Among my regular activities as a musician, I was hired to work on special MIDI project.
I thought you might be interested to hear some of the details.
There are a number of churches that have organs but nobody to play them. Many of the organs are midi capable but the midi files they can find online are, let’s face it, not the greatest. Most them sound like they weren’t played by an organist (or for that matter anyone with any accompanying experience). Others consist of only one verse of a hymn or they don’t have introductions. Others are only on channel one. Many organs don’t use channel one as their ‘Great’ manual and this leaves out the pedals, always on a different channel. Yes, one could create their own midi files, but that’s a lot of work. They could edit the files they find off the internet, but generally speaking, they would require too much editing to make them ideal.
So, I was hired to travel to the Orlando, FL area to record some hymns on an organ with midi capability. The organ in question uses channel 12 for the great, 13 for swell and 14 for the pedals. That is not typical for organs, but this unit (an older Rodgers organ) was designed to be supplemented with an external sequencer/sound module that uses channels 1-10 for general midi sounds. The organ also used sysex codes to change the pistons and stops. I recorded one hymn at a time onto a Roland external sequencer (an RD-70). Rather than try and set tempo on each hymn, we just recorded at the default tempo of 120. A so-called ‘free form’ recording.
We were able to capture the sysex codes to be able to use when editing sequences on a computer. In total, I recorded about 100 hymns and a few ‘service’ pieces. The client the midi files will eventually be used with is an Episcopal church so we focused on them as well as some hymns that span all denominations. The session took about 2 full days with plenty of breaks. I used my iPad where I use the app forScore to view the PDF files of the hymns.
It would have been helpful to have people singing, not so much to adjust to their singing as a good accompanist would, but rather to help me remember which verse we were on and not to forget to include an introduction. There were several titles that I forgot an introduction or I played one less or one more verse than was in the hymnal. I did some post-production on the computer to take care of those issues.
Since most organs use channels 1 for the Swell, 2 for the Great and 4 for the Pedals, it is an easy thing to edit the hymns I did so they can be played on any organ with midi capability. (Channel 3 is used for a Choir or Positiv, if present). Unfortunately, every organ manufacturer and every model within their companies use a different method for selecting stops or picking pistons (aka presets). Since different organs have different stops to choose from, it is impossible to do midi sequences of hymns that automatically select appropriate registrations unless I know the midi implementation and stop list of each organ that wants to use the sequences. However, if someone is willing to sit at the organ console and select a piston or stops just before each hymn plays, then it is quite possible and very realistic to provide high quality hymn accompaniments.
There is a great deal of discussion in some churches about how terrible it is to use the organ and how old-fashioned it is. I say nonsense. Most likely those churches have suffered at the hands of an accompanist who really doesn’t know what they are doing (even if they think they do). Or the instrument itself was the wrong instrument for the auditorium. When the church I play for recently got a new organ with a top notch speaker system – a pipe organ was out of the question for such a small facility and the musical needs the church has – I had one person tell me they never really liked the organ, until now. Now they really like it. Most people just thought it sounded much better. The point is, if you want good music in a church, you need a great accompanist and a good instrument. You’ll be surprised at how many people really do like those ‘old-fashioned’ hymns when played by someone who knows what they are doing and how much they really don’t like drums, synthesizers and guitars playing a bunch of music that stylistically is 20 years behind the times and is being attempted by a bunch of amateurs.
If you’d like to read more about how to be a good accompanist, visit the Amazon Kindle store and check out my book In the Shadows but still in the Spotlight. It gives some good tips on how to be a better accompanist.
So, loaded with these sequences, it was time to put them to test in the real world. A small church too far away for me to play there and make it to my current church has a midi capable organ similar to the one I recorded on. The church has its 5 general pistons setup from soft congregational accompanying (1) to loud festival hymns (5). The church emails me a list of the pieces for the coming Sunday. If it is one of the ones I already recorded, I double check it to make sure it has the right number of verses, an intro and the right piston changes at the start and, if needed, between verses. If it isn’t one I’ve already recorded, I get the hymn into my computer sequencer – I use the DAW Reaper for my recording work – add piston changes and make sure all is correct. I then email the church the sequences. The person on that end copies the .mid file to a floppy. (And yes, they still make 3 1/2 inch floppy disk drives and drives). He puts it into the sequencer, hits play and that’s it. For special situations, like an upcoming patriotic choir accompaniment, I utilized the sounds on the sound module (strings, winds, drums, etc) in addition to the organ.
The results? The vicar of the church, who I know and who regularly hears me play for services, says it is just like having me there playing the organ. The breaks between verses, the breathing spots, introductions and stop changes are exactly like if I were there. I’m very pleased with those results.
For you? Even if you do contemporary music, if you have any instrument or sound module that is midi capable, it is possible for me to create a high-quality midi accompaniment sequence of your music. Just insert the disk (or usb memory stick), select the piece and hit play. For those with midi capable organs, I can provide the hymns just like described above.
That’s why I’ve not been doing much here on the blog.
I have posted a few new videos on my YouTube channel. Do check them out when you get a chance.
If you are on Spotify, here are some playlists you may want to check out:
(edit: removed some redundant text 6/29)