The current church organist shortage has resurrected a modern form of what was once called The Barrel Organ. Like music boxes that have pins sticking out of a little drum that pluck out tunes, these organs had large drums that pins would be inserted into in musical patterns to play hymns in churches that were without organists.
In 1982 popular musical instrument manufacturers met and worked out an agreement to make popular electronic musical instruments compatible and able to communicate with each other in an easy manner.
This resulted in the creation of MIDI, which refers to the mechanical means of connecting instruments and the programming language used for the communication.
Before long MIDI appeared in church organs that produce sound from digitally recorded sampling of organ pipes, but now it is also common in pipe organs as they adopt the use of digitally controlled keying systems.
Even historic-style tracker pipe organs now can be fitted to record and even play back MIDI files.
MIDI makes possible the recording and playback of instruments, so when an organist has to be away or when a church cannot find an organist, it is possible for an organist to record all the hymns and liturgical music and have someone punch buttons to play the organ. And not through speakers as you would with a CD, but the MIDI file plays the real pipes or sampled sounds of the organ just as a live organist would.
And now it is also possible to purchase MIDI files on floppy disks for older units and USB thumb drives and memory sticks for newer instruments. A cottage industry has popped up that provides these MIDI files of hymns and even anthems for choirs so that organist/directors may have their hands free to direct the choir.
A Google search on ORGAN MIDI FILE provides links to many files, some free and some for purchase, for those interested in knowing more about this new development in church music.
Noel Jones is Creative Director of Frog Music Press and Editor of The Catholic Hymnal in Englewood, Tennessee. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, 26 March 2009
The Invisible Organist
Help is on the way for the short-handed parish music ministry: