Science and art are, most of the time, unlikely bed­fellows. When they do coop­erate, however, they work in perfect harmony — lit­erally.

Sopho­mores Quinn Reichard and Jonathan Peters bring tech­nology and music together with a new digital organ in the practice rooms of the Howard Music Hall, to offer an alter­native to the unre­liable organ for stu­dents looking to practice and perform.

“Digital organs are kind of pre-built con­glom­er­a­tions of recordings from lots of dif­ferent pipe organs around the world,” Reichard said. “This is a real instrument that’s been exactly dupli­cated pipe by pipe.”

Reichard, a music major and organ student himself, was frus­trated by the aging instrument in McNamara Rehearsal Hall, a 1922 Aeolian pipe organ donated in 2003 when Howard Music Hall was built. With more than 4,000 pipes and a long history, it requires con­stant upkeep.

“This is an old, his­toric instrument that’s had some issues,” music department chair James Holleman said. “We’ve been trying to get it worked on for several years now. It’s kind of like the roads in Michigan — always under con­struction.”

Even­tually, Reichard heard from his grand­mother, Ann Dreher, who had seen the organ when she toured the music building.

“I got a letter in the mail that said, ‘So, the organ looks pretty crappy. Would you like a new one?’” Reichard said.

Pur­chasing a new pipe organ could have cost at least $100,000. Reichard enlisted Peters to help him build the next best thing — a digital organ.

“You can go to a digital organ company,” Reichard said. “They put together these nice-looking con­soles for about $40,000 that don’t sound half as good because the tech­nology is just not as advanced.”

The price of their organ was just $25,000, donated to Hillsdale by Dreher.

Peters, a double major in math and eco­nomics, was eager to join Reichard in his project.

“I just love the tech­nology,” Peters said. “When Quinn said he was going to put this together, [that he needed] a com­puter, I was like, ‘Sign me up.’ I love building com­puters.”

Equipped with mul­tiple key­boards and a wooden console, the digital organ mimics a pipe organ in nearly every way. Dif­fer­ences, such as touch screens found where the physical knobs are nor­mally located, are simply improve­ments.

Instead of pipes, the digital organ uses a com­puter to play recordings of an organ with each recording cor­re­sponding to a par­ticular key. Because an organist may need instant access to hun­dreds of audio files at one time, the organ console required a high-func­tioning com­puter.

Peters built the com­puter from scratch, ordering each part sep­a­rately and then assem­bling it.

The digital organ will not break as often as a tra­di­tional pipe organ, and if it does, the part can be replaced or upgraded.

“There’s really no dis­ad­vantage, other than it’s syn­thet­i­cally emu­lated,” Peters said. “I suppose it might not be exactly the right sound, but they can get it pretty close.”

A musician can also upload recordings from other organs, making it pos­sible to play organs from around the world.

“It tries to imitate every­thing,” Reichard said. “You can change the tuning of it, or you can put it in a dif­ferent tem­perament. It’s so won­derful for his­torical work.”

The digital organ allows stu­dents to practice and perform while the new organs are installed in the coming chapel.

“This instrument is small enough to go in a practice room down­stairs, so the stu­dents who practice on it and take lessons on it aren’t having to nav­igate the schedule in a larger room, where [ensembles] rehearse,” Holleman said. “That room is acces­sible to the organ stu­dents seven days a week.”

Potential per­for­mances are coming down the pipe. Although stu­dents will mainly perform in the coming chapel, Holleman said the digital organ will be used for upcoming per­for­mances.

“I believe the wind sym­phony concert is going to use it for their December per­for­mance in Markel Audi­torium,” Holleman said. “The speakers that go with it are ade­quate to fill most halls in this area with the proper amount of sound. So I think we will be able to find per­for­mance oppor­tu­nities for it.”

Reichard said he wants the organ program to expand, and having a working instrument helps facil­itate that growth.

“I’m very excited that this is here. I think there’s a lot of talent here at the school that’s unde­veloped,” Reichard said. “I think that this instrument pro­vides a great new way for people to get excited about the organ and the tech­nology, too.”