Organ Search

Friday, 15 September 2006 11:03
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prelude philsophical moment

When people talk about the free market as the engine of progress, remember that long ago, movies were shown in gilded palaces with deep-carpeted aisles, and you sat on a throne beneath a ceiling of smiling cherubs and goddesses and looked up at a luminous picture on a screen 50 ft. high, and today you go to a 32-screen multiplex in a shopping center and sit in a concrete shoebox and watch a bad print on a screen the size of a tablecloth, and when you get up to leave, your feet stick to the floor. Capitalism has bestowed profound ugliness on this land. And it would make you ugly too.

Garrison Keillor

organ search the search begins

Forming a Commitee

Father Mark Giroux asked me to head up a committee in February 2005 and I accepted with enthusiasm and some trepidation. Our Johannus had been a part of St. Mark's worship life since the late 1980's. Listening to the instrument more closely in a service left us feeling that it had served us well but was reaching the end of its useful life without major maintenance.. We also found that it was technologically obsolete in this day of digital sampling and sound reproduction. An electronic organ, it was no longer the dependable instrument which we needed to lead us in worship and praise to God. It was the instrument that many had grown used to and replacing it would mean change, which always causes some concern in a church. We could repair the Johannus, but it would never sound much better than it did, and we realized that a replacement instrument was needed.

After a day searching the web, I found a lot of information and began to form our committee. I found a good web site at which has some thoughts on forming the committee, and spoke with a number of people in the church to ask them to serve. Clearly, this would be a long process and require patience, strength, and perseverence to succeed.

We ended up with our church organist, 2 choir members, 2 vestry members, the church treasurer, the local AGO chapter treasurer, 2 organists, and myself. If you've been counting heads here, you might think we had 10 people, but in reality the members of the committee wore many hats, and we had 5, which seemed like a good number for travel and to provide a range of opinions on our options. I took the advice from the web site to "have enough members, but not too many", very seriously. It was hard enough to co-ordinate schedules for meetings and trips with 5 and I feel we reached a good balance with the size and range of skills that we had on our committee.

We included 2 vestry members on purpose, to insure good communication to our leaders about where the committee was and what we were thinking about so that there would be no surprises down the road as we reached our decision.

Initial Education

We quickly found that the world of organs had changed a lot since we had purchased our Johannus in the 1980's! We started with the presumption that all options were on the table, and asked our vestry for an approximation of what they were comfortable allocating to the project and a target date for completion of the work so that we would have some rough parameters to work with in our process.

We then began contacting organ companies and sources to determine what each might do for us, and the information and CD's, DVD's, and literature began coming in. The predominant instruments in our area are pipe organs and Allen organs, and we began to arrange for meetings with experts in both areas. We arranged a field trip to the Methodist church in Oxford, NY, which had just recently purchased a small Allen Organ and also had the advantage that the church design and size was approximately the same as ours. Listening to the instrument, both in a service and with our committee after work one night, we all felt like it was a possibility, as the sound was pleasant and would certainly lead us adequately in our services. There was some concern about the lower range on one of the pedal stops and the capability of the instrument to fill the space with sound, as it seemed all stops had to be on to get a rich full sound. however, it was a bit below what we expected to spend, and we felt that it was certainly a possibility.


a real pipe organ alternative 1

We also spoke with a person who relocates and rebuilds used pipe organs to gain a perspective on whether a pipe organ was a possibility, and it appeared, after talking with him, that this was a real possibility that we should consider carefully. It would require major renovation of our choir loft, but offered the promise of "real organ sounds" instead of reproduced sounds as we had heard with the Allen. Not having heard a small pipe organ in a small church space, we traveled to the Unitarian Church in Cortland to hear their wonderful instrument in a service. It was a small tracker organ with very nice sound, but it also showed the downside of such an instrument. Even a small tracker organ is a physically large instrument, and while it produces lovely sound, there is a continuing cost in care and maintenance that concerned our committee. After the service, the organist notified the church about several problems that he was having with the instrument that day, including notes that didn't sound and a pedalboard that seemed to be missing its felt damping. While these are fixable problems, they point out the need for continuing care in maintaining such an instrument.


The Search Continues
St. Mark's Episcopal Church
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Worship Services at St. Mark's


  • 8:00am Holy Eucharist

  • 10:00am Holy Eucharist
    10-10:30 Sunday School 


  • 9:00am Morning Prayer