Major I – American Classic Organ

Background and Details


Organs and pipes recordings

Over the last 8 years we as a group have been acquiring recordings from several different organs built in the peak of the ACO period from organ builders that have been influenced by the same philosophy and with similar tonal characteristics.

Most of our Master recordings were done at 96kHz/24 bit to have enough latitude for later processing.  A few were done at 48kHz/24 bit. The recordings were done using precision electret condenser microphones with an omni-directional polar pattern. The samples are later processed with Noise Reduction software, and a lot of other utilities to make them behave and appear good. Great care has been taken to keep the ”soul” of the individual pipes and ranks.

Some of our organs were recorded in their complete state, while on others we have recorded some ranks that we found to be of special interest for the projects. We have been recording Dry, meaning that the local acoustics and reverb has not had much influence on our recordings. Compared to what some seem to advocate, we do not believe that the pipes themselves know what context they live within, so a pipe by itself without its local acoustics, surrounding pipes and voicing is not baroque or romantic, it is just a pipe. Recording Dry separates the individual pipes from their local acoustical environment and surroundings, and thus makes it possible to blend them with pipes recorded at different locations. We have concluded that recording Dry gives the best results when recorded just outside their enclosures, so ours are not extremely Dry or artificially dried out to be all flat, and often includes a little of their enclosure acoustics, meaning that they do have small natural reverb tails of ~500 ms. length. We find this to give the best results if they are later placed in an acoustically rich environment, or for adding artificial reverb to reproduce a given acoustical environment and placement. We also find that this makes the Minor and Major I Dry organ perfectly fit for training purposes, since your playing details are not hidden in a huge reverb, and as such can more easily be heard and corrected if need be.


Building a ‘new’ organ from old  —  bringing the past to the present.

The Minor and Major I seems to be among the first Hauptwerk organs of this scope that uses select Dry samples from several organs, aligns their Dry reverb and then voices, scales and intonates their tonality to fit well together, and then for the Wet version applies a complete and homogenous Wet reverb including multiple releases. In this project we have done something that has been possible for a long time, but has been missing among the available Hauptwerk sample sets. While we applaud and also contribute to the availability of historical documents of given organs in their complete and current state, we think the Hauptwerk model currently by far is the best available way to model any organ, and the opportunity to build new organs should be equally attempted. Some would say that’s what several other manufacturers have been trying to do with variable success and quality for years. The big difference being that we have done this on the very best software available. So – while our model has been a 1950-ish American Classic Organ, we have used the best technology available in the 21st Century to perform our task. Compared to some of the others having built their organs this way, we have not gone to extremes regarding adjustments and replacement of individual pipes that sounded a bit differently than their neighbors. For us, this individuality is an important part of the “life” and “soul” of any pipe organ, and overdoing the removal of such differences in the aim of a very clean organ so easily gives a synthetic feeling to an organic and very much alive instrument as the pipe organ is. Pipes that were clearly mistuned have been retuned, but again – we have not even in this area aimed for 100.0% perfection, though compared to your average physical instrument ours should appear to be tuned pretty much as if is the organ tuner had just been visiting you.

The amount of work in building a Hauptwerk organ happens mostly after the recording of the samples. For these samples we have probably done more work than a historic document of a given organ would have needed. We have built a new organ, and we have done as many organ builders have done in the past, and still do, we have selected the best ranks from different suppliers, and adjusted those to fit homogenously within the organ model we were aiming for.


The Minor I and  Major I Tonal characteristics

The Minor I and Major I organs are designed to create a rich and warm sound, but were also designed with great care and attention for diversity and clarity. Individual pipes and ranks have been voiced to be musical on their own, and we have tried to follow the best design principles from American, English and European organ builders. The voicing, scaling and tonal finishing performed has followed historical traditions in the same way as the original builders of American Classic instruments did in the past, and some still do. Divisions have been voiced on their own to make them balanced, and then scaled and voiced to fit together with the other divisions, and as a whole. Like a physical instrument, final voicing should still be performed at the location if the Dry organ is placed in a reverberant space with its own acoustical environment, but our default balance and tonality is meant to make this task consistent and effortless using Hauptwerk’s voicing capabilities.

American Classic Organs exist in many shapes and versions, and are not an exact science, so you might still find stops that you would like to voice somewhat differently. We have set the individual amplitude levels at defaults that should be close to our organ model and intentions. As an example we know that some of you would prefer the Major I Trompette à Chamade 8′ (which is in a floating division and available from all divisions) to be even louder, and maybe also the same for the Choir’s Tuba 8’. In a “symphonic organ” setting this would have been normal, but we have set them such that they mainly “go on top” of the Swell and Choir divisions for solo usage. Some like them to “go on top” of the Great or even the full organ and then they should probably be voiced up 3-6 db, but then they are too loud to be used with the Swell and Choir only. The Tuba at +6 db overwhelms the complete Choir, and then it becomes almost useless for that usage.
As another example, some might like the Great Principal Chorus to be even warmer and less edgy, and then lowering the Mixture amplitude or brightness is a way of achieving this. At the same time, the American Classic Organs did have strong Great Principal Choruses, so for the model that we have aimed for, their level and appearance is correct.

We have scaled and voiced the organs to have good default behavior within the American Classic Organ tradition, so if you start changing the relationships too much, you might end up with isolated changes that could be more to your liking, and maybe better suited for a given style repertoire, but we would be careful of overdoing this, otherwise the tonal balance of the organ model we have aimed for could be lost or displaced, generating a harmonic appearance and balance that would be too distant from the rather rich and warm sound of the American Classic Organ.