Not personally you understand. Our church pipe organ is in trouble. It was never a terribly distinguished machine, but now it seems the cost of repair is enough to have to consider alternatives.
As you can imagine, this is not something any church wants to have to contemplate; apart from the cost, there are painful decisions to be made. Do we seek to repair the current machine? Do we try and get a pipe organ from a now redundant church? Do we go down the digital route and get an electric thing?
What has interested me most of all is the issue between a digital organ and a pipe organ. These days, sampled organ sounds such as the Hauptwerk system mean that, depending on speakers and amplification, you can get a sound which is far far better than the “strangled mammal” sounds of previous generations of electronic organs. Sampling can recreate an original pipe organ, tuning, delays and all, so that few musicians cold tell them apart.
That’s disputable of course, and given that the sound from an organ comes from hundreds of different sources, it is impossible to exactly recreate the feeling of a pipe organ for an organist. How much difference it makes to the congregation is a different matter, but if a church seeks to attract people to play their organ, it makes a difference.
In the conversations I’ve had with the congregation, however, the issues people have with the idea of a digital one is not the sound (most wouldn’t profess to be musical enough to tell the difference between a very cheap digital organ and a pipe organ), but it’s more one of authenticity.
Say it was possible, say that a “reproduction” organ was possible, so that even the finest musical ear could not tell the difference. Would there still be a difference? Does it matter whether a sound is produced through the action of air though a pipe, or electricity through a speaker? What does “authentic” mean in this instance?
Authenticity is important in church things. There are letters of Paul in the New Testament which are disputed as to their authenticity. Were they written by Paul, or were they written by people who followed in his footsteps, and presumed to speak in his name? If they are not “authentic”, do they have value? Does a priest’s words count for less if you subsequently discover that he or she did not believe?
I suppose at the heart of that there is the question of what is really important. For me, there are two things about a pipe organ which are beautiful – the sound, and the mechanical beauty of it. I love the fact that something so simple can make sounds so beautiful. The digital one can (theoretically at least) reproduce one but not the other. The awful decision ahead of us is – how much of a price do you put on the latter?