Several years ago I discovered the Phoenix Organ Company, a small “boutique” builder of digital organs. Their firm began in England as an offshoot of the Makin organ company, and their North American headquarters are in Peterborough, Ontario – only a three hour drive from Ottawa. Their Canadian operation is headed up by two brothers, Jim and Don Anderson, and frankly I can't say enough good about them. Their work is top-notch: the sound of a Phoenix organ is very exciting, and their consoles are beautiful.

 

Knowing Don Anderson to be a fountain of knowledge in all things related to digital organs, I called him up and explained my situation. I asked his opinion of my plan to use Hauptwerk software, and he suggested I check out jOrgan. Am I ever glad he did! During my three month sabbatical in 2010 I spent a lot of time on the train between Ottawa and New York City, and during those long trips I read the entire online guide to jOrgan, and experimented with the demonstration software on my laptop computer.

 

The one thing I was concerned about was the quality of the sound samples to be used. Because I was building an organ for public use in the church (as opposed to just practicing in my basement), the sound had to be high quality. Don told me that Phoenix Organ Company was experimenting with jOrgan and that they would sell me a set of soundfonts based on Phoenix samples. That's what initially sold me on jOrgan software – knowing that I would be using quality sound files, and that I would have support and encouragement from Don and the gang at Phoenix Organs.

 

A unique aspect of jOrgan software is that it is open source software, that is to say it is free and its source code is available to anyone. As opposed to proprietary software like Hauptwerk which costs a great deal of money, jOrgan is meant to be freely distributed. You can download it on your home computer from Sourceforge.net, and within a few minutes you will have a playable organ running on your computer. jOrgan runs in Java, so it is platform independent, meaning it can run equally well under Microsoft Windows, on a Mac, or on Linux. At St John's Church, the organ runs on Ubuntu Linux. Ubuntu has several advantages, but the main one is that it does not need to be powered down to turn the computer off, you simply flip the switch and that's that. When you start it back up, there are no recovery screens or disc checking routines such as one would find in Windows. Ubuntu is clean, compact, and highly responsive. When jOrgan is coupled with Jack Audio in Ubuntu, there is virtually no latency, that is to say there is no lag between the time a key is depressed and when the sound is heard – it's instantaneous.

 

As for the console, Phoenix Organs built a three-manual stack of midi keyboards for me. They also refurbished the old Conn pedalboard and added both midi functionality and toe studs. They provided two high-quality 3M touchscreens calibrated to function together off a dual video card. The guys at Phoenix did the software installation from the ground up: Ubuntu, Jack Audio, then jOrgan, including their proprietary soundfonts. They did the initial software configuration and got everything working.