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HCLC’s New Hybrid Organ

Q: Where are all the new pipes?  A: There aren’t any!  All of the upgrades done last month are digital.  We turned our existing pipe organ into a hybrid organ.  This means there is a combination of pipes and speakers in one instrument.  Things like space available and costs of new pipes can be prohibitive when expanding an organ.  Upgrading to a hybrid organ is a perfect solution to these problems.  The cost is lower and the space needed is minimal. 

We have installed eight speakers inside the pipe chambers (four on each side) and one subwoofer under the icon on the lectern side of the sanctuary.  The black subwoofer that you see right now is temporary.  A brown cabinet will be built to match our pews and a new speaker will be installed in it.  It will be the same size and in the same space.  The delay for this is because the cabinetmaker from our organ company broke his back.  We expect the final installation to be in late July.

Great care was taken to make sure both parts of the organ (pipe and digital) sound together as one instrument.  After installation we spent about 16 hours voicing the organ.  “Voicing” an organ is a process in which the sounds created is manipulated to create a harmonious sound.  There are two computers inside the pipe chamber that control both the pipes and the speakers.  We ran a wire from the pipe chamber to a laptop on the organ bench to voice the digital stops.  There are 38 things they can do to each individual note that won’t affect the other notes and there are 132 different things they can do to each rank as a whole.  Things like adjusting the pitch, volume, speed of attack, resonance, color, and a lot of other things I don’t entirely understand.  I learned that there is a Doppler effect on the organ.  Similar to how the sound of a train changes pitch as it approaches and goes by you.  When I open and close the swell shades, the sound waves on one side of each shade go sharp and the sound waves on the other side of each shade go flat.  Since none of the speakers are inside the swell chamber they needed to recreate digitally what happens physically.  It is amazing how exactly they can match this effect.  I also learned that when one plays a note on the upper part of the keyboard and also plays chords on the lower part, the upper note would sag in pitch because of the way the wind is blowing through the chest.  They again needed to recreate this physical effect digitally.  These are the types of things we did while voicing the instrument.  Each effect had to be done on each note of each rank.

Another aspect of making sure the whole organ sounds as one instrument is the intonation.  We have our organ tuned twice a year.  Within a month or so after tuning the pipes, the pipes will start to go out of tune (sharp or flat).  This is due to humidity, temperature, and atmospheric pressure.  The digital ranks are not subject to this effect.  Therefore, three sensors are installed on each pipe chamber that measures temperature, humidity, and atmospheric pressure.  The sensors also listen to the pipe’s sound waves.  As the pipes go out of tune, a signal goes to the computer to have the digital ranks go out of tune as well.  This way everything stays in tune with itself.  The digital ranks would be useless for 10 out of 12 months of the year otherwise.

Our existing pipe organ was 29 ranks (a rank is a set of pipes that create a specific sound).  We added 8 digital ranks to make a 37 rank hybrid organ.  It is not a virtual pipe organ.  That is something different and a subject for another article.  The ranks we added are:

Pedal                         Swell                                Great

32’ Untersatz            4’ Triangle Flute              8’ Dulciana

8’ Trumpet                8’ Festival Trumpet         8’ Unda Maris

2’ Wald Flute


(This is the last time you will see our new digital ranks singled out like this.   I do not plan on advertising what is digital and what is pipe.  One can truly not tell the difference between our digital sounds and pipe sounds.  Not listing which is which prevents an organ snob from coming in and asserting they can tell the difference!)

Not all of these are large show stopping ranks.  Many are more subtle ranks that can be used in combination with other ranks to create various solo colors.  The organ truly has a breath of new life in it (a digital breath anyway!).  I have never heard it sound so alive and the character is so much more playful than it had been.  I am looking forward to enhancing our worship services with all the new combinations of sound.

The 32’ Untersatz is a string rank (Viola to be specific) that has a wonderful purr to it.  It adds a solid foundation to the organ that will match a variety of registrations on the manuals.  The new 8’ Festival Trumpet on the swell puts our existing 8’ Trompette on the great to shame.  It is the biggest reed I have ever heard!  It can be accompanied with full organ and still shine out above everything.  Both the 4’ Triangle Flute and 2’ Wald Flute are lovely ranks with a playful character.  They will serve as nice contrast to our existing flutes.  The 8’ Dulciana and 8’ Unda Maris are string ranks.  They have a darker quality to them as compared to our existing strings, but are still quite rich and lush in sound.  The strings make a wonderful accompaniment for our new set of digital chimes.  From time to time you will hear the use of orchestral chimes in our worship and swear there is actually a set of chimes in the room somewhere.



I feel incredibly blessed with all the resources for music at Holy Cross.  It is wonderful to have such support from everyone at HCLC in my ministry.  I would like to especially thank Sam and Sharon Carter, Doug and Joan MacAdams, and all the members of Belmont Ridge Lutheran Church for their donation.  Without their funding this would not have come to fruition.  I look forward to using our hybrid organ to the glory of God and I hope your worship experiences are enhanced through the music of this marvelous instrument.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Jeremy Shoop, Director of Music Ministries

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