"Mozart tells us what it's like to be human, Beethoven tells us what it's like to be Beethoven and Bach tells us what it's like to be the universe."
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Mozart called it the king of instruments. It is certainly the most elaborate. A Pipe organ can consist of hundreds, if not thousands, of pipes and millions of small parts. The console alone may have from two to six keyboards, not including the row of foot pedals. There are often at least a hundred buttons to push, stops to pull out, or toe studs to kick which will activate huge banks of pipes, one pipe for each note. Those pipes are found in one or more pipe rooms which are largely hidden away, but may be the size of your living room.
The organist sits at the CONSOLE to play the organ. The one pictured above has three keyboards, known from top to bottom as the SWELL, the GREAT, and the CHOIR. Each keyboard has its own set of STOPS which control which sets of pipes the organist wants to use. Each STOP has its own unique sound. You can listen to each of the stops on the organ by clicking on them, below.
This list of stops was recorded from the organ at the church in Baltimore I served before moving to Illinois. The ones in white only act in combination with other stops. The ones in red either weren't working or were never installed. But the blue ones, ah yes, the blue ones are quite a combination of noises. You can have fun guessing the names of the pieces I played on each stop.
The numbers after many of the stops tell how many feet long the longest pipe in that section has to be to make that sound. The longer the pipe is, the lower the sound it makes.
A pipe which is precisely twice as long will sound an octave lower. Let's say you played a middle C using an 8-foot STOP (the baseline, as it were). You could play the same key using a 16-foot stop and it would sound an octave lower. A 4-foot stop would cause the C to sound an octave higher. Using all three stops would cause all three octaves to sound while you played only one note.
The organist doesn't just have to use one stop at a time. He can pull several, or all of them at once. He can also COUPLE one keyboard, or MANUAL, to another one. Above the MANUALS is a row of levers with labels like "SWELL to GREAT." This means that the organist could choose to take all of the stops he is using on the SWELL and arrange it so that he can get all of the same stops to sound when he plays the GREAT. If he is using additional stops on the GREAT these are combined with the ones on the SWELL.
This comes in handy if, say, there is only one trumpet stop, on the SWELL, and the organist wants to use it on one of the other manuals, or more than one. He can simply employ the trumpet on the swell and COUPLE it to the GREAT or the CHOIR, or both at once.
If the organist sounds like all his appendages are pretty busy, this is a fair assessment. But he has help. Below each manual are several buttons which can be programmed with combinations of stops that the organist wants to use on a particular MANUAL. Stops can be turned on or off at any time during a piece, but if the organist wants to change several at once, it is sometimes more convenient to use the push-buttons to instantly change the sound of a particular MANUAL to whatever the organist programmed in advance. If you want to change all of the manuals at once, it is quite useful to use the TOE STUDS, located above the pedals, which are, of course, operated with the feet.
And that's just the CONSOLE ! When you feel brave enough, check out the pipe room!