Pipes vs. Speaker
Posted on Jun 25, 2020 by William Canady
Remember when electric cars became popular, and they added a feature that alluded many consumers? No? They purposefully added artificial engine noises to the vehicles. This was added for safety purposes. Still, it was added because we are naturally used to hearing the sound of an engine revved as we hum along our way.
Well, what if I told you that our very own organ has tricks up her sleeves. But first, allow me to talk about the pipes on the organ. There are general two types of pipes that give the pipe organ its sound. Without pipes, the organ itself is simply a console with keys. The pipes are the audible sound of the organ. The pipe has two types, flue and reed. The flue allows wind to pass through the pipe to create noise, but in itself, it does not vibrate. Think of a wooden train whistle, if you will. The sound is generated by the wind passing through it. The second type of pipe is known as a reed. A reed pipe has a wide variety of textures that can be produced. It is audible by the passing of wind through a reed, similar to the saxophone or most reed instruments. It can be adjusted to sound identical to various instruments, such as an oboe or clarinet.
At Salem, if you look behind the cross, you will notice the beautiful pipes. These pipes are for aesthetics, and behind them are the real pipes that can be heard. However, there is a secret. Our pipe organ is not a pure, pipe-only organ. We do have what are called "digital pipes." These digital pipes help us to have a more extensive array of pipes without taking up space. Of course, digital pipes are speakers that are sounded through the use of digital sound sampling. Inside the console of the organ are computer chips, which house the “internal pipe sounds.” In fact, it is well known that this gives us a more extensive selection of songs that can be played, because the speakers often fill in where pipes are not present. On our organ, we have a special tab labeled “Add Pipes,” and another labeled “Substitute Pipes.” These call for the real pipes behind the cross.
I try to make an effort every Sunday to play the physical pipes, and, of course, our digital pipes, as well. I enjoy using the physical pipes because I image these pipes being used for many decades as worshipers came in to worship, listening to those very same pipes we listen to in our modern age. The nature of digital pipes today is such that you cannot tell which are real and which are “digital.” I only learned this difference because the physical pipes are much louder (the diapason) and cannot be controlled with the expression pedals because they are not enclosed in an expression box.
Allow me to close by saying how blessed we are to have such a special organ. While many churches are no longer using their organ, I am proud and humble that we carry the tradition forward of worshipping under the same sounds as those before use.
William Canady, Salem Organist
Salem’s organist has written a series of articles about the organ for Staff Trax this year. This is part 5 of 7.