Melrose church in tune with new technology

Reverend Philip Blackledge of Holy Trinity Church in Melrose sat at the new church digital organ.
Reverend Philip Blackledge of Holy Trinity Church in Melrose sat at the new church digital organ.

Melrose’s Holy Trinity Church is one of the first locations for a new type of digital organ currently causing something of a stir in the organ world.

“The old organ in Holy Trinity was in a state of disrepair,” the church’s rector, Philip Blackledge, told The Southern this week.

“And it was costing the church a lot of money each year. A major renovation was required, but when we investigated, we realised that the money needed was more than the instrument was worth.

“We hit upon the idea of this new virtual organ, which offers so much more than a standard electronic organ.”

The key to this new virtual organ, which was installed at the start of this week, is the massive processing power of modern computers, and a process known as ‘sampling’.

Organist at Holy Trinity, Chris Achenbach, explained: “In a normal digital organ, one or two recorded notes from a real pipe organ are used to create a whole rank of notes.

“This creates a very realistic sound, but one that is often felt to be too ‘perfect’ and a touch lifeless. But with a virtual organ, an enthusiastic sound recordist samples every note of a single organ, and you buy that particular organ sample set.

“That means that organs in Germany, France, the Netherlands, as well as throughout Britain, can be used in this organ in Melrose.

“It’s now possible to play Bach on an organ that Bach himself played, or to play Elgar on the organ of Salisbury Cathedral.

“It adds new colour to the musical life of the church.” And Mr Achenbach, a music therapist, jazz pianist and composer who played his first Sunday service at Holy Trinity in April, is hopes the new instrument, manufactured by Polish firm Magnus, will attract other organists who want to perform recitals and allow a new flexibility to music within the church service.

Father Blackledge continued: “Pipe organs were the technological innovations of their day and for some they will never be bettered in sound.

“But where the pipes once stood, there is now a mass of powerful speakers, and they will create a new musical life for the church.

“This type of organ is very new, and the one we are installing in Melrose has been described as certainly the best of it’s type in Britain, possibly the world, at the moment.

“We fully intend to put it to good use, and it is our aim that Holy Trinity becomes a musical centre, for choirs, orchestras and concerts for the public to enjoy.”