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The Client

By Charles Hendrickson
Copyright 1992 The American Guild of Organists. Used with permission.

The process of building a pipe organ for a church involves many considerations.  The procedures are not unlike those for erecting a large building.  

An architect for a building must provide a beautiful structure, operational services (elevators, electrical, water, sewer, heat), and adequate space for people.  Architects must ask, "Who is the client?" Certainly the people who put up the money are clients, but are those who work in the building or those who pass through it or merely see it from a distance also clients? 

In building a pipe organ, the problem of who is the client is rarely discussed, and even less frequently thought of.  An organ is usually designed by an organbuilder, though sometimes the wishes of a consultant who may or may not be a direct client are involved.  The builder works with the church committee to obtain designs which it finds fitting and within budget.  In a narrow sense, the organ committee is the client, since the builder must satisfy needs as seen by its members.  But in a broader sense, those parishioners who contribute money for the project are also clients, even though they may not have expressed any wishes about the organ's design.  In a still larger sense, the clients are the entire current and future membership of the church who will see, hear, and worship with the instrument year after year.  

What may surprise the reader is that the above descriptions of various clientele do not cover the complete picture of the forces governing an organ's design.  In the worlds of organbuilding and organ playing there are many considerations which may dominate the parochial concerns of providing an instrument for church members who are paying the bill.  

The practical realities are such that the builder faces most design criteria and professional acceptance from non-clients.  Just as the architect may satisfy every requirement of a client by providing a building which works well and looks good to those who have purchased it and work in it, he may receive scathing reviews from professional competitors, the general public who only know the building from distant views, or from others who have no connection with the building but hold powerful positions in the "world" of architecture.  

The organbuilder faces these powerful forces as well.  The needs of church members may take a backseat to the collective forces within the organ world (teachers, enthusiasts, writers, performers, authorities, consultants, etc.), and a desire to satisfy or impress his peers may so steer the organbuilder away from the wishes of the client that the final product may have nothing to do with the original hopes or actual needs of the church which purchased it.  

It is, of course, necessary that the organbuilder know the art of organbuilding and be conscious of the many viewpoints and methods, both historic and contemporary, which permeate it.  This knowledge should ideally be directed toward creating the best possible instrument for the church rather than appeasing the fads and personalities which have no connection with the client.  

An organbuilder is naturally thrilled if the organ world takes the instrument to heart.  Peer recognition is powerful and wonderful.  The thoughtful builder also knows that peer recognition has little to do with client satisfaction unless the client is also swayed by such outside opinions.  The real thrill for a builder is when satisfaction by the client, both expressed and unexpressed, has been achieved, and the fundamental goal of both builder and client, purchaser and seller, has been reached.  This is not to say that any organ which satisfies the organ world cannot satisfy the client as well- many organs do so.  I merely suggest that our priorities begin with the client, and that many outsiders do not care about nor understand the client-builder relationship, and what the goals of the instrument in that particular church might be.  

It is true that a builder may find it difficult or impossible to cater to every wish of the client, who may be unable to delineate exact needs.  This is where the true test of the builder-client relationship occurs, and the best builders will be able to instruct the committee, then design and build a satisfactory instrument, even though the client was incapable of realizing what the goals and criteria were.  

A builder is thrilled to construct a pipe organ and have talented and knowledgeable musicians find the result satisfying and inspiring.  A good builder is also thrilled to build an instrument for a church where talent and knowledge may be very ordinary, but where acceptance and inspiration is no less genuine and inspiring.  Considering the client is both necessary and difficult.  Understanding who the client actually is is fundamental. 


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