Organ Questions

After over a year of work and research the Acoustics and Organ Committee recommended that Our Savior Lutheran Church improve the acoustical environment of the nave and purchase a new organ. In March of 2018 the Voter’s Assembly approved a fund to work toward that goal.  Here are some of the questions you might have about how the committee came to its recommendations.

How was the Acoustics and Organ Committee formed?
Funds from the Grateful Jubilee capital campaign were designated for the process of improving the acoustics of our nave.  To that end the committee was formed, and in January of 2017 hired Scott Riedel of Riedel & Associates ( to act as our acoustical and organ consultant.  An expert in acoustics, architecture, church music, and organ design, Mr. Riedel has guided the process for the committee over the past year.

Who is on the Acoustics and Organ Committee?
Pastor Fleming, Ken Marotte, Tim Mauer, Andy Mueller, David Lee, Ed Riojas, Christina Roberts, Randy Sandeveit

Why is it necessary to alter the acoustics of our church?
Well designed acoustics are integral to the proper hearing of God’s Word and a joyful and confident participation in singing God’s song.  For centuries this meant that churches were designed to be natural amplifiers of sound. Due to a variety of factors many churches of the last century, including ours, did not continue this model.

The study of acoustics is largely about the amount of time that sound remains energized in the air, or reverberation.  Due to our low ceiling, sound-absorbing surfaces (unfinished wood and carpet), and beam placement our reverberation numbers are low.  Mr. Riedel’s comprehensive analysis of our building and worship practices revealed that while a nave of our seating capacity has an ideal reverberation time of 2 seconds, ours is 0.84.

In response to those these findings the committee is collecting bids to replace the carpet with a hard-surface flooring and to coat the ceiling and rough-hewn portions of the walls with several layers of polyurethane for better sound reverberation.

Do we need a new organ right now?
Mr. Riedel’s analysis also determined the need for a course of action to replace our current organ. Our current organ is a digital Allen electronic instrument from the early 1980s. The typical lifespan of an electronic instrument is only 20-30 years.  Thankfully we have been blessed with the generosity and expertise of David Lee. His troubleshooting and repair of our organ has certainly improved and extended the performance of our instrument, but he, along with other experts in the field, point out that soon the organ is likely to experience failure which would make repairs either impossible due to the inability to obtain parts for outdated technology, or costly beyond the value of the instrument.

What are the options?

  • Electronic/Digital organ, like the instrument we currently own.  In a digital instrument the sound is produced entirely electronically.  There are no pipes. The sound of a digital organ is determined at the factory and is not designed specifically for the church in which the organ will serve.  Digital organs take up very little space, only a bank of speakers and the console.This type of organ has the lowest initial cost, but also the shortest life-span. It sound is produced through paper speakers.
  • Hybrid organ A hybrid instrument uses electronic digital sampling for some sounds and air blowing through pipes for others.  Hybrids take up slightly more space because in addition to the bank of speakers and console there are pipes and a blower that brings air to the pipes.  The cost for a hybrid is higher than a strictly digital instrument, but the life-span is still largely dictated by the electronic portions of the instrument.
  • Used pipe organ There are used pipe organs that become available from time to time.  Many of these are even offered for free, an appealing price tag. The cost, however, is determined by the amount to move, set-up, repair, and fit the instrument to our room.  It is necessary to hire an organ builder to do that work. While we have looked at several used instruments, because of our building’s unique architecture (low-ceiling) we have not been able to find an instrument that fits into our space and produces the right amount and quality of sound we need.
  • New pipe organ In order to have a new pipe organ the first step is to select an organ builder.  The builder then custom designs an instrument to meet the needs of our limited space while providing the sound necessary for a full-voiced singing of our liturgical worship.  This is the most costly of the options, but also provides an instrument designed to last for generations.

What is the Organ and Acoustical Committee’s recommendation?
The committee recommends that we purchase a new pipe organ from John-Paul Buzard Pipe Organ Builders of Champaign, Illinois, as outlined in their proposal for instrument Op. 47, and that we take the steps outlined by acoustical consultant, Scott Riedel to seal the woodwork in the nave and replace the carpet with a hard-surface flooring.

What will the new pipe organ be able to do that our current organ can’t?
The proposed new instrument will have a slightly larger number of ranks (different sounds), but those sounds will offer a significantly larger opportunity for variety in the way ranks are used together within the instrument.

The most important thing a pipe organ will be able to do that our instrument, or even a brand new electronic instrument cannot, is provide our congregation with an authentic wind-made sound.

What makes a pipe organ sound different or better than a digital organ sound?
Life.  Wind. Breath.  Air. Spirit.

That’s the short, poetic answer.  The more rational answer is that the pipe organs are a natural choice for accompaniment because they replicate the human voice.  The sound of a pipe organ is created in the same way that God has designed our voices to sing: air causes vibration which produces sound waves.  This correlation with our own song makes for a pleasing ensemble of voice and instrument.

Can’t a quality digital instrument replicate the sound of a pipe organ?
That is the goal of digital instruments, but replicas are never the same as the originals, and a digital sound will never be the same as pipe’s sound.  Digital instruments work by sampling the sound of pipe organs. These samplings are then looped, causing short repetitions that can weary and grate at the ear. Those sounds are then electronically amplified, creating another opportunity for distortion.  A pipe organ, however, acts as its own amplification system. So even if you can’t immediately distinguish between the sound of an authentic pipe or a digital sample, over a period of time the presence of organically produced sound is generally more pleasing to our senses.

Is it possible to get a used pipe organ?
The committee did visit and review several proposals for used organs.  Due to our low ceiling height, limited space, and need for an instrument that properly supports the robust singing of Lutheran hymnody and liturgy all the available instruments were unsuitable.

Why has the Church used the organ as its primary instrument?
Pipe organs have been used as the accompanying instrument in the Church since as early as the 10th century because they are the only instruments able to offer the volume and diversity of sounds necessary to support the wealth of sacred music.  It’s almost as if the pipe organ is a one-man band. One instrument can produce a string’s gentle meditation, a clarinet’s lamenting cry, and a trumpet’s triumphant fanfare. While an organ is expensive, it’s nowhere near the cost of hiring an entire orchestra to accompany the Divine Service.

Is this a wise use of the gifts God has given us?
The purchase of a new pipe organ might seem like an indulgence in a luxury item, but it is actually an investment in the proclamation of God’s Word in song for future generations.  Our Savior Lutheran Church is well-established as a place where Christ’s saving acts are heard in eloquent and timely preaching, viewed in poignant and well-crafted artwork, taught in a loving and rigorous school, and sung in full-voiced liturgy and hymnody.

The Lord has provided for us faithful pastors, artists, teachers, and musicians and we must be willing to do the hard work of supporting them.  One of the most important ways to do this is by giving them the proper tools with which to work.

Additionally, the gifts of preaching, artwork, education, and music benefit more than our own congregational family. They reach out to serve as an example and encouragement to pastors and parishioners around the country.  And while supporting those in our own denomination, our willingness to stake out authentic claims of beauty for the sake of the Gospel proclaims to the world that our worth is truly in Christ.

A pipe organ gives the best of musical tools to our children, and grandchildren, and even their grandchildren.  An instrument of beauty and value speaks to them the message that we sing together our praise and proclamation of Christ.

Will a new organ change the rich liturgical and musical heritage of our congregation?
If by change we mean improve, then yes.  A pipe organ speaks of authenticity to our heritage.  We are a people who have been given the most precious gifts of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation through Jesus Christ.  Our response to these gift is one of love, truth, and beauty. We sing back to the Lord the wondrous things He has done for us, and in doing so we proclaim to the world that those same gifts are there for them as well.  

Is a new pipe organ the most cost-effective way to achieve this?
In order to significantly lower the cost we would need to purchase an electronic or hybrid organ.  The cost would still probably be near $200,000. Both types of instruments would become obsolete the day they were installed.  And both would likely necessitate replacement within 15-25 years.

The pipe organ we are proposing is designed to last for at least a hundred years.  While there will be cost for insurance, maintenance, and tuning, the cost per year over the lifetime of the instrument does not necessarily exceed the same for an electronic or hybrid.