Brief Overview of Design Philosophy:
- Full as possible representation of the complete musical harmonic series
- Visual design should reflect instrument’s function - no fake facades
- Visual design should be derived from surrounding architecture
- Instrument should speak directly into the main axis of the room - no chambers
- Good tonal design should foremost facilitate all liturgical needs, especially leading the singing of the congregation
- Tonal design should be inharmony with and respect physical space limitations and logistics - no electronic / digital enhancements or substitutions
- As a sacred work of art, a good instrument should inspire a deeper appreciation for the transcendent, mystical nature of God
The paragraphs below attempt to explain the above "ideals"
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TRUTH – BEAUTY – UNITY – GOODNESS
Since a real pipe organ is a transcendent form of art, the manifestation of the “four transcendentals” must be an important guiding force in the design philosophy and process.
When electronic imitations are used or added as substitutes for real sounds, the art form becomes a lie, a deception. Imagine going to a beautiful concert hall to hear a symphony orchestra only to find that all or most of the real instruments have been replaced by rows of speaker cabinets. Even if the sound was a faithful reproduction, the performance would still be a lie.
In the same way that a violin is an acoustic stringed instrument, a real pipe organ is by its very nature an acoustic wind instrument bound by the absolute laws of nature. It is a concrete manifestation of nature’s truth in which an amalgamation of wood and metal culminate into an artistic musical instrument. Good pipe organ tonal design should therefore reflect as well as respect nature’s laws by having its stop list designed to represent the full natural musical harmonic series.
Secondly, the visual representation of the instrument should reflect the instrument’s true functionality. For example, a grand piano is not made into absurd and unnatural shapes, but rather its external shape is derived from the internal and natural form and length of the strings and soundboard. Thus, to quote the old adage, “form follows function”. Likewise, a pipe organ’s design should be a reflection its true functionality. While the then modern designs of the esteemed organ builder, Walter Holtkamp seem now to be “retro” and dated, they were, in raw form, a truthful expression of the organ’s natural musical form and function. For many non organ builders, that is those who had only seen grill works and dummy façade pipes, these instruments were the first lesson in the truth of how a pipe organ produces its range of pitch and timbre.
Along with reflecting their internal and form and function, the great instruments of Silberman and Schnitger also brought added beauty through elaborate architecturally designed casework combined with symmetrical pipe layout patterns. A pipe organ can and should be an integral part of the design aesthetics of the room in which it is placed. This fails to happen when an instrument is placed in chambers behind grills and fake facades.
Beauty is achieved not only in good visual design, but more importantly in final voicing and finishing. A well voiced and tonally finished instrument gives us a glimpse of Heaven while we remain on earth. Each rank should be voiced to bring out its true beauty, not mere sound and pitch.
The unity of truth and beauty is achieved when the instrument is not only at one with its surroundings, one with the laws of nature, but also in harmony with its liturgical function and purpose. Therefore good organ design must first address its use as a liturgical instrument. In most Judeo-Christian liturgies, the organ’s most grand purpose is to lead the congregation in song. This by its very nature is a tangible as well as transcendent symbol of unity. As the organ lives and breathes in concert with the congregation, they become one in the solemn praise of God. The organ’s function here is to lead and inspire, not assault and obliterate. If the organ is to lead well, the principal chorus must be bright, articulate, properly scaled for the room, and musically voiced. At other times, the instrument must also be able to inspire sacred unity by captivating the true gravity of liturgical moments of meditation, lamentation, or celebration.
Secondly, the instrument must be in harmony with its surrounding limitations. This requires the virtues of temperance and austerity. In contrast, electronic imitations are not bound by these physical space limitations and therefore destroy the potential unity of the instrument with the building in which it is placed. For example, a small country church could never accommodate a 32’ reed or would have tasteful use for an enchamade trumpet, but these absurdities are readily and easily possible with digital electronics. Although financial limitations may have to be considered, the physical space is the first determining factor in tempering what an organist may want with what may be logistically and possible within the realm of good taste. Again, although electronics allow us to “have it all”, in the end we really have nothing but a deceptive imitation.
Although their original etymological roots may differ slightly, the words “good” and “God” have become synonymous since the Middle Ages. Goodness is the ultimate sum and culmination of Truth, Beauty and Unity. Therefore “good” art cannot be a deception, or remind us of ugliness, or be the root of spiritual division. Good art leads us to a closer appreciation and reverence for what is mystically divine, the transcendent truth that both humbles us and exults us.