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TAHS ninth graders learn the art of digital sound photography

On Friday, Mr. Richard Merryman presented six 45-minute demonstrations entitled “The Art of Digital Sound Photography in Musical Instruments” for his ninth grade classes, courtesy of The Allen Organ Company of Allentown and The Music Emporium.
Using a $40,000 portable digital computer organ provided by The Allen Company and Altoona’s Music Emporium, Merryman demonstrated to students how digital sound technology allows organ engineers to photograph both organ and non-organ sounds from all over the world, store them in computer memories and then retrieve them at precise moments when an organist desires to display them. While pipe organs are very expensive and can take up a lot of room, organs using digital technology can provide a much more cost effective solution. A pipe organ in Salt Lake City cost four million dollars and had enough pipes to fill three large rooms. However, with today’s technology, The Allen Organ Company can take its digital recording system all over the world to record desired sounds. Aside from the classical organ, sounds such as the trumpet, bells, flute, and strings can be played, among others.
For the past 67 years, since 1938, The Allen Company has built over 80,000 organs for churches, colleges, theaters and homes on all seven continents. Today, Allen stands as the largest builder of organs in the world, with its home manufacturing base twenty minutes from Allentown. They sell about eight to 10 organs a year. One organ was sold to a church in Louisiana, serving 27,000 members and costing $500,000.
During the 45-minute presentations, held in the library, the ninth graders learned about the role of the organ at weddings, the movies and sporting events. Merryman used these examples because they are events that are familiar to the students.
First he shared music used for weddings, explaining that the organ does not provide background music but helps lead the ceremony. The music announces the arrival of the groom, ushers the bride up the aisle, provides background music as the minister speaks and announces the couple as the ceremony ends. Merryman demonstrated that while the groom may wish to be announced by a song using trumpets, the same song is not appropriate to play while the couple recites their vows.
Merryman also shared stories of the movie theaters that used to be in Tyrone. At the turn of the last century, in the age of silent movies, the organ provided much needed sound effects for the on-screen movies. An organist was employed by the theater and had to learn two shows a week. Merryman demonstrated how an organist at that time may have portrayed a thunderstorm using the organ. He also shared with students several other sound effects an organ can create such as a war scene, the morning, fox hunting, an oriental scene and a holiday scene.
The last event Merryman talked about was sporting events. At baseball games and hockey matches, the organ rallies fans and helps focus the crowds’ attention on the action. He demonstrated this, playing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”. With new technology, many ballparks have shifted to using recorded sound clips.
“Its a casualty of the modern age,” said Merryman. However, seven ballparks still employ an organist.
Students watched and listened as Mr. Merryman played many different types of songs on the organ and got involved by asking questions and making requests.