Selecting an Organ
In more than four decades of service to hundreds of churches, we've learned a few things about organ committees. We've seen why some committees work smoothly, while some have pretty rough going. So, here are a few guidelines you might want to consider when you're putting your organ committee together.
1. Have enough members, but not too many.
We've found that most successful committees have no more than seven people. A selection committee has to have meetings, and the more members a committee has, the harder it is to get everyone together for a meeting. Also, a large committee can find it impossible to reach a consensus.
2. Members should know something about music.
The people on the committee don't necessarily have to be musicians, but they should be knowledgeable about church music, and they should appreciate the impact music can have on the worship experience.
3. The church organist should be on the committee.
This seems like an obvious thing to say, but organists have been left off many search committees. The organist can appreciate subtleties in different organs that might go unnoticed by the untrained ear. Unnoticed, that is, until the instrument is in place and being used in a worship service. The organist can also play the instruments under consideration.
4. Committee members should have time to look at and listen to organs.
It takes time to do a good job of evaluating a new church organ. To make the best possible choice, the committee members and the organist must go to where the organs are, play them, listen to them, and compare them.
If prospective committee members object to spending hours of time, if they can't commit to attending meetings, do not put them on the committee. Each committee member should know without a doubt that he or she has time for the kind of stewardship required to select a new organ.
5. You need a member who understands finances.
The church treasurer or the financial secretary is a solid candidate for membership on the church organ committee. He or she will know what the church income is, how and when the money comes in, and how it goes out. This is the committee member who would participate in, or even lead, the fundraising effort to pay for the organ.
The only way to evaluate any musical instrument is to listen to it. In that respect, a church organ, for all its size, is the same as a piccolo. Once you've narrowed your choice to two or three different organ companies, listen long and carefully to each instrument before you make up your mind.
After the initial demonstration, the committee should arrange to spend at least two or three hours with each organ - without a salesperson present. There's no other way to tell what you're buying. Listening only to a salesman talk and play would just not be fair to your congregation. To make the right decision, you must hear your service's music performed on each instrument.
Budgeting for an Organ
The time to set a budget figure for your church organ is after you decide what will best suit your congregation's present and future musical needs. If you work the other way—start with a budget figure then find an organ to fit—you run the risk of being very disappointed. Remember that the organ you decide on now must meet the requirements of the congregation 40 or 50 years from now.
We often work with churches whose needs exceed their budgets. One way to handle the problem is to go ahead and buy the organ, and then raise the money to pay for it. This has been the most successful method. People will want to give after they see and hear the excitement the new organ creates.
Another way to get what you need is to simply wait. You could squeeze another year or two out of your present organ while you raise the money to pay for a new one.
The standard by which we judge organ music is the classical pipe organ. The pipe organ moves air through pipes to produce a sound that is more suitable to worship than any other sound man can produce.
Pipes range from pencil size to thick as a barrel and 32 feet tall. If your congregation has the space and the financial means to install an adequate pipe organ, one with sufficient versatility to handle all your services' music requirements, you should do so.
A digital organ is far less expensive than a full pipe organ. And, if it is perfectly matched to a church's acoustics and the congregation's worship practices, a full digital organ can be the affordable instrument of choice. State-of-the-art digital technology and recent advances in the science of generating musical tones can produce digital organs with remarkable life-like sound and unequaled versatility.
The right church organ will encourage congregational singing, not hamper it. It will make the worship service more meaningful for everyone who participates.
Many churches today opt for digital and pipe combinations when they install a new organ. These can be mostly pipe organs with some digital or they can be mostly digital instruments augmented by two or more ranks of pipes.
Both are designed to save space and money compared to a complete pipe installation. When it is properly designed and installed, a pipe-electronic combination will sound remarkably like a full pipe installation.
Additionally, the same attention you devote to selecting a new church organ should go into your selection of the company that provides the instrument.
Sometimes a church will need structural changes to accommodate a new organ. If your church does not have people who can make those changes, there are craftsmen who excel in the art of building restoration. They can handle modifications ranging in scope from building a cabinet to renovating an entire sanctuary.
This article is courtesy of Buch Church Organ Company, www.buchorgan.com.