Organ Building > Organ building and maintenance

Taboo topic? Self Playing Pipe Organ

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Hi there,

I hope I have posted this in the best category - self promotion encouraged and taboo ideas.

I am a New Zealander who lives in Hungary (actually in Pécs in the south of Hungary - home of the relatively famous Angster Organ building company in the past and the Pécs Pipe Organ Manufacturer at the moment). At the moment I am helping a company to expand out of Hungary which has developed a self playing pipe organ system. As far as I know, this is unique in the world for large scale organs. By replaying pipe organ, I mean that an organist plays a piece on the original organ and all the actions the organist makes on the console, (including the keyboards, stops and swell shutters) are recorded meaning that the piece can be played back anytime in the future.

 It has been operating at the Pecs Cathedral for the last 17 years and is quite a drawcard for visitors and money from the regular short concerts and donations are a significant source of funds for the cathedral. To give you an idea of the organ - originally an Angster organ built in 1887 and renovated in 1997 and 2007/2008 - the Pécs organ has four keyboards and 85 stops and more than 6000 pipes and the replay system can record and replay this without a loss in quality from the original performance.

Here is the taboo part… is this new technology putting organists out of work? Well not really … the organists who use the system, after initial reluctance, have really learnt to value the system and now rely on it for tuition and practice. They have the luxury of recording a piece and going to where the congregation sits to listen to it or changing the register, etc, so they can perfect it before an important recital. They can even play over the piece while the organ is self playing.

So what about organ builders? Here in Hungary, organ building is rightly considered a skilled craft and organ builders are generally reluctant to add superfluous electronics to a pipe organ (no extra whistles and bells). The addition of the self-playing part is only a minor addition and doesn’t affect the rest of the organ at all. All the electronics are enclosed in a small cabinet which can be built into the organ casing and the controller for the replay system is accessed using an android tablet.

Organ builders like that the pipe organ can generate an income which means more funding for maintenance and possibility of renovation of organs. For example, at Pecs, the cathedral has about 50,000 visitors per year who pay a couple of euros each for a guided tour of the cathedral with short organ performance. the moment we are looking to work in partnership with a few organ builders in the UK where we would install the replay organ part on organs being rebuilt or newly constructed organs. We offer a 10 year guarantee on the components of the system which we manufacture. If an organ still has manual action we can also install the replay system but would much prefer to work in cooperation with a local organ builder rather than install the necessary slider magnets ourselves.

If you want more information about this technology, have a look at our website or pm me.

I’m curious about the opinions of organ matters members.

Do you know of any technology which is similar, that is, can be installed on large organs and plays back music through the original pipes?

Could it be successfully used on organs in your area?

Is adding a replay system to a historic organ taboo - even when there is no external modification to the organ?



Hardly a new or unique idea!  Barrel organs have been known for centuries, and more recently, instruemnts using punched card or paper were made.  The invention of MIDI in the 1970's(? has allowed sequenceers to be built into organs (or added eternally).  Even my house organ (digital) has one - as does one of my digital pianos.  In general, the techn ology is restricted to organs with electric or selectronic transmission systems - and the hardware isn't difficult to find.  Adding it to a historic tracker or pneumatic action organ is a very different matter, and can't be done without significant modifications to the instrument  - at the least adding pull-down magnets to the tracker action (as is done on organs with dual tracker &  electric consoles).  I suppose the other approach would be the "dumb organist" where a device sitsover the keys with wooden fingers controlled by the automatics to depress them.

I suggest you look at organ MIDI systems.

Every Blessing


Hi Tony,

Thanks for your reply. I know that self playing organs using rolls of paper have been around for a while and MIDI can be installed on smaller organs but as far as I know, 31250 bits per second used by MIDI 1.0 cannot reliably record and duplicate a large organ (4 keyboards and 60+ registers)back through the original pipes. The replay system transfers at 1 Mbps so is suitable for larger church pipe organs.

With your organ at home which uses MIDI what system does it use and does it play back the music through the original organ pipes?

The reason I ask these questions is I have never seen a replaying organ in a large church or cathedral and don't know if it is because the technology is not there or it is some sort of taboo to replace the organist with technology or some other reason. Maybe I just haven't seen enough church organs.  Any thoughts?

All the best,


David Drinkell:
The Ellen Transmission System (I think developed by Len Ellen) allowed replay.  Hill, Norman & Beard used it a lot when Frank Fowler was in charge.  Leicester Cathedral had it (I remember walking round the building listening to myself playing before a concert there) and so did St. Andrew's Cathedral, Aberdeen - possibly also St. Andrew's Hall, Norwich.

Hi Jube

You need to research - my organ is digigtal, and the record/playback system is built in.  Many modern pipe organs have record/replay facilities - and as David says, they've been around for a while.  I guess SSL or the other organ transmission system manufacturers will have thier own systems - and I remember some years ago a firm advertising these systems as an add-on for electric action organs.

Every Blessing



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