We receive numerous requests for help along the lines of, "My church is thinking of buying an organ - how can I convince them to buy a pipe organ instead of an electronic one?"

We have nothing against electronic organs (I have one at home, in fact, there being no space for pipes) but the IOF is dedicated to pipe organs: what follows should not be interpreted as an attack on electronic organs.

There are multiple arguments in favor of the pipe organ.

The aesthetic argument: There's nothing like the real thing. Good though some electronic organs are these days, they still can't imitate or recreate the true sound of a pipe organ. Some come close, it's true, but they still haven't gone all the way. As somebody once said, what would be the reaction if the New York Philharmonic replaced its string section with an electronic box on the grounds that it is cheaper and sounds "almost the same"? As the largest piece of furniture in a church or hall, a pipe organ can also add tremendously to the building's internal aesthetics: a facade of gleaming pipes in a handsome case is far more pleasing visually than an electronic console (to most people, anyway).

Which leads us to the financial argument. Many electronic organs cost far less than even a modestly-sized pipe organ. Some of the very sophisticated electronic organs can cost as much as a small pipe organ. When the building is relatively small, an electronic organ with dozens of stops may not be the best solution: a carefully-designed but modestly-sized pipe organ can often provide a superb musical addition to the church or hall. A reputable organ builder will advise accordingly: after all, he would like your business and he knows that recommending a 300-stop monster for a building seating 150 people is not the best way to gain it.

Still on financial matters, some organ committees shy away from pipe organs because they fear heavy maintenance costs. A pipe organ must be maintained: it requires regular tuning and the periodic replacement of some parts, such as leather components. It is curious that many churches think nothing of maintaining their heating systems but disregard organ maintenance. The proper care of a pipe organ need not be expensive (there seems to be no commonly-agreed handy formula, such as "one per cent of the purchase price per year") and a reputable builder will include an estimate of maintenance and tuning costs as part of his proposal. Suitable provision must be made for maintenance: properly cared for, a pipe organ will last for centuries.

Questions have been raised about the longevity of electronic organs. It is true that some electronic organs have been in continuous use for several decades with few or no problems and that modern electronic components are among the most reliable devices ever created. Many of these components have not been in service long enough for their reliability to be field-tested, and there are possible doubts about the availability of some components, particularly custom-built ones, in, say, 20 years' time. We can make no further comment on this: only time will tell. We can, however, point out that there seems to be little problem in maintaining pipe organs, even those that were built several centuries ago.

If the budget is tight and a new pipe organ seems unaffordable, there is always the possibility of acquiring a used one. The Organ Clearing House (see below) specializes in finding homes for unwanted pipe organs and will almost certainly have something suitable on its books. One of the interesting aspects of pipe organs is that each instrument is unique, custom-designed and built for a specific location, taking into account the uses to which it is to be put and other aspects of its location, such as the organ's placement within it or the acoustical properties of the room. That said, pipe organs can be moved successfully from one place to another (we know of one organ that has been moved four times) and this option is well worth considering if a new pipe organ is out of the question.

The musical argument points out that a pipe organ can play a leading role in the musical activity of the building. In a concert hall or auditorium, its role is obvious and this argument should be the main one in the discussion. In a church, its role will depend on the musical tradition of that particular church. Its main use will of course be in worship, but it is worth remembering that a good pipe organ can also be used for concerts and recitals, if such activities are considered appropriate in your church and compatible with its musical tradition. Concerts can help raise funds: many people will attend a pipe organ recital; few will come to a recital played on an electronic organ.

Finally, there is the religious argument (for churches): a church is God's house and only the best is suitable for God. The IOF has no religious affiliations so we leave it to you to decide whether this argument is appropriate in your context.

When marshalling facts, it's a good idea to talk to organists and/or music directors at other churches or concert halls in your area, especially those that have recent experience in commissioning new pipe organs. Discuss their decision-making processes, their experiences with organ builders and their satisfaction (or otherwise) with the resulting instrument.

Finally, the IOF cannot recommend individual organ builders. The Yellow Pages, other churches and the reference sources given below will all help you to locate builders in your area (and further afield: organ building is an inter-state and international business).

Sources of further information

The following list is by no means comprehensive but is intended to point enquirers in general directions from which they can follow links to further information.

PIPORG-L is the Internet mailing list dealing with matters relating to pipe organs and is open to everyone interested in pipe organs - organists, organ builders and 'organologists'. Its members are helpful and friendly and willing to share their vast collective knowledge. Details of how to join the list can be found at the PIPORG-L Web site:

www.albany.edu/piporg-l

The American Guild of Organists (AGO) is, as its name implies, an association for organists. Its Web pages contain much useful information, including AGO documents that can be downloaded:

www.agohq.org

Sometimes, for budgetary or other reasons, a new pipe organ is out of the question. The Organ Clearing House has an extensive list of used pipe organs for sale in the USA. The organs on offer are of all types, sizes and prices:

www.organclearinghouse.com

The Associated Pipe Organ Builders of America (APOBA) has an interesting Web site containing advice and useful links to other organ-related sites:

www.apoba.com

Organist and organ consultant Marcia van Oyen has written a booklet, A Handbook for Organ Committees, giving advice for those involved in choosing a pipe organ. We haven't read it, but APOBA recommends it. Details are on her Web site:

www.mvanoyen.com