy?"

Speaking of the horse and buggy, I wonder if, back in the day, the car manufacturers told the buggy makers that cars could co-exist in peace with horse-drawn buggies while simultaneously doing everything in their power to drive the buggy people out of business. Maybe, maybe not, but I haven't seen many buggies lately. Maybe we'd all be better off if we traded in our cars for horse-drawn buggies. Oh, don't be silly, you say, our lives are so much better now, you say. Well, given the current state of world affairs, I'm not sure I'd necessarily agree with that.

Is this a scene from our future?

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Updated Pages
Pipes Hall of Fame:
Added are the Friends of Roosevelt High School Froula Memorial Organ - Seattle, Washington, and the Chattanooga Music Club - Chattanooga, Tennessee. Click the link below for more info on the fine work of these two groups:

Featured Links:
Added is The Pipe Organ Foundation. Based in Seattle, Washington, The Pipe Organ Foundation is a nonprofit corporation committed to the preservation and playing of pipe organs, especially in public places. As a charitable institution, they facilitate the placement of these instruments in public settings at minimal cost.

Musician Jokes:
Added is a link to the May 15, 2004, A Prairie Home Companion for a humorous story about a church in Minnesota and its parade of organists. Also added is "A definition of the Irish traditional drum, the Bodhran."

Community Links:
This page continues to grow with favorite and pertinent links recommended by your fellow community members.

WHAT I'M READING..."The Rule of Four" by Ian Caldwell, Dustin Thomason. Finished it. I enjoyed it, it was a good read but it didn't bowl me over. I think without the whole religious component, it wasn't as compelling as The Da Vinci Code, perhaps because there was less at stake. I would say it was over-hyped which is unfortunate. When expectations are high, it doesn't matter how good the book is, odds are it will fall short. Click the link below for more information on this book:
Click this link to see all selections in Dan's Book Club:

WHAT I'M LISTENING TO..."Anthology -- Ray Charles." I can't say enough about this CD. I really didn't expect to like it as much as I do. It has the hits plus a bunch of other songs that I'd never heard before that I now like more than the hits. I particularly liked the songs that were recorded live. In fact, I ended up checking out a DVD of one of his concerts. I can't see how anyone could be disappointed with this collection of music. Click the links below for more information on this CD:
Click this link to see all selections in Dan's CD Club:

Have a great week and hug a pipe organ builder!

Dan Long

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