One does not often think about music and computers getting along. Music is all about warmth, creating pleasing sound, and expressing emotion. Computers are usually thought of as cold and calculating, embodied by logic and a need to make answers out of questions. So how can they co-exist? One way I have discovered is through an incredible software program called Hauptwerk.

The pipe organ, described by Mozart as the “King of Instruments,” is indeed a formidable instrument, capable of expressing an incredible range of tone color and having a dynamic range in excess of any other musical instrument. This is possible only through huge expense and layout of real estate. Pipe organs can cost millions of dollars and take up expansive amounts of space as compared to any other instrument. However, Hauptwerk has managed to bring all the important facets of the pipe organ to live quite realistically in the confines of a modern personal computer. To that PC, one must add some means of playing the organ, typically one or more musical keyboards, and suitable sound reproducing equipment: amps and speakers. A small-scale setup of Hauptwerk can be built for less than $500 and can be expanded as the need and resources allow.

Hauptwerk does not re-create the sound of a real pipe organ like most electronic organs. Rather, sound engineers meticulously and precisely record the sound of each of thousands of pipes found in real pipe organs and store them in computer files. When Hauptwerk is started, these files are read into computer memory, so when the corresponding key is pressed on the keyboard, that pipe recording is recalled from memory and played through the sound equipment. The speed of the computer makes the recall and playing of the sound seem instantaneous, and many hundreds of the pipe recordings can be played simultaneously, duplicating the amazing sound and ambiance of a real pipe organ.

Because of the advanced computer technology, Hauptwerk has been used to preserve the sound of hundreds of ancient, prestigious and/or failing instruments the world over. Not only is this important from a musical perspective to save these sounds for antiquity, but it also makes it possible to, say, play the famous Cavaille-Coll Notre-Dame instrument in Paris, France from the convenience of one’s home — or anywhere in the world.

Unbeknownst to most, the Academy is home to a small Hauptwerk installation! Though currently relegated to the corner of a music room, it is the hope of the author that this modest instrument can eventually be scaled up to a point where it could be useful for teaching students the art of organ playing, and used for accompaniment of choir and orchestral performances.

Be sure to check it out the next time you visit Harrisburg Academy’s music suite!

Learn more about Harrisburg Academy on our school website.