Photos 3: Roland RD800 Stage Piano

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 ... a piece of equipment on which to practice at home, lead congregational singing when required, accompany a vocalist, set the proper mood, lift the spirits, and smooth over any awkward places in the meetings, if and when they should arise.

We are not speaking here of sized-down, starter and stripped-of-practically-everything 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 uses and serve a purpose, are really no substitute for a musical instrument equal to the job.

In preparing for a fraternal event the organist's/musician's time is far better spent learning and memorizing the appropriate hymns, marches, patriotic songs, amens, and incidental music than by familiarizing one's self about how to work a demo button on a starter keyboard; the latter impresses no one, tends to leave the impression that the music making is a bluff with no real preparation, and in time undermines everyone's interest, including the performer's, in continuing along these lines.

Fraternal members who succeed in having the organist's job offered to them are appointed precisely because what they play ... and how they play it ... is meeting some 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, sound effects, plus all the bells and whistles, with them each and every time the organization meets to conduct an important annual 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, this author has found that the pipe organ samples aboard this little Roland RD800 stage piano (photos) are the latest technology, superior, very realistic in many ways to the real thing, almost startling in their realism, and tremendously helpful.

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, which make instantaneous 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.

Organists who have a digital organ at home really need to go to other places to find other instruments because always practicing on an electronic organ and always performing on a pipe organ supplied with 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 -- an organist needs to find a weighted keyboard of some kind for regular practice. 

This Roland board 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 for the best fraternal work an organist still needs something more, someething that can provide more than just state-of-the-art-realistic pipe organ samples with a 32 foot octave ... something that can also produce a good orchestral effect with tympani, horn calls, and 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 really flexible and expressive that can supply every possible musical or sonic need which might present itself.   

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 honestly very little, if anything, this board cannot do (save for teaching the pedals) to meet a fraternal  organist's every performing need.

Having a full 88 keys to work with also offers the advantage of being able to perform a Joplin rag or any other piano piece 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 KC-150 keyboard amp w/tripod, KCW-1 powered subwoofer, damper (sustain) pedal, volume pedal with adjustable sensitivity, keyboard stand, dust cover, and padded bench (all made by Roland), plus a surge bar, gig cables, Manhassat conductor's music stand (holding 4 pages across) and some kind of traveling case (Gator, for example, makes a good one) rounds out the needed accessories.

A traveling organist needs a first rate system for regular practice and fraternal service, and this one has been found very satisfactory. Cool