Prelude - My organ history

Every since I was a child I have loved the sound of the organ.  As much as I didnít want to go to the temple, at least we were reformed jews and had a great choir and a great organ at Temple Emanu-el in Dallas Texas.  That instrument, which I later learned was an Aoelian Skinner, was well played, and quite inspirational, especially when you heard music such as A prelude for Rosh Hashanah which mixed the awe and contrition of the High Holy Days along with traditional Jewish themes. 

I went on to play a number of instruments, baritone horn, trombone, and even tuba, and my mother gave me a year of piano lessons and then I took a year of lessons too.  But I think I am kind of a jerk because I (probably like most students) didnít like the lessons and decided to be more or less self taught (probably mostly less).  I talked to the organist at Temple and he told me that unless you had about 8 years of piano lessons you couldnít get organ lessons.  Fine, again, teach myself, and I bought an organ in my senior year in High School. 

It was a ConSonata tubed organ (for I think like $150) from the basement of Whittle Music Co. and if you turned on the all the voices (everything was at 8í pitch and all other pitches were done through couplers) generally every note on the manuals and pedals would play something however, at least it was an AGO console.  Even though it was pretty stinky and generated enough heat that I turned off the air register in my room, it did let me get used to using two keyboards and playing the pedals.  One thing it did come with was a big single speaker (18"x20"x44") with a small tubed amp inside of it.  I removed the amp and re-powered the speaker with an outboard amp, changed the old full range turd of a speaker for an Electro Voice SP 15B and using Theile designs tuned its single port to about 20 hz.  It made a good subwoofer and is the size of a small refrigerator and I still have it to this day. (as of 12/28/2008 it was added to the Opus 1's sound system) My brother helped me by making an electronic crossover for the amp.

I continued to play at the ConnSonata until I saw an ad in the classifieds in the newspaper which was for an Electro Voice D-26 organ being sold off by St. John the Apostle church in Ft. Worth.  My plan, with a lot of help from my brother, was to create a digital design that would use a long sample and scale it for each note.  At this time Allen still had the patent going and I figured my planned 16 bit samples would be far better than their offerings.  I bought the D-26 for something like $200 and planned to rip it apart.  But, before I did that, might as well play the thing. 

The EV organs were quite remarkable for their day.  This one came with all the schematics as each instrument was a custom build job.  Their organs, designed by a jewish engineer who almost died in the camps during WWII, used a tone wheel that had various patterns (organ sound waves) burned into it and used optical readers to recreate the sound.  Each voice was electro-static and therefore could speak at anywhere between 30-75 volts. The result was like no other electronic organ of its day (mid 60s) and better than a number of instruments made in the 80s.  The instrument was an analogue sampled synthesizer!!!  A trumpet on the swell played with the box wide open could balance the whole great manual.  When all the voices were on (it had expression on both manuals plus a crescendo) you could have 900 volts going through the pre-amp.  It used a standard AGO tablet organ console and had the big 13 wheel tone generator located in a box in the console.  It did not come with built in speakers, but instead came with 2 huge E30s in corner horn cabinets (like the Patricians), 4 midrange boxes with SP12s in them, and 4 high range boxes with 2 T-35 tweeters and one T-50 midrange horn.  Each of the smaller boxes had a spinning vane for tremolo, and the higher boxes had vanes that spun twice as fast as the lower range boxes.  All these speakers were powered by 3 MacIntosh MC75s and 1 MacIntosh MC40 was used to power a separate celeste which was made from standard circuitry.   Truly it was a quality instrument.  When Gould bought out Electro Voice they said no more custom work and only one organ out of the oustanding 26 orders was cancelled.  It took EV from 1966-1972 to finish building all the organs contracted.  Years later I repowered the instrument with 3 Ross A400 amps my neighbors told me they could feel it when I was playing the organ. 

In 1996 I bought a house in the middle of Dallas that didnít have room for the big EV organ so I sold it off and sold off its PA.  I held on to two of the tubed amps and sold them off for a quite a bit of money only a couple of years ago.  That house later skyrocketed in value and I sold it in 2001 at enough profit to buy a modest house in Garland outright.  I didnít even think about owning another organ until I got a chance to play a theatre organ in 2004 which rekindled the bug.   I hadnít really lost much of my skills (such as they areÖ).   So I started watching for another nice used electronic console and found one on Craigís list that had been hit by lightening and was free!  However someone beat me to it, and sure enough, that instrument, repaired showed up on Craigís list a few weeks later.  Turns out it was someone I knew and who lived close to me and he just wanted some money for his church.  I got the Baldwin/Hamilton D-910 for a good donation to his church and I also gave him a nice Class A amplifier for his trouble.

The Baldwin turned out to be a real blessing because it already had the midi interface built into it.  Then while searching about on the internet I stumbled over the Hauptwerk system by Martin Dyde.  20 years later he had done in software what I wanted to do in hardware, and most of that was possible due to the huge increases in computer power and the quality increases of audio cards for those system.  So I bought a copy of Hauptwerk from Crumhorn labs and built a special powerhouse PC specifically as a second sound source for the Baldwin, which already had some very nice digital sounds in it.  The D910 also had a number of nice features such as 10 combo pistons, transposer, swell pedal, and a crescendo pedal.  The sound of Hauptwerk was the next order of magnitude from the Baldwin sounds and I was sold.  The only problem with the Baldwin was that it didnít transmit midi signals for the swell or crescendo pedals and so I asked and my brother graciously agreed to build me a couple of continuous midi controls that I was going to install on the Baldwin.  This picture shows the Baldwin with Hauptwerk 3 and twin touch screens right before I started the Opus 1 project.  The touch screens allow you to do registration by touching the stops.  Blending the Baldwin sounds with Hauptwerk also worked quite well (until you transposed only one of them!!!).  Here is the baldwin with me at the wheel on Let there be Peace on Earth - one take late at night as an ebay demo file.

Meanwhile I kept watching Ebay and a Baldwin 645 3 manual instrument (with midi) was listed on ebay from Louisiana (not a big trip from Texas) but it didnít sell because of its big asking price.  I made them a good offer for the instrument, but the church never really responded with a come and get it.  While negotiating with them, on a whim, I started looking at Classic midi products from whom you could buy a midi 3 manual (or more) keyboard, and expression pedals ready to go.  I have an old set of Estey pedals sitting about that I would wire accordingly.  The products are well made, and I was working myself up to do the project which would have cost about the same as the Baldwin 645 project.  But then I found a great deal on ebay...

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