Digital organ helps bring a familiar sound to choir tour

When the Mormon Tabernacle Choir goes on tour, it leaves its famed organ in Salt Lake City, but through the latest in music technology it can take along a fairly good representation of the instrument's sound.

One of the stars of the choir's tour to the southern United States was a Rogers digital organ. With 40 speakers, the three-manual or three-keyboard organ provided state-of-the-art accompaniment.

Just a few years ago, taking an organ on tour would have been an impossible dream, said Mark Anderson, whose company in Orem, Utah, provided the organ — along with a backup — for the tour. His crew included Jeff Hansen and Jeff Ehlers.

"The organ is controlled by computer software," he said. "We come to each building and custom voice the organ so that it fits the hall. Because the organs are electronic, we can move them without tuning them. The tuning holds regardless of temperature or humidity. We can get the same sound from concert hall to concert hall.

"This is a draw-knob digital organ that is voiced in the American classic style, which is what the Tabernacle organ is. That's why the organ is so compatible.

"This organ (on the tour) has the equivalent of 137 ranks. The concert hall in Birmingham has an organ that has 20 ranks, which is smaller. Atlanta had a 45-rank theater pipe organ that was restored in 1929, but it isn't the sound that the Tabernacle Choir is used to."

On the traveling organ, the memory system is preset, which means that the crew saves hours of work in each venue. Backup memories are preserved on Flash ROM. "If we have to change organs, we can do that in minutes," Brother Anderson said. "A platform was designed so we can roll it in and not have lift the organ up each time."

The three Tabernacle organists found the organ a welcome addition to the tour. "Many venues don't have organs but people expect to hear the choir backed up with an organ," said organist John Longhurst. "Using a piano, which we have done on some tours, just doesn't meet that need. Having the same organ in every venue saves us from having to travel ahead of the choir and familiarize ourselves with the new instruments in those halls that have organs. This gives us a consistent performance from one city to the next."

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