- Do you need an organ consultant?

Churches and schools contemplating the purchase of a new organ, the renovation of an already existing one, the construction of a new sanctuary or modification of an existing one should consider the employment of a reputable organ consultant to assist them in the process.  Because every organ is built specifically for a particular space, no two instruments are the same.  Unlike every other instrument, the organ has an incredible number of variables that must be addressed. Where is the organ to be located? What about its placement in relationship to the choir? Should it be a pipe organ or an electronic?  What about “combination organs” that utilize both pipes and digitally sampled voices?  If a pipe organ, should it have mechanical or electric action?  Which of the various types of electric action are the most reliable?  Which provide the most flexibility?  What kind of tone should the organ have?  What about the organ console?  Should it have 56 or 61 keys?  What type of controls should be used in the console?  What should the organ look like in the church?  Is casework desirable or necessary?  What factors should be considered in deciding upon the final appearance of the instrument? What obligations will the church have that may not be detailed in the organ contract? How much could these items cost? These are only some of the questions that would be asked prior to beginning the process of purchasing a new organ.  Renovating an already existing instrument brings additional ones.  Is the organ worth renovating?  What should be retained?  Should the organ sound significantly different and, if so, how?  Should the console be rebuilt or replaced?  Should the console controls be updated?  What should the church expect during a renovation process?  Which organ companies have proven to be reliable in performing restoration work?  How do we know we're getting what we've paid for or that the details in the contract we signed were actually attended to?

            Most churches that have employed consultants to represent them in the purchase or renovation of an organ will state that the money spent on the consultant's fee was the best investment they made.  Without the services of a consultant the church must deal with every organ company directly.  Since the organ companies have a financial stake in the bidding process, they are primarily concerned (as they should be) with their interests.  But how can the church know what is in the church's best interests?  This is where the independent consultant comes in. 

            What about churches that already have an organist with the expertise to fulfill some of the functions of a consultant?  Often, church boards or committees discount advice given by musicians in these circumstances because the incumbent musician may be perceived to have a conflict of interest.  In these cases, an outside consultant can work with the church's musician and serve as an objective resource to the church.

            A knowledgeable and reputable organ consultant will have a great deal of experience not only as an organist but also as a church musician.  The consultant will be knowledgeable about the various organ companies and the instruments that they build.  He or she will be able to successfully communicate the intricacies of organ building to the layperson and be able to provide advice and resources on all aspects of an organ project.  A reputable consultant never receives any payment from any organ company.  This would be unethical and violate the relationship that exists between the consultant and the church that employs him.  Any church considering the retention of a consultant should check references and speak with other churches that have utilized the consultant for their own projects.

            Following is a list of functions performed by organ consultants.

-  The consultant provides resources and education for the church in matters pertaining to the renovation of an instrument already in existence or the purchase of a new organ. He can assist architects and acousticians in their design phase for new sanctuary construction or modifications to existing worship space. He details options available to the church and translates the terminology used by organ builders. 

- In situations where circumstances don't permit the immediate renovation or replacement of an organ, the consultant may assist the church in developing long range plans for the provision of a suitable instrument.

-  The consultant represents the church's interests in transactions involving the planning for and purchase of an organ.  The consultant does not represent the interests of any one organ builder and receives no compensation of any kind from any organ builders. 

-  If the church decides to renovate an existing instrument or purchase a new organ, the consultant will suggest competent, qualified builders to the church and works with them in obtaining proposals for the necessary work.  Proposed specifications submitted by various builders may or may not be in the best interests of the church.  The consultant explains the specifications to the church and details the implications of each in terms of usefulness and cost.  The consultant assists the church in narrowing the list of possible builders.

- After a "short list" of builders has been determined, the consultant works with them and the church in arranging visits of the builders to the site and assists in the process of refining the proposed specifications.

-  The consultant represents the church in final negotiations regarding the bids and assists the church in determining who the builder should be.

-  The consultant is available to the church to explain any details or language in the organ contract.

- A knowledgeable consultant can provide expertise and resources in the critical area of acoustics. The organ will sound only as good as the acoustic of the room in which it sounds. An improved acoustic also benefits the congregational singing and choir. Where major acoustical improvements are required, the consultant can put the church in touch with reputable acousticians that specialize in church acoustics.

-  The consultant represents the church in details regarding the scaling and voicing of the pipe work, the layout of the organ console, and other matters pertaining to the organ.
 
-  The consultant provides advice to the church on matters that may affect the organ's tuning stability.  Heating and air-conditioning systems and the location of the organ in proximity to windows may create negative conditions for the instrument.

-  When the organ is being installed in the church, the consultant checks on the progress of the work, makes appropriate reports to the church, and inspects the organ upon completion, acting as the church's "expert" in signing off on the instrument.