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Maximizing Your Potential

by Aryell Cohen

In 1996, it was decided that something major needed to be done about the sanctuary organ at my synagogue.  The console and the electric relays of the sixty-five year old thirteen rank pipe organ were failing.  Every week I had what amounted to electric cyphers because the contacts were breaking.  After seeking the advice of colleagues and several organ builders, it was decided that purchasing a new console and making everything solid state was too expensive a proposition by itself.

I chose to work with Dr. Robert Tall and Rodgers Organs.  Bob and his staff have the greatest amount of experience in creating hybrid instruments.  With the Rodgers organization behind him, Bob and his staff installed a new three-manual (model 960) organ, which interfaced with the original ranks of pipes.  All of this was done for the same price we would have paid for a new console and solid state circuitry from other organ manufacturers.  In addition, the new organ would have the capability of using a Midi module made by the parent company Roland, with the organ, and that I would eventually be able to use orchestral instruments and play “in real time”, as it is called.  I also have the capability of using either the pipes or the “bytes”, or any combination of both.  I almost always use some combination of both.

I attended a workshop sponsored by Bob and his organization.  He chose certain pieces and explained how he chose the instrumentation, locked in the “patches” on to certain pistons, and wrote them on the music.  Most poignant is my memory of how he orchestrated “The Lord’s Prayer” by Malotte, complete with cymbal crashes!  After that, I thought to myself “when it is my time to learn how to do that, I’ll start with “L’dor Vador”, which became our theme song ever since I had the Finkelstein setting published.

As tastes of my congregation changed, and the tone of the service needed to change, I remembered the workshop, and called Bob.  The midi module was installed, with a controller keyboard, which allows me to access pistons on the organ (with the midi voices) with the bass default, so the pedal division automatically comes in with the left hand.  Next was to figure out how to play “in real time” myself.

Bob came to the rescue.  He came over to the synagogue several times, and developed a number of pistons for me to use for “L’dor Vador”, and other sounds that lend themselves to a variety of uses.  The idea was to use some new sounds and still have a good “bottom” sound by using the Bourdon or other pedal division stops.  After working for several months, I had the courage to try out the new settings at a Shabbat morning service.  Remember I have 1,000 worshipers at services every week, which include the clergy, and a number of board and executive board members.  Well, I put out some advance notice that I was going to do this which at least set up the listening experience.  I am thankful that the interpretation and the playing was mostly accepted very well (I had to lose the cymbals, though).  I now use a piano and strings setting very often, with a clarinet solo, and an “orchestral” sound with french horn solo for obligati or countermelody.  I have several other “new age” sounding stops that I use for underscoring benedictions, and blessing the children, that work just as nicely as the soft strings or “Unda Maris” would serve.

And all of this happened because I could call upon the resources of a man who said “Aryell, you can do this as well as me”.  I think that was a little overstated, but he helped me to realize more potential from my instrument, as well as myself.  Getting back to that controller keyboard, I use it when I have to accompany classes of children who lead portions of the service from time to time.  It is connected to the console via a seventy-five foot cable (like a mike cable) that allows me to move around or in front of the bimah, and to move as far as half way up the center aisle.  Being able to use the “big organ” from out in front with the controller demonstrates flexibility to the congregation and gives me some added visibility in a very positive way.

Every year Robert Tall and Associates sends out a brochure from his “Division of Continuing Education”.  I would like to quote Bob from his brochure:  “The Division of Continuing Education is one of the most important components in the Robert Tall Corporation.  Dr. Robert Tall believes a company’s obligation to its clients does not end with the sale of an instrument.  The Division was formed in 1987 to help the Rodgers owner understand the full capability of the instrument they purchased, plus staying up to date with current technology and trends”.

The phrase “plus staying up to date with current technology and trends” more than strikes a chord.  In the brochure (I sent the brochure to Harry as well, but at this writing do not know now much may be printed due to space limitations), there are classes that will be taught by well-known organists/musicians/clinicians.  Fred Swann, who is the current president of the AGO, Dan Miller, and Hector Olivera are well-known clinicians and recitalists.  Bob picks excellent people to run these professional development sessions.

While this may sound like a commercial, in a way it is.  It is a spot for professional development.  I am now working with a new Roland keyboard which I will eventually start using in the chapel for Friday evening services, which are in the round, more intimate, and generally have a smaller number of worshippers.

You may not have this same type of resource that I do, however, I an certain that you have other resources in your community either through companies such as Rodgers or other music companies, or professional organizations such as AGO with local chapters and individuals with experience to share.  Look for them, work with them, and maximize your potential.  Make yourself and your instrument invaluable to your congregation.

Aryell Cohen is the current President for the GTM.  You can find his full biography at his Board  page.

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