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The Organ

The Behemoth of Instruments
part one: the console
part two: the pipe room
part three: how to register a complaint

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.

Pedal

Dulciana 16'
 Contra trompette 16'
Octave 4'
Gemshorn 16'
Lieblich Gedeckt 16'
Principal 8'
Contrabass 16'
Bourdon 8'
Bourdon 16'

Swell

swell unison off
swell 16'
swell 4'
tremolo
trompette 8'
scharff III
oboe clarion 4'
flute traverso 4'
gemshorn 2'
viola celeste 8'
viola de gamba 8'
spitz principle 4'
bourdon 16'
gedeckt 8'

Great

Fourniture III
Great 16'
Great unison off
Grave mixture II
Doublette 2'
Great 4'
Octave 4'
Bourdon 8'
Gemshorn 8'
Diapason 8'
Gemshorn 16'
Chimes

Choir

Choir 4'
Choir unison off
tremolo
Larigot 1 1/3'
Klein Octave 2'
Nachthorn 4'
Dulcet 4'
Unda Maris 8'
Dulciana 8'
Nason Gedeckt 8'

Positiv

cymbal II
sesquialtera II
sifflote 1'
waldflote 2'
spillflote 4'
prestant 4'
copula 8'

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.

 

 Some pipes are only a couple of inches long!

 

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.

STOPS are activated by pulling the knobs to the right and left of the keyboards on the CONSOLE. On this particular organ there are five sections of stops, two to the left of the keyboards, and three to the right. The ones in this picture are for the PEDALS and the SWELL.

 

The PEDALS consist of two-and-a-half octaves worth of long, thin, wooden boards that are depressed with the feet. Other than that, they function just like the other three keyboards.  Although the lowest notes of a piece (the bass) are often played with the pedal, it is possible to play very high notes with the pedal as well. It is not possible to tell just by listening whether the organist is using his hands or his feet to play a particular 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!

 

michael@pianonoise.com