OK, so this is partly an excuse for me to bang on about Italy and all the lovely places I visit there but I am just beginning to realise the very different style the small town and country churches in Italy have that is greatly to the advantage of the music making. There is no doubt that the best place to fill a church with sound involves getting the sound source high up in the building. We always try to get speakers up at wall plate level, that’s where the pitch of the roof meets the top of the wall. The sound then diffuses into the building effectively.
Many Italian church organs are by UK standards tiny. Take for example this one at the church of Santa Maria della Stella in Camiore pictured above. It fills the building in a way that the many small parish church organs I play on in the UK never do, even when blessed with more resource. And the answer I believe lies in its location on a west end gallery. Here is another example not so far away from Camiore in the village of Sant Anna di Statzzema. The story behind this small west end instrument is told here. Be prepared to shed a tear.
I have lost count of the number of small churches I have seen in Italy where this is the dominant organ location. In the UK it is rare to find an organ anywhere other than a side aisle, all too often shoe horned as well, so it speaks across the church and not into it. Yet in Italy these small instruments on galleries are common place and often in small churches that would struggle to sit more than 100. It seems the resources were directed at a costly location to site the instrument, at the expense of the size of the instrument finally built. Clever use of limited financial resources. How often do we want the biggest number of stops we can fit in without considering how they can speak in the building?
Now here is a controversial thought. We are often called in to replace a pipe organ beyond economic repair and it is easy electronically to provide the instrument of power and resource relatively cheaply to speak clearly and with gravitas in the building. Far easier to put a speaker on a wall in the right place than the entire instrument! Perhaps a new 4 or 5 stop pipe organ, in the right place on a gallery would also be an option for some churches to consider? Please do not ask me to adjudicate the debate, I obviously have a slight conflict of interest. You may need to ask for divine guidance or visit the church at Camiore and have a private conversation with Santa Maria to get the answer.
I have had a passion for church organs since the tender age of 12. I own and run Viscount Organs with a close attention to the detail that musicians appreciate; and a clear understanding of the benefits of digital technology and keeping to the traditional and emotional elements of organ playing.