Earlier I wrote a little about using GrandOrgue to Make a Digital Piano Sound Like an Organ. This involved using my laptop as a virtual pipe organ. On the one hand, this provided a portable way to bring the sound of a pipe organ into the choir loft, which worked. The downside was that it took a while to set up and made it difficult to practise during the week, when I would use my laptop for other things.
Last year I found a smaller, older laptop to use as a virtual pipe organ, which could be left set up all the time at home. This involved using Aeolus, a smaller program which could run on a less powerful computer. Whereas GrandOrgue and Hauptwerk use samples recorded from real organs, Aeolus generates the sounds itself, combining different frequencies.
As the weather has been warming up here in Australia, I noticed the laptop’s fan coming on, which made me concerned that it would struggle with the heat if I left it on over the summer. I turned to the idea of using an even smaller computer—a Raspberry Pi!
It seems possible to run GrandOrgue on the Raspberry Pi and you can find a script to help you. But the Pi’s rather minimal resources would not be able to handle the more interesting sample sets available, so I was open to alternatives.
A company called Organnery, based in France, offers this demonstration of running a virtual pipe organ with Aeolus on a Raspberry Pi:
Organnery offers prebuilt kits or custom installations from qualified technicians, even adapting existing organs to become midified electronic organs.
For those who may be daunted at the prospect of setting up your own computer, Noel Jones has come up with a pre-packaged Choir Organ, a box which plugs into a midi keyboard and your sound system. I haven’t tried it, but it sounds like it uses similar ideas.
One more alternative is Zynthian – a company offering a very powerful multitimbral synthesizer and audio processor which can also run Aeolus. Like Organnery, it also uses a Raspberry Pi.
Lastly, I stumbled across Box of Stops, yet another Electronic Organ based on the humble Raspberry Pi. This one seems to use much more modern registrations, moving further from the classical pipe organ. The project takes the interesting approach to changing stops by utilizing the touch screen on a phone or tablet connected to the same local area network. This raises the interesting idea of a member of the congregation hacking into the system and changing the registration during a service from their phone.
Finally, here is a short tour of my own current setup. I have two USB MIDI keyboards, an amplifier, two large speakers, qwerty keyboard, monitor and mouse and a Raspberry Pi 3. I also have a pedalboard and bench gleaned from an old Lowrey Promenade. I haven’t connected the pedalboard yet, but this product makes it look possible.
I still take my laptop to Mass to bypass the Digital Piano in the choir loft. Having this set up at home has helped make it easier for me to practise as well as providing an accessible means for my children to try it out.