Photos 4: The Traveling Fraternal Organist

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Anyone contemplating a serious run at being a fraternal organist will be needing a reliable, portable, large enough, sophisticated enough, versatile, and relatively new digital electronic keyboard ... a musical instrument, not a toy, with beautiful voices on board ... something substantial upon which to practice at home, lead congregational singing, accompany a vocalist, set the proper mood, entertain when necessary, and lift the spirits ... which can be easily loaded into and unloaded from a van or other suitable motor vehicle.

We are not speaking here of sized-down, starter mini-keyboards which are built for an entirely different audience and would be inadequate for this type of work.  These types of devices, while they have legitimate uses, are meant for a different audience and are inadequate for a fraternal event.  Many of these instruments are supplied with a demo button which may be engaged to demonstrate the full range of the instrument's capabilities at sound production.  But in preparing for a fraternal event the organist's time is far better spent learning and memorizing the appropriate hymns, marches, patriotic songs, amens, and how to provide incidental music than by familiarizing one's self about how to work a demo button on a starter keyboard.  The habit of never playing the keys of the instrument and relying continually upon a demo button when music is needed not only leads to many mismatches between what the listener gets to hear and the mood of the moment but merely teaches the organist how to work switches, not grow as a musician.

Fraternal members are reappointed to the organist's job, year after year, because WHAT they play -- and HOW they play it -- is meeting the organization's need.  These performers, once appointed, are therefore expected to either perform on the instrument installed in the building, or (far more commonly, when the building does not have its own instrument) bring their own organ sounds, piano sounds, orchestral sounds, and effects with them each and every time the organization meets to conduct an important event.

While there are many very fine makes and models of portable digital electronic keyboards in all price ranges out there today from which to choose, something like the pipe organ samples aboard this little Roland RD800 stage piano (photos) are the latest technology, very realistic in many ways to the real thing, and adequate for the job.  Tones aboard this instrument may be used singly or as many as 4 may be combined at a time using sliders to adjust the blend of each one, making it possible to color the finished sound of any combo to any desired degree.  Organists are going to like the fact that it has a bank of 10 programmable "live set" buttons which function as general combination pistons to store preselected combos and make instantaneous sound changes possible.  This board also has a flash drive record feature which can store and play back the organist's recordings; by detaching the flash drive after making recordings and reattaching it to a computer having the right software, it can be used to burn a CD of any or all of these recordings, on the spot.

A fraternal organist, any organist, needs to find a weighted keyboard of some kind for regular practice.  Those who have a digital electronic organ at home are encouraged to play other instruments at other venues because practicing on electrified manuals doesn't always form the right finger strength and muscle technique; constant practicing on non-weighted keyboards, for an organist, would be like living in space in a zero gravity environment; muscular strength tends to collapse over time under these conditions, which requires additional exercise just to maintain the status quo.  If on the other hand an organist's foundation is built up on a mechanical action (tracker) pipe organ, a conventional acoustic piano, or a digital piano (like this one) with weighted keys, then they can go to the non-weighted keyboards and still sort of hold that same feeling of the mechanical instrument.  If it's the other way around, however, they usually don't perform as well as they did at home; in other words, it doesn't seem to work both ways.  This board however, like many others being built these days, has an adjustable key touch that can be set to simulate the key resistance and "feel" of a one manual mechanical action pipe organ.

But it doesn't end there.  For the best fraternal work an organist still needs something that can provide more than just a weighted keyboard ... something with state-of-the-art-realistic pipe organ samples with a 32 foot octave aboard ... something that can also produce a good string orchestral effect with horns and tympani ... something that can produce a trumpet fanfare or horn call ... something with sound effects such as a thunder roll ... something with adjustable EQ and reverb ... something that allows individual samples to be mixed and their volumes individually controlled ... something with an expression (volume) pedal, transposer button, and a row of presets to store selected combinations -- in other words, something that can meet any fraternal demand which might be made.   

With all of these features, plus 5 separate sound engines, 200 rhythms, 7 different pipe organ sounds which can be mixed, and over 1,100 separate sampled tones aboard, there's really very little, if anything, this board cannot do (save for teaching the pedals) to meet a fraternal  organist's need.  Having a full 88 keys to work with offers the advantage of being able to perform a Joplin rag or any other music from the standard piano repertoire, if desired, without having to move the music to a different octave to squeeze it inside a standard 5 octave (61-note) digital keyboard.   A keyboard amp w/tripod, powered subwoofer, damper (sustain) pedal, volume pedal with adjustable sensitivity, keyboard stand, padded bench, surge bar with 10-foot extension cord, gig cables, Manhassat conductor's music stand (holding 4 pages across), some kind of traveling case (Gator is an example), and a cloth dust cover for the keys would complete the needed accessories.

A traveling fraternal organist needs a reliable, versatile musical instrument which can meet and/or exceed the needs of the organization, and, while a variety of fine products are available today which can serve such needs and then some, this is an example of what constitutes a satisfactory system.