Phoenix Organ Installation Diary

Phoenix Organ Installation Diary at Streetsville United

At a special congregational meeting held December 15, 2002 the congregation of Streetsville United Church approved the purchase and installation of a Phoenix PD-351 Digital Organ to replace its current Keates Pipe Organ with some components dating back to 1920. This diary logged the progress of the organ’s construction and installation during the spring of 2003.

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A diary describing the installation of a new Phoenix Digital Organ in the spring of 2003.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Two Organist Visits

This week we had visits from two of Canada’s more highly recognized organists. In both cases they spent a few minutes exploring the organ, trying out some tunes and made some initial positive comments on the (tonal) quality of the music. Then I spent a few minutes showing the other features (as best a non-keyboard instrumentalist can) and how to change many of the parameters, including the overall voicing specification.

But then they spent the remainder of their visits taking up the challenge of how they could best express themselves musically using the many features of the organ. For instance, one ended up playing Bach’s Air on a G string using the orchestral strings instrumentation, an instrumental flute stop and, for a bass, a Principal stop on the Pedal division. It was a stellar performance. Switching from the English to Baroque voicing, reviewing the use of memories to create unique stop combinations for the thumb and toe pistons, invoking the instrumentation stops and even the variation of parameters such as volume, reverberation level and temperament were amongst the many variables they tried out.

Both went away, not discussing whether it had a genuine pipe organ sound (that was a given from the first few minutes of playing), but rather how could they creatively express themselves in new ways through this instrument.

Posted 6/25/2003 11:34:23 PM
by Jim Courtney


Sunday, May 25, 2003

Organ Dedication Sunday

With our donor’s family present, today we dedicated the organ to our worship and to the Glory of God. The service featured well know hymns, a Healy Willan anthem and preludes and postludes that demonstrated the versatility and presence of the organ. Also in attendance was a former Music Director, Al Johnson. For the first time I sat in the center of the lower sanctuary; what a difference in the “presence” of organ sound in an area where the former organ’s sound used to die.

At the dedication, we acknowledged the vision and leadership of Gord Lessard in initiating and executing on his vision to replace all the accompaniment instrumentation within the church, mentioning that we had pianos that could not hold a tune and an organ that often could only hold a whistle. Thanks were also expressed to the Tolton family; Alma Tolton is shown in the picture. From my post-dedication commentary:

“Today we have a concert quality piano and the most modern of church organs; the latter being one that takes advantage of the same technologies that bring us many of today’s modern miracles as diverse as magnetic resonance imaging and CT scanners, enhanced neurological diagnostic techniques, complete collections of music on a single MP3 CD, personal computer multimedia capabilities and smoother riding, quieter vehicles. For over thirty years I have had the personal pleasure of being involved in these technologies and watching them develop. The design and architecture of our organ brings together many aspects of these technologies incorporated into an instrument that will not only support our current music ministry but also serve to challenge our musicians and this music ministry going forward.

“One could say that the development of church organs has been the world’s longest ongoing technology development program, with Greek roots going back to 300 B.C. You can find out more of this history, including a chance to listen to a reconstruction of the original wind-driven keyboard pipe instrument, from some links placed on the Installation Diary website.”

We acknowledged the leaders at Phoenix Organs North America: Don and Jim Anderson, who provided the organ not only on schedule but also slightly below budget. “Don, as Chief Organist, can only be described as an organ geek. Not only is he a fully trained and experienced church organist, but also an electronic music engineer who puts his heart into delivering a quality instrument. Jim ensures that everything comes together, including the console with especially selected high quality woods and finishes. As the delivery date approached they found a couple of small deficiencies that needed addressing before shipment – they stayed up until 3 a.m. the day of delivery to replace a defective roll top cover. We all have to agree that not only is it delivering an authentic pipe organ sound but also enhances the décor at the front of our sanctuary.”

We also expressed thanks to all those, named elsewhere in this Installation Diary, who assisted with the installation over the past two months. Following the service, presentations were made to the four members who provided leadership in various renovation projects associated with the installation: Rob Butterworth, Gary Clipperton, Les Cunningham and Peter Mara. Our post-service event was climaxed by the virtual Don Anderson of Phoenix playing Gordon Young’s Prelude in Classic Style using the sequencer with yours truly pushing the master thumb pistons (about as far as he will ever get towards actually playing this instrument). Don’s “performance” was greeted with sustained applause as it demonstrated the power and versatility of the organ. A most moving and successful day at Streetsville United!

(At right, the author along with our organist Robin Dalgliesh following the service)

Posted 5/25/2003 05:05:33 PM
by Jim Courtney


Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Just what is all this voicing…

Don Anderson, Phoenix Chief Tonal OfficerToday Don spent another day voicing the second (Baroque) and third (English with Orchestral Instruments) specifications. It was also an opportunity to learn some background to some of the stops and how they fit into the overall picture. For instance, we have a Piccolo Trumpet stop especially for use with Handel’s “The Trumpet Will Sound” of The Messiah oratorio. An orchestral brass combines tuba, trombone, trumpet, French Horn into one orchestral ensemble.

So, what is voicing? Effectively it is the process of tuning the instrument and then making appropriate adjustments to the sanctuary acoustics. With a traditional pipe organ this can be a very long tedious task. Remember that organ in Lausanne? — it will take about eight (8) months to completely voice each note (pipe) of its 6900 pipes. With a ‘digital pipe’ organ, such as ours, this task is simplified by the use of a computer program which can readily scale the volume relationships of the various pipes. In addition to calibrating the volume relationships, voicing of this type of organ includes making additional adjustments for wind (the rise and fall within the playing of a note) as well as reverberation. In the latter case, with the ‘dry acoustic’ of our sanctuary (due to the presence of a carpeted floor covering), the reverberation is severely inhibited.

In the course of this voicing, Don also reassigned some stops to different “instruments” with the result that, for instance, the cathedral choir can be played on both the Swell and Choir for an interesting “stereo” effect (remember each of these divisions is in one of the gallery pipe chambers facing each other). Some stops have been reassigned to match the desirability of playing two of them simultaneously via different keyboards.

Posted 5/21/2003 10:52:38 PM
by Jim Courtney


Thursday, May 15, 2003

Installing the Plaques


Tonight Rob completed carpeting on the steps behind the organ and installed two plaques. One was the dedication plaque from the 1960 installation of the Keates organ; that organ was dedicated to those who gave their lives in World War II (did I mention that in those days any item so dedicated got a Federal Sales Tax exemption?). The second is a new plaque recognizing both our donor and the builder of our Tolton organ:

“This Phoenix Organ and its music are dedicated to our worship and to the Glory of God. The Streetsville United congregation is most grateful to Bill and Alma Tolton for their generous financial gift which made its purchase and installation possible.”

“Builders: Aria Systems, Peterborough, Ontario
Installation and Dedication: April 2003”

Posted 5/15/2003 09:44:15 PM
by Jim Courtney


Sunday, May 11, 2003

Mother’s Day 2003


A Mother’s Day tradition continued with a service that included baptisms. Due to Robin’s absence, John Shillingberg was designated organist and used this opportunity to demonstrate some of the versatility of the organ. He brought the organ into the last couple of choruses as the Boomer Band led singing; for Diane Vandeberg’s solo, he employed the antiphonal speakers for the first time. Hymns were enthusiastically sung; following the service, John’s organ postlude, J. Keeble’s Praise to the Lord, presented another opportunity to demonstrate both the power and versatility of this organ.

Organ Dedication Sunday will be in two weeks: Sunday, May 25, at which time we expect to be able to personally express our gratitude to members of the Tolton family as well as acknowledge the efforts of all those who have contributed to this successful installation.

Posted 5/11/2003 08:13:42 PM
by Jim Courtney


Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Completing the Organ Loft


Over the past couple of days Rob has been staining and finishing the new woodwork in the organ loft. Great match to our existing pulpit and choir loft woodwork.

Today Don Anderson returned to spend a couple of hours doing further voicing on the English specification. John Shillingberg, our Music Director, arrived early for Choir practice as he was designated organist for our Mother’s Day service. This provided Don with an opportunity to sit in the sanctuary and actually listen to his handiwork in action; John obliged with a Bach piece and a variation on Praise to the Lord. John gets more enthused with the potential for the organ every time he has an opportunity to practice or play.

Don will return next week to voice the other two specifications.

Posted 5/7/2003 08:30:38 PM
by Jim Courtney


Sunday, May 04, 2003

“I didn’t realize it was not a pipe organ…”


Rob has spent several evenings and Saturday morning completing the woodwork associated with the organ loft renovations. All Should be ready for our Mother’s Day services.

Don Anderson from Phoenix spent Friday doing the final voicing on the English tonal specification as well as getting the reverberation feature working. And today I listened to many complements from those who noticed a difference. I arrived about an hour before this morning’s service to fill Robin in on Friday’s activities and had the chance to listen to her practice a prelude piece. Wow! It was agreed by the few who heard it that we had an organ music experience that had never previously occurred in our sanctuary.

The final complement came from our visiting speaker, who has spent a lifetime involved in church music. He mentioned after the service that he did not realize that it was not a pipe organ. His wife, with 43 years experience as an organist, received a “tour” of the organ.

This week voicing will be continued on the other two tonal specifications while Rob will complete the staining and finishing associated with the organ loft.

Posted 5/4/2003 06:03:13 PM
by Jim Courtney


Wednesday, April 30, 2003

And now for a literally Hot organ technology …..


Not a lot to report so far this week: Rob is working on finishing the organ loft enclosure and final voicing will commence at the end of the week.

In the course of this experience I have determined there are three general categories of organs used by churches:

  • “traditional pipe” organs
  • “electronic” organs – as epitomized by Hammond, Wurlitzer and Roland, amongst others, whose design involves synthesis of organ notes — but difficult to provide an authentic traditional pipe organ experience because it cannot take into account the geometry of organ pipes in this synthesis and
  • “digital” or “digital pipe” organs, such as our Phoenix organ, where the notes of a traditional pipe organ are stored in memory on computer cards ready to authentically reproduce their original notes on demand (see picture). I like to think of them as “digital pipes” since this method effectively takes into account the geometry of the original organ pipes as well as relevant effects associated with the rise and fall of wind pressure during the playing of each note.
  • One common characteristic of all three categories of organs when purchased today — they include a computer interface called a MIDI interface. Using it we can record, say, hymns for replay on those Sundays when our organist is absent. (OK, this is only for emergencies; we really do need the spontaneity and versatility of having a live organist.)

    However, man’s imagination and creative genius always comes up with another twist. We are all familiar with mobile “entertainment” organs that might be found at community fairs, restaurants and other entertainment venues. This week I learned about a new type of organ that has been traveling to some recent fairs in Germany: the Large Hot Pipe Organ — propane powered and guaranteed to light a spark. It comes complete with a MIDI interface; theoretically our organ could be used to play its limited number of notes. You can even hear samples if you have a Windows Media Player or Real Player. Warning … not suitable for works by Bach … Enjoy!

    Posted 4/30/2003 05:52:29 PM
    by Jim Courtney


    Saturday, April 26, 2003

    Another Installation Log


    An interesting contrast is provided by the Installation Log for a new traditional pipe organ being installed at La Cathédrale de Lausanne, Switzerland. With over 6500 pipes, 120 ranks and 100 speaking stops the basic installation of this organ required over three months (along with cranes and other assistance devices); the subsequent voicing is anticipated to require about eight months. Looks like they are targeting first formal use for this year’s Christmas season. For our organ the time from initial delivery to completion of voicing will be less than one month; the installation will have required in total the assistance of ten to twelve people with only five doing the majority of the work.

    Posted 4/26/2003 11:40:43 AM
    by Jim Courtney


    Thursday, April 24, 2003

    Updated Pictures


    Check out some new pictures of our new digital organ at the Tolton Organ page. Don’t forget to click on any of the pictures in the right hand column to get not only an enlarged picture but also some descriptive narrative. Enjoy!

    Posted 4/24/2003 10:29:16 PM
    by Jim Courtney


    Phoenix Organs NA

    Phoenix Organs UK

    Curious Facts from Organ History

    Encyclopedia of Organ Stops

    Organs –The Beginnings
    Invented by Ctesibius of Alexandria in the 3rd Century B.C., the hydraulis was the first keyboard musical instrument and the ancestor of the modern church organ. In 1992 Greek archaeologists recovered a fragmentary hydraulis dating from the 1st Century B.C. at the Greek city of Dion, at the foot of Mt. Olympus. Based on this example and documentary evidence, the European Cultural Centre of Delphi finished reconstructing the instrument in 1999.

    Follow the links below to learn more and to view and hear the Hydraulis recently reconstructed at Delphi. (Requires Windows Media Player or Real Player)

    The Ancient Hydraulis – Organ Beginnings

    From the Discovery Channel

    About the Ancient Hydraulis

    Hydraulis Video

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