2009 was an important milestone in my life. It was a year in which I realised a dream that I never expected to in a million years and it is all thanks to a wonderful group of people on the jOrgan forum which I happily stumbled across in the process of exploring cyberspace.
It all really began 10 years ago when I left one parish and moved to another. I was one of the regular Sunday organists at the former parish for 20 odd years. Having had reservations for the content of the Sunday sermons, I decided to leave gracefully than get into religious quabbles with the well-meaning celebrant, though we did have a few short metaphoric punches at each other at the end of some masses. I used to play a two manual + pedalboard Mascioni organ built and installed in the 60s. A wonderful instrument. It was in this parish at St. Julian's, Malta that I really got to play and practice on a real pipe organ in 1980. Before that, I had played on harmoniums, first at the Jesuit College in B'Kara I attended between 1970 and 1979, then at an English Mass where I started as an alterboy aged 12 (1973). This service used to be celebrated, by one of my Jesuit teachers, at a girls' school, Sacred Heart Convent, St. Julian's.
In 2000 I moved on to the Parish of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Tal-Ibraġ, St. Andrew's. Here I was to play on a humble Yamaha synthesizer! No comparison with the Mascioni organ I had grown to love. My patience helped me endure 9 years of sheer frustration, unable to persuade the parish to get a proper instrument for this church. Lately, an electric 2 manual + 1 pedalboard organ was donated to the church but it was placed in the choir loft constructed just before its arrival. Playing in the choir loft turned out to be a complete disaster. I could only hear myself play but I could not hear the congregation sing so I could not keep pace; neither could I liaise with the cantor who was some 30m away down below!
I had to do something about it. As computers became standard gadgets in every home and the internet as essential as the electricity supply, I started to wonder whether the world wide web could offer a solution to my situation. I looked at ready made organs and they were definitely well outside my affordability. With 4 children, a modest solo medical practice, soaring taxes and rising expenses, the price of these instruments was several orders of magnitude beyond my budget. Could it be possible to build an organ? The thought was itself almost ludicrous, taking the plunge would be a very bold step. It was a risk. I had to thread very carefully so I googled "pedalboard" and I began finding websites of people having similar experiences to mine and successfully building themselves instruments they were enjoying playing.
I started with the pedalboard and a midi keyboard. I bought magnets, potted reed switches and a few odd accessories that I needed after sketching a design for the pedalboard. A carpenter helped with the wood work, cutting and shaping the bits I needed according to my design.
The rest is history!
In the background you should be able to hear me playing J.S. Bach's Prelude IX on the organ using software created by Sven Meier (jOrgan) and Paul Stratman. Other virtual organs in my archive have been designed by Bernd Casper, John Reimer, Max Albiston, Bruce Miles, John McCoy and Jacques Lévy.