Here is an article originally published in the C.P.A.S. 'Leadership Magazine' and recently updated...
The religious producer from the local radio mischievously asked me, 'What is the advantage of having computerised music as opposed to having an organist? ' I replied rather tongue in cheek, 'Well, it does not get sick, have a holiday, play wrong notes, or get grumpy !' For some reason the producer omitted this from his feature on our MIDI music !
MIDI's, or "Musical-Instrument-Digital-Interface" files, are simply instrumental music computer files. The notes are stored as digits in the computer and then reproduced by a 'sound card', either in a computer or as part of a keyboard with a computer floppy disk drive.
In 1995 we found ourselves without an organist and bought a 'Roland Rogers W50 keyboard' for £799. This could be played as an ordinary keyboard, record music onto a floppy disk and play this music back, or play other pre-recorded disks. We built up a collection of our own recordings as well as some professionally pre-recorded disks that we bought.
We also purchased some computer software ( Cakewalk Express ) to edit the recordings. This can do things like : moving or deleting wrong notes; changing the key, tempo, or instruments (called 'voices'); adding or deleting verses.
Recently I have found a number of sites on the Internet from which good quality older and contemporary Christian MIDI music can be downloaded ( i.e. transferred onto one's own computer ). Sometimes these require editing. For example, deleting a long musical bridge between verses, or having to duplicate verses because the original file only has one.
Today many churches are without an organist, and MIDI music certainly offers the prospect of having virtually flawless musical backing from say, an orchestra that would be impossible to fit into a smaller church like ours ! The pitch and tempo can be changed as the congregation sing in a way that taped music cannot.
Buying a keyboard with a computer disk drive is not as expensive as it was when we first bought ours. I know this from personal experience because our keyboard fell and was damaged beyond economic repair. For £399 we bought a replacement keyboard with a better sound and many additional features that our original keyboard did not have. For example, it includes an amplifier and speakers so I no longer need to take powered speakers when visiting, say, an old people's home. Prices for keyboards with computer drives start at £299, or even less. For churches on a tight budget who have someone who will put music 'on disk' this may be sufficient.
Some pre-recorded music can be bought although it may, at first seem quite expensive. However, this has to be compared with the payments that might be made to an organist and the fact that an organist may be paid each time (s)he plays the same tune ! I am not suggesting that MIDI music is better than an organist or music group, just trying to share an alternative with those who may not have these.
Alternatively, traditional and contemporary Christian music can be found for free on the internet ( see list later ), although sometimes this will need editing.
For those who have access to a computer a good quality sound card, at least 64 bit, is preferable for clear, distinct sound. MIDI files can be played on the Windows Media Player, but special software will be needed to edit music. Software has dropped in price over the years. Our version of Cakewalk Express cost £70 four years ago. A colleague in a neighbouring parish downloaded a more recent version on the Internet for £20, but I recently got a free copy with a magazine.
There are other makes of MIDI software, some Computer Magazines include these free on their CD Roms, others may be downloaded free on the Internet. I know someone who uses 'Anvil' software which can be downloaded free, see http://www.anvilstudio.com/
Individuals can download files and play them on their Windows Media Player ( go to Programs - Accessories - Entertainment ). This could provide background music whilst working, or could add a new dimension to private devotions !
For those who want to visit some web sites to listen to music or download it here are some that I have visited :
http://www.christianteens.net/midi - over 900 traditional songs
http://www.seriousd.com/music.htm - Baptist hymns
http://www.hymnsite.com - over 700 Methodist hymns
http://tch.simplenet.com.htm - Cybernet, over 1700 hymns & gospel songs
http://www.midi.churchuk.net/- David's MIDI page, a good mix of hymns and contemporary choruses.
http://www.acay.com.au/~pgrant/paul's1.htm Paul's MIDI Place, a mix of quality hymns and contemporary choruses.
http://www.geocities.com/TheTropics/9386/praisemid.html Praise and Worship MIDI a number of good contemporary songs and a few hymns
http://www.geocities.com/sunsetstrip/cabaret/6134/index.html Mission Praise midi, not all of, and not only Mission Praise
http://www.users.zetnet.co.uk/mlehr/reflec/reflec.htm#index Reflections, some less popular but very good stuff.
http://www.musicrobot.com/ MIDI robot, just type in the first line and this MIDI search engine will try and find it for you, failing this go to...
http://www.google.com/advanced_search and type in "title of song"+MIDI
I have shown an Incumbent and his churchwardens our keyboard connected to the P.A. system and the computer software that we use, and would be happy to do this for others.
Rev'd Jim Pye
26, Crown Bank,
Stoke-on-Trent ST7 1PU
Tel : 01782-782348