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App-developer pulls out all the stops to create Virtual Organ for smartphones and tablets

09 November 2018

Users can play the organ of St Just’s, in St Just in Roseland, by linking the app to a keyboard

Phil Atkin

The console in front of the green organ pipes of St Just’s, in St Just in Roseland

The console in front of the green organ pipes of St Just’s, in St Just in Roseland

NOT many people can fit a full-size pipe organ into their home. Now, budding organists, professional musicians, and fans of organ recitals can fit the instrument in one hand, on a new smartphone app.

The app, published on Monday, has been created by Phil Atkin, an app-developer. Users can play, practise, and listen to a virtual organ — that of St Just’s, in St Just in Roseland, a village in Cornwall — by linking the app to a keyboard.

Mr Atkin said on Wednesday that he had wanted to give people the opportunity to listen to and play the pipe organ at St Just’s. “By the time I had cracked the technical problems [with early versions of the app], we had relocated to St Just in Roseland. As soon as I heard the organ at the Christmas carol service last year, I realised that this was the organ I wanted to recreate, and in doing so raise money for the church.”

The full version of the St Just in Roseland Organ app is available for £6.99 on iTunes. Half of any profits will be donated to the upkeep of the 13th-century church.

There is also a second, free-to-download “explorer” version of the app, Mr Atkin said, “which contains a limited number of stops in the divisions, making it useful for evaluation, or for students or musicians on limited budgets”.

The Assistant Curate, the Revd Arwen Folkes, praised the unusual fundraising method. “It is an excellent example of how to ‘think outside the box’ in terms of fund-raising. In today’s world, churches must seek out new and different means of attracting support, and this app demonstrates that modern technology can be key to fund-raising.”

Mr Atkin has developed other apps through his company Omenie, including a Mellotron (an electro-mechanical, polyphonic tape replay keyboard) for iPads. “It is different to my previous apps, which have all been ‘sample replay’ instruments,” he explained.

“This means that they work by storing a huge number of recordings of instruments (or human voices) within the app, which are then played back to create sounds. This technique is how most virtual pipe organs work, but I wanted a smaller app and cleaner sound.”

Phil AtkinA screen-grab of the app

One or two separate keyboards that supports a USB MIDI output are required to play the instrument, because there is no on-screen keyboard. The full range of sounds can be played on one keyboard. Non-musicians can also use the app for sequencing, to create music as performances or recordings.

Pianists will also be able to play the organ through the app, owing to the inclusion of an “auto pedal”, he said. “A pianist stepping into church to fill in for an organist can use the app to deliver a more compelling organ performance without having to do any additional work.”

One of the app’s first users, Kevin King, who is the deputy organist at St John the Baptist’s Roman Catholic Church, Camborne, said that he was impressed by the quality of the sound. “The app has the same functionality as much larger and more expensive virtual pipe organs. When you couple that with its flexibility and ease of use, there is nothing else in the market.”


The app is available to purchase on iTunes.

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