The pipe organ — a precious and enormously unwieldy instrument. An analysis by Frank Uwe Lieflander

Frank Uwe Liefländer
3 min readMar 10, 2023

Once called the queen of all instruments by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the church organ is probably one of the largest and most traditional instruments of Western culture. Germany has the highest density of pipe organs in the world in relation to its population and area. Reason enough to take a closer look at the church organ.

The great organs of Europe are astonishing and overwhelming. With costs of several million euros and a creation time of easily ten years, these are musical instruments that are produced anything but quickly. But maintenance is also costly: Organs have to be tuned twice a year, which can take weeks. No question, a pipe organ is an unwieldy instrument. But that’s not just true in terms of cost and maintenance. It’s also the only instrument where the feet play along melodically on a custom-built keyboard. For comparison, drummers also use their feet for the bass drum, but this is only rhythmic, and not melodic. Because of the pedals, playing the organ is also much more difficult than playing the piano. Coordination between 10 fingers and two independent feet requires excellent multitasking skills.

Between 64 pipes on a small organ and 33,000 on large instruments provide the incomparable sound. Some large pipes sound so deep that they can not only be heard but felt, while the smallest are not directly perceptible to the human ear. Playing on a large organ feels like being in a space shuttle: surrounded by keys and pedals, countless knobs and switches, and complicated instruction manuals (the notes), organ players feel like being in a space shuttle. Moreover, one also sits very high on the gallery, like in a rocket.

Does the organ still have a right to exist today?

The church organ, however, is more than just a musical instrument: like almost everything else in the church, it gives us a taste of the divine. The pipes and their sound strive upwards and thus guide our thoughts to God. Their roar, louder than any choir or orchestra, symbolizes the power of God and allows us to sense it. Their most intimate and sweetest sounds resemble the love of God. Their beauty reminds us of God, beauty itself. She leads us in communal singing to the glory of God. And perhaps most concretely, she is, through the enormous financial burdens, an exercise in commitment, in affirmation: yes, for the beautiful and sublime we are willing to make great sacrifices, hard coin for ideals. In our increasingly materialistic society, an important argument.

Unfortunately, in many churches organs are being replaced by simple electric pianos. While these are much handier, they do not have the same sound quality nor do they convey the meaning of church music. May this article serve as an impetus to reconsider such decisions afte

About Frank Uwe Lieflander

Frank Uwe Liefländer has been working as a conductor and church musician for 35 years. Following his studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music / Toronto, the Göttingen native accepted an assistant professorship in church music at St. Paul University Ottawa. In 2018, Frank Uwe Lieferländer moved his center of life from Canada back to Germany and has since been working as a full-time church musician in the Diocese of Augsburg.

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Frank Uwe Liefländer
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Frank Uwe Liefländer ist seit 35 Jahren Kirchenmusiker. 2018 war Frank Uwe Liefländer als Kirchenmusiker in der Diözese Augsburg tätig.