What is the value of our church's
   existing pipe organ?
Is it always worth rebuilding an
   existing organ?
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How do pipe organs make

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   and Canada
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Pipe organs and MIDI

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   or get an existing one rebuilt?
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The "Sense" and "Cents" of Rebuilding a Pipe Organ

Pipe organs speak to the generations. The music they provide, from stirring hymn accompaniments to comforting preludes, inspiring postludes, and choir anthem accompaniments, help us make a musical connection to the past while at the same time enabling us to make a musical statement in the present and prepare to speak to the future as well.

The passion I feel for the pipe organ and its ability to lift our musical praise to God to soaring heights comes from the somewhat unique background of being a professional economist and serving churches for 40 years as organist and choir director. Over half the years I have served as a church musician have been spent playing on electronic organs. However, each of the four churches for which I have been organist has either installed a new pipe organ or rebuilt an existing pipe organ during my tenure at the church. And, in each case, the exhilaration of the congregation upon hearing the new or rebuilt instrument far surpassed the expectations of even the most enthusiastic supporters of the project. Musically, nothing leads a congregation in worship as effectively as the sounds of real pipes.

But, what about the cost? A pipe organ makes "sense" musically, but does it make "cents" economically? Most definitively, the answer is "yes!" When a church confronts the decision to either rebuild an existing pipe organ or replace it with an electronic substitute it is wise to take a very careful look at every dimension of the economics of the situation. Often, much of the basics of the old pipe organ can be used in the rebuilding project. The console shell, the pipes, and often casework and even chests can be a part of the rebuild project. Even with some added or new pipes to meet the tastes and desires of the modern congregation, my research over the past decade shows that a very high percentage of the rebuild projects in the U.S. and Canada cost less or no more than an electronic organ substantial enough to serve the needs of a medium sized church with an active music program. An electronic organ of sufficient size and resources to serve such a congregation is not a "cheap" substitute for the pipe organ. So, it is well worth the effort to rebuild the old pipe organ and have the "real" thing to lead worship. Besides, the excitement that rebuilding the pipe organ can generate along with the opportunities for musical education that taking members of the congregation on an "organ crawl" through the chambers and/or to the organ builders shop to see the work in progress create a lasting legacy of goodwill within the church.

A logical question to ask is whether rebuilding the old pipe organ will result in a "modern" instrument? Again, the answer is a decisive "yes!" In the rebuilding process tonal upgrading may be desirable. Also, it is possible to add MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) capabilities to a rebuilt instrument. The use of MIDI gives the ability to playback, create four hands and feet "duets" played by one person, and even make use of sampled sounds of other musical instruments that can be controlled by the organist. Therefore, through proper tonal planning and the use of MIDI a church can plan to meet the musical challenges of both traditional and contemporary worship. I know; I play on a pipe organ so equipped and the excitement and flexibility having the resources of pipes combined with MIDI make possible is a source of great satisfaction to all involved in the music program and worship.

Perhaps the most important message to convey is that in the rebuilding of your pipe organ you will have many options opened to you. Do you want to just rebuild the mechanics of your organ? Do you wish to change or add to the pipe generated tonal qualities of the organ? Does MIDI fit the needs and plans of your church's music program? These are all exciting questions with which to deal. To help you answer those questions there are many competent pipe organ builders to assist you. Some are small firms that have built a strong and vibrant local reputation. Others are larger firms with national and international reputations. It is a good idea first to determine what kind of music program your rebuilt pipe organ will be serving and then to seek the counsel of three or four pipe organ builders to see what options are available to you as you make your final decision on the "sense" and "cents" of rebuilding your old pipe organ.

Once your decision is made, and once the excitement of the organ campaign is over, and the thrill of the dedicatory recital has past, the ultimate wisdom of rebuilding your pipe organ will be realized. That wisdom will manifest itself week after week for many decades to come as your pipe organ "speaks to the generations" and continues to lead them in musical praise to God.

Robert R. Ebert, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics
Baldwin-Wallace College
Berea, Ohio

Music Director
Church of the Redeemer
United Church of Christ
Westlake, Ohio

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