The new digital organ was installed in St Peter's Basilica in December
Of all the reforms the Pope has attempted to introduce at the Vatican in recent years few have garnered as much criticism as the installation of a digital organ at St Peter’s Basilica.
Nearly 10,000 people have signed the online petition set up by the Association of Italian Organists and addressed to the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Robert Sarah.
It calls on “the whole cultural world” to express regret for “the presence of the surrogate of an authentic musical instrument within the most important home of Catholicism”.
The Tablet understands that the Allen digital organ, which was recently installed in St Peter’s and first used at Mass on Christmas Eve, was commissioned after the original pipe organ from the 1950s failed to be heard at the back of the basilica.
Last week the Director of the Pontifical Sistine Chapel Choir, Msgr Palombella, told Vatican News that issues with the current sound system had led to frequency distortions and background noise.
Damien Savoy, resident organist at the Notre-Dame Basilica of the Assumption in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, was one of the signatories to the petition that has now reached 9,993. He said the decision to install the electronic organ was “damaging” and sent an “extremely serious” signal that the Catholic Church “no longer recognised music as an art and a reflection of the divine but just as a way to fill holes, like a simple utility”.
Another supporter of the petition, who claimed to be a musician, said: “I know, how wrong it is to use this electronic instrument in such an important place.”
The President of Allen Organ Company, Steven Markowitz, who travelled to Rome in December to oversee the installation of the new organ, said: “Those behind the petition not only impugn an organ, but also the thousands that made decisions that an Allen organ is a viable musical instrument worthy supporting their music ministries.”
He added: “I understand that some behind the petition come from the pipe organ industry. It is natural to expect them to fear competition from newer technologies, especially when that newer technology has already been a success. I find it ironic that while they attempt to preclude advanced technology from organ music, they have no such concern when it comes to petitions or so many other needs of modern society."
The organist of the Pope, Juan Paradell-Sole, responded positively to the new instrument, said Mr Markowitz in an article on the Allen Organ Company website.
The traditional pipe organ will remain in use for smaller occasions, although the new digital organ will be used for large celebrations where there is a need to amplify the sound throughout the basilica.
PICTURE: The Allen digital organ installed in St Peter's in December ©Allen Organ Company