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What are the issues we need to be aware of when having an electronic organ installed into our current sanctuary?
The tonal finisher's goal is to tonally fit the organ into its new acoustical environment by carefully contouring the tuning, regulation (note by note, rank by rank volume) and voicing of the actual "pipe" sounds. This process can require hundreds, if not thousands of adjustments to the organ. Since the instrument's acoustical environment is dependent upon a room's design and contents, the room's appointments becomes a critical aspect of the instrument's success. As a general rule, it is best to have a room that reflects sound in many directions in order to spread and "layer" the sound before it dies away. These factors give the building acoustics what has been described as having "grandeur", "ethereal" or "celestial" characteristics. The layering of sound on sound offers the effect of a natural amplification which allows the finisher to reduce the organ's overall volume and still maintain a sense of power. These effects are the reason why the acoustics of a European cathedral is so awe-inspiring.
One of the drawbacks of the "cathedral sound" is that it usually obliterates intelligibility. This simply calls for an acoustical happy medium so the spoken word itself can be enhanced both acoustically and electronically, while the music is enhanced naturally for the benefit of both the listeners and the musicians.
Many sanctuaries are acoustically quite dead and can pose a difficult problem tonally finishing an organ because of the amount of sound deadening material installed in the room. This deadening effect increases the directionality of the organ sound, preventing its sound from reflecting around the room. In order to counter this effect, the organ volume must be increased to reach the room's peripheral areas (and specifically to the organist). Unfortunately, those sitting directly in front of the speakers can experience a higher than comfortable volume, making the tonal finishing a difficult if not impossible balancing act. The design of a room and its acoustical characteristics are so important yet are unfortunately so often ignored.