Les Home NBJ Ka-Band Living Stereo jOrgan Organ Design Raymond Scott
Ralph Deutsch – A Renewed Interest in the Organ

My mother remembers me picking out tunes on the Conn Artist organ in our living room from a very early age. By the time I was learning the trumpet, I was also teaching myself a bit on the organ. Armed with knowledge of sight-reading from the trumpet, I taught myself the bass clef and began learning the easier Bach preludes and fugues.

In 1965, my father switched jobs yet again. He now worked for Autonetics, a division of North American Aviation. He was on staff as the Scientific Advisor to the Vice President of Research and Engineering. Autonetics was on the cutting edge of aerospace electronics. They had their own microelectronics fabrication facility. In fact, they fabricated the chips for the first commercial miniature calculator to use integrated circuits, the QT-8D marketed by Sharp. This was a revolution because it made the calculator a truly portable device for the first time.

The Sharp QT-8D Calculator

At some point, my father decided I needed real organ lessons. The problem was that most organists begin by studying the piano. Only after mastering the piano do they progress to the organ. This made it very difficult to find an organ teacher for me. My father went to the cantor at our synagogue for help. Samuel Fordis was more than simply a cantor. Sam was also a concert violinist who had played in Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra! He reigned over an impressive music program at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino that included Robert Strassburg as organist and a large professional choir. Strassburg was a student of Igor Stravinsky, Walter Piston, and Paul Hindemith!

Sam recommended Lillian Klass to be my teacher. Lillian was the organist at Temple Israel of Hollywood. Indeed, I would replace her when she retired from that position in 1977! But that would come much later. Lillian did not want students, but she recommended Dr. Norman S. Wright.

I still remember when my parents took me to audition for Dr. Wright. He was the organist at what was then called the First Methodist Church of Hollywood. The church is still there – but it lost its “First” designation at some point. It is a large imposing neogothic concrete structure on Highland Avenue near the Hollywood Bowl and a short walk from the Chinese Theater. Although I had been in a few churches before, I had never been in one this big. It was huge. Dr. Wright led us up to the organ loft. We climbed a series of short staircases through dark-finished wood panels above the altar to reach the organ console. It was a four manual Casavant pipe organ. I was invited to sit and play for Dr. Wright. This was the first pipe organ I had ever played and also the first organ with more than two manuals. I had no idea how to register the organ so Dr. Wright did this for me. I played through a couple of the Bach “little” preludes a bit of the big Tocatta and Fugue in D minor. After this, I was taken to Dr. Wright’s studio in the basement below the organ chambers. There were two concert grand pianos in his studio. He sat at one and I sat at the other – way on the opposite side of the room where I could not see what he was doing. Dr. Wright then played increasingly complex melodies on his piano and I matched him on my piano. I found it easy. At the end I had passed the tests and he accepted me as his student.

Next came the big statement that would change my father’s life forever. Dr. Wright told my father that our Conn Artist organ was not sufficient for my practicing! I would have to practice (at least most of the time) on an organ built to the American Guild of Organist (AGO) standards. Specifically, I needed a 32-note concave and radiating pedalboard. The Conn had a 25-note flat pedalboard.

My father’s solution was two-pronged. He arranged for me to practice on the Synagogue’s AGO Baldwin Model 9 Organ. In the meantime, he started shopping for a new home organ built to AGO standards.

I can remember going with my parents to a series of organ stores. They would ask to see the AGO instruments. In many cases there were none or only a very small number. I remember once being at the Penny Owsley in Hollywood and looking at a two-manual AGO Conn Theater organ. My father seemed very close to buying this one – but decided against it.

The two stores that had the best selection of these larger instruments were the local Allen and Rodgers dealers. The Allen store had organs available in AGO and non-AGO variants. The non-AGO instruments were much less expensive but had shortened pedals. My father did not want one of these – so he leaned away from the Allen organs. The Rodgers store was in Burbank at the time. All Rodgers organs were AGO. Unfortunately, they were also all expensive.

My father began to think about why these organs were so expensive. He reasoned that it was because, unlike the cheaper non-AGO instruments aimed at the home market, they had large numbers of individual oscillators. Many of the organs on the market had several hundred oscillators. This created a console completely full of electronics. Some large Allen organs actually had a separate cabinet for the oscillators, since they would not fit in the console. If my father could apply the same microelectronics technology that Autonetics was already using to miniaturize calculators, this could greatly reduce the cost of electronic organs. In addition, by actually sampling real pipe organ sounds into a digital memory and reading them out on demand, the resulting organ would sound much more realistic than anything that was currently on the market. The idea came to him on the drive to work after a sleepless night.

It was one of those moments in time when all the right circumstances lined up perfectly. Digital electronics had progressed to the point that such a system was just about practical. Electronic organs were hot-selling commodities, so there was a good business case for change. Finally, North American Aviation was looking for new commercial products for its microelectronics so it could diversify away from its traditional government-only business base.

My father put a proposal together for the idea and sold it to Autonetics and North American. They made him the project manager and funded the development. North American was not interested in marketing the organs under their own name. They were unknown in the organ community. They wanted an established organ manufacturer as a partner.

The first step was therefor the construction of a demonstrator unit that could be shown to various organ companies. They obtained a small spinet organ and wired the top manual to a rack of digital breadboard equipment. Instead of building some sort of memory for storage of the waveshapes, they had a large front panel array of plugin diodes. The user had to “program” the desired waveshape by placing hundreds of diodes in this array in the correct places, based on computer printouts! There were three arrays so three stops could be preprogrammed. There were not many quick registration changes!

Demonstrator console

Demonstrator Electronics Rack with one of three stops programmed

My organ teacher, Dr. Norman Wright, was retained as a consultant. Under his advice, the team sampled organ pipes alone and in combination from various area organs. These samples were analyzed and reduced to a simpler form for the diode array by realigning the phase of their harmonics (this is a bit too mathematical to explain here.)

There were also some demonstration recordings made on the spinet organ. I cannot recall the organists who made them all. I am certain Dr. Wright did a few.

The project did not progress smoothly. At several points, it was in danger of being canceled. My father recalled to during his last month that he had to go into the office on a Saturday (which was unthinkable for him) to argue with his bosses to keep the organ project funded. My father told them that they had to do something good for humanity - as opposed to their mainstream missiles and warplanes! His argument won the day and the project was allowed to continue.

Based on the recordings and North American’s reputation, my father arranged for about a dozen organ companies to visit Autonetics to try out the demonstrator. This is how my father first got to know many of his old friends in the organ industry. Unfortunately, most companies were not interested. This represented a huge change for the mostly small companies – and a huge risk. Also, these were, in general, not very technical people and the limited capability of the demonstrator probably discouraged them. The organ industry at this time was very healthy. There were many U.S. organ companies and the market was good. Only a handful of these companies really cared about the quality of the sound enough to consider such a risk.

In the end, it was Allen Organ Company that signed up to partner with North American.

During the process, someone from Rodgers tipped my father that there was a nice Rodgers organ for sale in San Francisco that he could get for a low price. He took the family on a San Francisco vacation. The organ was a Model 32B. It was a three-manual AGO concert organ. For some strange reason, it was in an organ store that sold only smaller organs – mostly spinets. I think it may have been returned. It had a problem. Rodgers organs of the time used diode switching logic so that a single electrical contact under each key could control many stops. Most contemporary organs (including Allen) used multiple key contacts – and these could cause problems in adjustment. Unfortunately, the batch of diodes Rodgers had bought to construct this organ were faulty. Though the organ was less than a year old, about 25% of the diodes had already malfunctioned, resulting in many dead notes. My father bought this very large organ for only $5,500 – a huge bargain, even considering he had to pay more to have it moved to Sherman Oaks. My father spent a few days soldering new diodes into place. Eventually I would learn to do this. This became my practice instrument. I took the 32B with me when I married and sold it to our synagogue when I replaced it in 1990 with Rodger’s first digital instrument. It worked perfectly then since nearly all the diodes had been replaced!

Of course, this was not North American’s main business line. They were best known then as the builders of the Apollo space capsule. Unfortunately, at about this time in 1967, the first Apollo capsule burned up during a test at Cape Canaveral, killing all three astronauts on board. This was a devastating blow to the company and its reputation. As a result, they ended up merging just two months later with Rockwell-Standard to become Rockwell International.

At some point my parents decided they needed a larger house. They did not want to move so they decided to add a recreation room. There was no logical place to add this room, so they simply had a door added behind their master suite and put the room in the backyard! I remember watching the contractor break through the wall.

They had hired a contractor to build the exterior walls and the roof. My father wanted to do the interior himself – probably both to save money and because he just liked doing everything himself. The room was 20’x30’. I helped him put up 100’ of wallboard, followed by an equal amount of finished plywood paneling. He let my best friend and I install the tile floor by ourselves. The hardest part of the project was staining the open beam ceiling. I helped my father stand on ladders and painstakingly finish the 600 square feet of ceiling. We then installed lighting, a baseboard heater, and a large window air conditioner.

The garage model railroad was transplanted into the new room. We also had a Ping-Pong table set up quite often. The furthest wall was for music. My father acquired a Conn 650 three-manual theater organ. It still sits in the far corner of the room.

My father was always a do-it-yourself person around the house. He hated hiring contractors and preferred to do all repairs himself. The rec room was only the biggest of these projects.

When our old dining room furniture was completely out-of-style, I helped my father refinish the entire set. We stripped all the old finish and applied an antique white and gold finish. We also refinished all the kitchen cabinets with walnut stain – including the shutters. This was a lot of work. The worst project I recall was replacing the double oven in the kitchen. My father purchased the new oven. I had to help him build cribbing from 2x4 lumber to slide out the old oven. We then dismantled the cribbing and started anew. After laying out a pair of 2x4s, we tilted the new oven up the cribbing. This took hours of very strenuous work. Finally, we had the oven raised to the level of the opening and we slid it into place.