The organs

The beauty of the Hauptwerk software is that you can have several building-sized instruments in your home. Here is some of mine.

I’ve got several organs for my setup at the moment, but these are the main ones: The MasterWorks E.M. Skinner Organ (Our Lady of Mount Carmel – Chicago, Illinois, USA), the CavaillĂ©-Coll organ found in the Notre Dame de Metz cathedral in France (both from Milan Digital Audio), the J. J. Binns organ found in the Old Independent Church, Haverhill, Suffolk, England (from Lavender Audio) and the Hinsz Organ found in Bovenkerk, Kampen, The Netherlands. Eventually, I will probably buy more organs – but for the time being these instruments will give me countless hours of pure joy, practicing my favorite scores.

Here’s a little info about the organs and my train of thoughts leading up to the purchase (information might be incomplete and/or obsolete, hence the dates):

The Skinner organ

(image from Milan Digital Audio web site)

Keyboards: 3 keyboards and pedal
Stops: 58

I chose this organ because I liked the symphonic characteristics of the instrument. I’ve always liked the sound of American organs, and this particular instrument has all the combinations and possibilities I look for. In addition, it has 32 pedals where most European organs has 28 or 30.

More info can be found at the web site of Milan Digital Audio.

Update 21.11.08

I received and installed the Skinner organ a few weeks ago, and have had the pleasure playing and exploring this wonderful organ. The sound quality is simply superb, and all the ranks makes it possible to create a very wide palette of sounds. This organ sample set is more than capable of playing music from most periods – from baroque to romantic and contemporary music. I even found a combination that sounded EXACTLY like the synthesizer sound on Europe’s “the final countdown”! That was a very fun moment…

I can highly recommend this sample set to anyone that wants a versatile and well-balanced organ. Combined with external reverberation, this sample set continues to impress me over and over again.

Update 10.05.09

I recently purchased the full version of Hauptwerk to be able to access the voicing feature. WOW! I tuned the few mistuned pipes in the out-of-the-box Skinner (you could just use equal temperament within HW, but then you loose the small errors that makes the instrument sound realistic and not toaster-like) sample set. In addition, I tuned the organ so that C, D, E, F#, G# and A# sounds from the left speaker, and C#, D#, F, G, A and B sounds from the right channel. That improved the Skinner sample set. by a HUGE amount! You’ll get more spatial sound, and you feel like sitting at the console of a real organ. Fast solo runs seems to jump around you! It really sounds fantastic!

I’ve also increased the volume of the 8′ trumpet in the swell division, so that it can be used as a solo trumpet. A lot of other adjustments have been made – not because the MDA Masterworks Skinner have lots of faults, but each speaker/amplifier setup will have its own characteristics, in addition to the fact that the room where the instrument is placed also comes into account. With the full version of Hauptwerk, you can make all these adjustments (for example, the CCC to EEE on the pedal division – C through E on the second octave – was WAY too loud on some ranks. I managed to balance that out within a few minutes!).

For a large, dry sample set., the full version of Hauptwerk is highly recommended. Same goes for anybody that wants a great sounding organ in their home. The features of the full version are definitely a must-have.

Oh, and to my american friends that don’t get the wind-model: For the Skinner organ, the only use for the wind model is to have fun by switching off the motors and play while the organ goes from full blaster, via gradually shedding ranks until it sounds like a sick cow before fading out!

I do not use this organ anymore, just on occasions. With external reverb added, it is a fun instrument with a huge potential. It just isn’t my cup of tea. But it is the perfect organ if you want to have great fun and/or want to have that “American” sound.

The Cavaillé-Coll organ:

(image from Milan Digital Audio web site)

Keyboards: 3 keyboards and pedal
Stops: 38 (Extended version: 48)

I love French romantic music, particularly Vierne, Widor and LefĂ©bure-WĂ©ly. These composers all played on CavaillĂ©-Coll organs. To be able to play their music on an instrument very close to what they had is a dream-come-true for any organist – hobbyist or professional.

And since my brother Viggo Fagerjord is a great organist with a soft side for the French romantic music, a CavaillĂ©-Coll was a logical step. He’s FAR better than I can ever be on the keyboards, so naturally I look forward to when he visits and play on my HW setup!

Since the Metz organ is a wet sample set (meaning that it has built-in reverb), opposed to the dry Skinner organ (which need artificial reverb), I’ll be able to experience both worlds. I’ll write more when I’ve received the organ and had some quality time on the organ bench.

Update 24. august 2011

The C.Coll Metz organ has been played a lot! It is the most used organ I have. It really came to life once I upgraded my Hauptwerk computer, making it possible to load the Metz organ at the highest quality setting. For my repertoire, this organ has it all. From soft, beautiful celeste to growling thunder from the 32′ Bombarde!

The sample set is however not free from the odd bits and pieces. A few pipes does not work all that good, and one note on the 8′ trumpet on the pedals has no reverb if you play it staccato. I am not 100% sure if all updates is applied correctly, but the 8′ trumpet on the pedals has behaved this way all the time. But – these errors are purely minor, and you do not notice them too much anyway. The sample is a few years old, and a lot has happened since then.

A fun detail: The Sonnette souffleur does work! Pulling this “stop” activates a bell located in the instrument, and was used to ask the bellows operator to get to work, pumping air so that the organ can sound.

My brother has tried the organ thoroughly, and he is impressed! For me, that’s the best credit a sample set can get. This is certainly the first organ I would recommend you buy! But be aware – you need a fast computer with lots of memory. This organ sounds awful if you load it in 16 bit – in my not very humble opinion.

The J. J. Binns organ:

(image from Lavender Audio web site)

Keyboards: 3 keyboards* and pedal
Stops: 42 (extended version: 64)
* Choir high pressure reeds can be routed to a 4th keyboard

The collection would not be complete without a genuine British organ. The Old Independent Church, Haverhill, Suffolk has a magnificent organ built by J. J. Binns. Lavender Audio has created a fantastic Hauptwerk organ sample set with all the bells and whistles one could want in a HW sample set. In addition, they’ve made an extended version where some ranks are added to the mix – resulting in an English organ capable of a broader repertoire.

One of the key features for me is that this organ can give that distinct, rich sound known from English church choir CD’s – that solid, deep foundation. Another key feature in this organ, is the fantastic Tuba!

I do not use this organ all that much – it does not fit my usual music too well. But it is a very well made sample set, and gives great value for your money. External reverb helps a lot since this is a relatively “dry” organ (meaning that the reverb time is short). Certainly a great instrument for choral work!

The Hinsz Organ

(image from Milan Digital Audio web site)

Keyboards: 4 keyboards and pedal*
Stops: 24/41/55, see specifications.
*Extended Editions: Volumes 2 and 3 include an extended edition expanding the keyboard compass from 49 notes to 56 and the pedal compass from 27 notes to 30. 4th manual only needed for volume 3. Volume 1 needs 2 manuals and pedals.

The Hinz organ in the Bovenkerk is a famous instrument used in many recordings. The organ is divided into 3 volumes. You can buy only volume 1 if you wish (it sounds fantastic). The instrument has a very long reverb – up to 7 seconds. And it sounds superb! You get the sensation of playing inside a huge cathedral, and yet the organ is “direct” and very responsive making it fully usable for practice. Highly recommended!

I decided to purchase the Hinz organ after I downloaded the demo version. I instantly fell in love with the clear, crisp sound with that huge reverb! Firstly I ordered volume 1, but found the keyboard compass too small. I then ordered volume 2, and then volume 3 (I am considering to expand my keyboard stack to 4 manuals). This is a must-have organ for serious Bach pieces! The only drawback is that there’s just a few reed stops, but I seldom miss more reeds when I play tutti on this baby!

After having used this organ for quite some time, I am still impressed by the enormous sound it can create! If you’re going to play Bach, this organ is definitely for you! I’ve tried tuning the 8′ Holpijp on the Bovenverk into a celeste-like flute, amped up the Hoofdwerk Trumpet 8′ and some minor adjustment here and there. These adjustments created a whole new feel of the organ, expanding its use significantly. The organ lacks an enclosed devision (swell), but has so many stops it is easy to compensate. Truly a majestic and grand instrument, highly recommended!

The 1902 St. Eucaire Metz Cavaillé Coll organ:

(image from Milan Digital Audio web site)

Keyboards: 2 keyboards and pedal, compass 56/30 notes
Stops: 18/22.

Note: This organ has two perspectives which can be mixed. Choose “up close” or in the church nave. Or anything in between. This effectively doubles the demands on your computer; the two perspectives together means that the organ has “44 stops” so to speak (one “stop” up close, another “stop” from the nave). This is a great feature! Of course you could load only one of the two perspectives if you like.

This is a must-have instrument! Fantastic for choral / hymn and smaller pieces. Great for practicing.. let me just conclude: Buy it!

The 1877 Salisbury Cathedral Willis organ:

(image from Milan Digital Audio web site)

Keyboards: 4 keyboards and pedal, compass: 61/30 note
Stops: 24/48/65, see specifications.

Big. English. A huge instrument with tons of features. I especially love the stopped diapasons and the Choir 8′ trumpet. The nazard 2 2/3 coupled with the 8′ flute harmonique is just heavenly!

Comes in three volumes. Get them all or one or two. There’s not much new stuff when you get volume 2 and 3, but the instrument really comes to life. A high-end computer and 4 keyboards is the best setup for this puppy.

The 1680 St. Peter and Paul Schnitger organ:

(image from Milan Digital Audio web site)

Keyboards: 2 keyboards and pedal, 49/27 note compass (extended)
Stops: 30.

Puts you right smack into a small church. You can almost smell the old, dusty hymn books and the mint tic-tac’s. A fantastic instrument for Baroque work. Certainly an instrument you should have in your collection!

The 1721 St. Georgenkirche Silbermann organ:

(image from Milan Digital Audio web site)

Keyboards: 2 keyboards and pedal*
Stops: 23, see specifications.

Beautiful Silbermann model, clear and crisp Silbermann diapasons. If you play Bach or similar work, this is the organ you need! Hauptwerk’s built-in couplers really boost this organs usability. And gives it some muscle, too…

The 1721 St. Marienkirche Silbermann organ:

(image from Milan Digital Audio web site)

Keyboards: 1 keyboard and pedal*
Stops: 11, see specifications.

A nice Silbermann, however I would never buy this organ unless it is part of a package deal. Get the St. Georgenkirche instead.

A few thoughts…

I highly recommend that you listen to the demos available on the Hauptwerk website. But remember that the speakers or headset/earphones you use play an important role in the listening experience! Remember that Hauptwerk cannot replace a real pipe organ. But unless you can fit a 40+ rank organ into your living room, Hauptwerk is the best way. There are a few companies that makes digital pipe organs, but they never sound as convincingly as a good quality HW sample set. A HW sample set includes, in most cases, every flaw the organ had at the time the sound recording was done. Thus, the organ will sound more lively than a perfectly tuned and balanced digital organ. The flute that doesn’t quite work, the squeak from the mechanics on that one rank – they are all there! The good thing is that you can set the organ to perfect equal tuning (or any other temperament) and eliminate the sounds from the mechanical parts – if you want to do so.

I’ve seen comments on Youtube where people thinks the blower sound is “wrong”. Clearly, these people has never been up close to a REAL pipe organ. A “toaster” (nickname for digital organs) is just too synthesized. Even if the manufacturer started out with recordings from the real McCoy. Too refined, too “worked”. A pipe organ is a living, breathing instrument with flaws. They are, after all, hand made…

As for organ purists – I don’t have anything against them personally, but I think it is ridiculous not to use the opportunity to “improve” an already great instrument by extending the keyboards / pedals and/or adding other stops in order to make a slightly bigger organ. Even if the sound won’t be 100% like the real deal anymore. However, purists will always have the opportunity NOT to use such features. Just let me enjoy my instruments as I prefer them. After all, you will NEVER be able to get the “real sound” at home. You might never be able to play that instrument live in your life – certainly not on a regular basis (unless you live nearby and have access to the instrument). This is what Hauptwerk is for me – an opportunity to enjoy instruments I might never be able to play on live. And a fantastic opportunity to improve myself as an organist. You need the right instrument for the job, or your musical abilities will never grow past a certain point. You can’t play heavy metal with an acoustic guitar…

Hauptwerk got its stamp of approval for me when my brother, who is one of the best organists in Norway, enjoyed my setup for hours – and his comment was “this is a real CavaillĂ©-Coll!”. That told me everything I needed to know. He has actually played several C.Coll’s for real…

The biggest selling point for a system like this is the price tag. A good quality digital organ with 40+ ranks can easily cost you $ 20.000. A similar HW setup can cost you as little as $3000. And you can start out at $0 and build from there. That’s what I did! A modest computer – your everyday family thingamabob will most likely suffice – and a MIDI keyboard. That’s where it started, and such a setup can be all you really need. For now, I would guess. :p

NINE organs, some with more than 40 stops, in a living room! You’ve got to love Hauptwerk!

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