Using my iPhone to play the organ

In January, just as I sent out the last newsletter issue, I left to attend the Conference of Roman Catholic Cathedral Musicians in Hartford, CT. A collegial gathering of usually around 60 music directors and organists from across the country, I had not been able to attend for several years, so was really looking forward to catching up with the group this year.


Pipe organs have been around for many centuries. Technology has led to advances in the ways sound is created and the way it is controlled. While trying to avoid the pipe versus digital debate, the fact that this debate exists I believe has left pipe organs woefully behind in the technological advances of how we can control a pipe organ.

MIDI has been around for over thirty years and is perhaps the only piece of recent technology that might be included on a pipe organ. I suspect many organists that have MIDI never use the capacity because it is primarily seen as a way to add in other sounds to the organ. The organ at the Cathedral has MIDI ports, so when one of my cathedral colleagues told me that I could get a MIDI-to-lightning cable and connect my iPhone to the organ, I became very interested in what I might be able to do.

MIDICableSquareThe Cable

I ordered the cable once I came home from the conference and anxiously waited for its arrival. With a recorder app on my phone (MIDI Tool Box), my first thought was that I could now record my improvisations and then take the files to the computer and transcribe them! Some people have spent hours upon hours listening to Pierre Cochereau‘s improvisations to transcribe them. Now with my iPhone, I would be able to have at least a rough transcription with a few mouse clicks!

The Trial and Demo

In addition to capturing the notes I played, the recorder app would also capture the registration and swell pedal movements! Even when studying repertoire, I was encouraged to record myself so that I could coach my own performances. Imagine being able to hear your improvisation again simply as a listener. That fabulous harmonic progression you stumbled into by mistake can now be transcribed, studied, and repeated! Check out the video below for a demonstration of how it works.

Beyond its usefulness for studying improvisation, this set up enables me to transfer pistons between consoles and opens some new possibilities for accompanying.


Pipe organs rely on very reliable technology from centuries past in order to produce sounds, but we don’t have to miss out on other technologies from the 21st century. (Bluetooth even opens the door to wireless connections!) MIDI is a great way to capture improvisations, and I encourage you to take advantage of it if you have it on the organ you play regularly.

Happy improvising,

Newsletter Issue 55 – 2016 03 09

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Kerry Beaumont

kerry-beaumont 2.5Kerry Beaumont is the Director of Music at Coventry Cathedral. His recordings, as an organist and choirmaster, are published by Priory Records and Cantoris Records. Having studied organ improvisation with Antoine Reboulot in Quebec, Canada, and with Pierre Cochereau in Nice, France, he has pursued an active interest in the art of improvisation in his concert career.

Kerry Beaumont – Improvisation on ‘Hyfrydol’ – Coventry Cathedral
Kerry Beaumont – Psalm 2 improvisation – Coventry Cathedral
Kerry Beaumont – Psalm 3 improvisation – Coventry Cathedral
Kerry Beaumont – Free improvisation on the hymn tune ‘Jerusalem’ – Coventry Cathedral

Gereon Krahforst


Gereon Krahforst was born in 1973 in Bonn, Germany. He studied composition, church music, piano, and music theory at the university for music in Cologne, musicology at the University of Cologne and received his diploma and masters degree in organ in Frankfurt. He has studied privately with Markus Karas, John Birley (before the university studies), and then with Clemens Ganz, and Daniel Roth. During and after those studies, he participated in masterclasses with Marie-Claire Alain, Thierry Escaich, Peter Planyavsky, Jon Laukvik (ancient music), Guy Bovet, Wolfgang Seifen, Tomasz A. Nowak, Franz Lehrndorfer and many others. Other significant mentors are Petr Eben and professional friendships with Jean Guillou, Marie-Louise Langlais and Stephen Tharp.

At the age of 26, he was appointed director of music and organist at the Minster basilica in Moenchengladbach, Germany, and at age 27, he worked as director of music at the Cathedral of Minden, Germany. At the age of 29, he was appointed cathedral organist at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Paderborn and lecturer (Gregorian Chant) at the theological seminary of Paderborn. In 2004, he was appointed lecturer and instructor of organ at the University of Music in Hannover. In 2011, he moved to Spain where he was organist at the Incarnation Church of the world-famous town Marbella at the Costa del Sol in Andalucia, playing the nationally significant “Órgano del Sol Mayor”; since August 2012, he has been cathedral organist and associate director of music at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, Missouri, USA.

Improvises a free piece in the style of Robert Schumann – Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis
Gereon Krahforst – Improvisation on the Paderborn’s Libori Hymn tune – Klais Organ in the Cathedral of Cologne

Stephen Tharp

Stephen_Tharpx_May_2007Official Website:

Having played more than 1400 concerts across 43 tours worldwide, Stephen Tharp has built one of the most well-respected international careers in the world, earning him the reputation as the most traveled concert organist of his generation. He is an important champion of new organ music, and continues to commission and premiere numerous compositions for the instrument. The first such piece was Jean Guillou’s symphonic poem Instants, Op. 57, which Tharp premiered at King’s College, Cambridge, England in February 1998. Works dedicated to him include George Baker’s Variations on “Rouen” (2009) and David Briggs’ Toccata Labyrinth (2006).

Stephen Tharp earned his BA degree, magna cum laude, from Illinois College, Jacksonville, IL and his MM from Northwestern University, Chicago, where he studied with Rudolf Zuiderveld and Wolfgang Rübsam, respectively. He has also worked privately with Jean Guillou in Paris.

Improvisation – St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York