Welcome to

         Home    About    Listen   Site Index    Godmusic    Blog 001 < >

Michael Hammer
[email protected]  

Third Presbyterian church phone: (412) 661-4710
Address: 5701 Fifth Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15232

click here for Handouts:

Course Syllabus

Lecture notes: Week One
powerpoint slides for week one

Lecture notes: Week Two
Organ Console Terminology: part one

Lecture notes: Week Three
Organ Console Terminology: part two
powerpoint slides for week three

Lecture notes for week four (Improvisation) were intentionally blank!
Organ Builders handout

Lecture notes: Week Five
powerpoint slides for week Five
parking and weather policies:

parking at Third Church is extremely limited. Street parking (for two hours) is available behind the church on Kentucky Avenue, and in the surrounding neighborhood. I would strongly encourage anyone who is able to either carpool, take the bus, or park on the street and save the handful of available spots in the lot for those who need them.

It is the policy of Third Church to follow the Pittsburgh Schools with regard to weather-related closings. If the church is closed, class will have to be canceled. If that is the case, it will be posted here, and an email will be sent out. That decision will likely be made Thursday morning as early as possible.

Week one
"From Portable Pipes to Massive Musical Machine"

pieces played in class:

Estampie from Robertsbridge Codex

Estampie Retrove from Robertsbridge Codex

Praetorius, Michael: Nun lob mein Seel den Herren

Dupre, Marcel: Prelude and Fugue in B Major

Yon, Pietro: Humoresque "L'Organo Primitivo" (Toccatina for Flute)

Notes: all of these are my own recordings; however, with the exception of the Dupre, which was recorded on the Third Presbyterian organ in November, they have been recorded on a different organ in years past.
links of interest:


video from a German tourist? showing an excerpt from a 1937 newscast in which you can hear the model of the Acquincum organ; this video plays at the museum next to the case of the organ pieces.


a woman sings along with the reconstructed Acquincum organ. Is this how the organ was used?
finally all four modes/ranks of pipes are demonstrated.



a nine-and-a-half minute video about the hydraulis found at Dion which may be older than the one at Acquincum including a reconstructed performance on a reconstructed organ!



Hear Guy Bovet play some charming short Haydn pieces which were actually written for mechanical organ (between 1772 and 1793) on the world's oldest surviving organ in Sion, Switzerland.


organ oddities and world records. If you wanted to know which is the largest, oldest, smallest in a cathedral, or see some particularly strange organs, this is an interesting way to find out.


Here you can read about the town of Robertsbridge, England, and learn about the codex which contains the oldest surviving music written for keyboard.



Pipedreams is a nationally syndicated radio program devoted to the organ. It is not available on WQED, but you can access their weekly programs from their website. This program from 2005 features some music from the late Medieval period as well as contemporary reactions to it.


ORGANROXX is an internet radio station broadcasting from Belgium which plays exclusively music for the organ 24/7. The man who runs it has an enormous CD collection. You can hear organists from all over the world playing all corners of the organ literature including recent compositions and improvisations. On Thursdays he plays only Bach all day!

Week two
"Bach and the Baroque"

pieces played in class:

Frescobaldi: Canzona -- post  Comunio

[Tunder: Canzona]* 

Pachelbel: Werde munter mein gemute

Bach: Schubler Chorale no. 6

Bach: Fugue in G, Bwv 577, "Jig"

Bach: Toccata and Fugue in d minor, Bwv 565

Bach: Fugue in g minor, "little"  Bwv 578

[Buxtehude: Praeludium in F ]*

Bach, JS:  Fugue in D, Bwv 532

*items in brackets were not played in class for time reasons, but are good listening and useful for comparison purposes (particularly the last two pieces, the Buxtehude and the Bach fugues)
links of interest:

breathtakingly beautiful organs and churches from around the world

More of the most ornate and incredible looking organs--compiled on someone's Pinterest page.

A professor from Michigan, Dr. James Kibbie, has recorded the complete works of Bach on historic organs throughout Germany. He has also listed the registrations he used in addition to naming the organ and its location for each of the pieces.

If that's all a bit much you can start here http://www.blockmrecords.org/bach/detail.php?ID=BWV0615

Or compare his performance of the Gigue fugue with the one on the left, noting the difference between the sound of a modern organ and a Baroque one (also, the north German organ is tuned nearly a step higher)  http://www.blockmrecords.org/bach/detail.php?ID=BWV0577

You probably have to be a member of Facebook to get this link to work. More amazing looking organs...

A kind of "Guide to the Organ," this is a piece Mozart composed for the piano that I played on the organ to demonstrate various sound possibilities. This was recorded at the dress rehearsal for an organ rededication concert from a few years ago. Between variations, the narrator (Rodney Woodworth) explains how an organ works.

You can listen to music from inside the pipe room in this blog I wrote in December of 2015 while serving a church in Illinois. And you can see bits of it, too! Quite an experience.

Week three
"19th Century French Romanticism"

pieces played in class:

Gigout: Toccata

Boellmann: Toccata

Dubois: Toccata

Vierne: Final from Symphony no. 1

Widor: Toccata from Symphony no. 5

[bonus track:
Cesar Franck: Choral no. 3 in A Minor]
links of interest:

from St. Sulpice in Paris, Thomas Ospital plays [Durufle's powerful Prelude, Adagio and Chorale] with the strenuous assistance of three other people. The organ loft is crowded at St. Sulpice, as Daniel Roth and company continually refer to lists of stop changes to change the stops on whatever manuals on which the organist is not currently playing, as well as the occasional page turn. This is business as usual at the "Auditions": concerts that occur on Sundays between masses.

Daniel Roth, a phenomenal organist and holder of a much coveted organist position,  is known in the organ world for his generosity in not only sharing the organ at St. Sulpice in Paris, but for his encouragement and teaching of others. Here a young woman plays the Gigout Toccata as he sings and pulls stops, sometimes rather athletically.

here you can hear Charles-Marie Widor playing his own Toccata. He recorded this in 1932 at the age of 88! Widor always complained that organists played his toccata too fast. So here's his own tempo. Widor was organist at St. Sulpice in Paris for nearly 64 years.

Even Notre Dame Cathedral is taking advantage of some "sophisticated electronics" -- here you can see the installation of a new console, and meet Oliver Latry, one of the world's most respected organists.

the final two movements from the Boellmann Gothic Suite (including the Toccata I played for you in class) performed at the organ at the Church of the Madelein--once Eugene Gigout's church, who was Boellmann's teacher.

The Dupre Prelude and Fugue in B (that I played in class in week one) from St. Sulpice. Notice the very flexible music rack (wish we had one), and how Daniel Roth gives the Go signal!

A good summation of some of the things we discussed in class is this tour of the organ at St. Paul's Cathedral, London by their organist, Simon Johnson.

Week four
"Making it up"

Some of my improvisations (due to the nature of this week's class, the actual music performed in class--having been made up on the spot--is not available on recording)
on the other hand, you can go to my Facebook page and see the daily morning improvisations I'm doing on the Third Church organ through March.

At my church in Illinois, we had a saxophonist getting a graduate degree in jazz studies. I improvised on a few hymns with him. This is one we did during Lent:
What Wondrous Love is This?
Robert Brooks, saxophone

I used to improvise at the piano when I was supposed to be practicing. One time when grandma was visiting I was goofing around with fancy variations on "Mary Had a Little Lamb." She really liked it and asked what it was. I had to confess. On what would have been her 100th birthday I blogged about the incident, and had to make up some more such variations, on the piano:
Little Lamb Variations

Some of my written pieces began life as improvisations played into a cassette player, then were written down. Here are two of them, one based on a hymn, and the other on two Christmas carols:
Are We There Yet?

IV. Nativity 

Pierre Cochoreau was a major figure in the 20th century French organist/improviser world. His music was usually of the avant-garde variety. Here I imagined his bold, abstract art coming into contact with some of the piano ditties I heard as a child.
Cochoreau's Nightmare

links of interest:

Oliver Latry's improvisation on a submitted theme at the College of Notre Dame (USA) not only shows his improvisational skill, but his coloristic treatment shows off the organ. It is also highly entertaining, not least for the non-traditional use of the feet at the 6:04 mark. Notice how he brings back the opening flourish at the end to round out the form.

Pierre Cochereau improvising before the Christmas Eve mass at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. It is a set of variations on a well-known carol.

Daniel Roth improvises a prelude to the Easter Mass at St. Sulpice in 2015

Lest you think all organ improvisers are French (and dead), 40 year old Dutch organist Frederick Magle has this improvisation which begins in mystery and builds to a fury before subsiding. Along the way there are a few casaulties!

American Paul Manz  (1919-2009) is a recent figure in the Lutheran church. He became known for his hymn introductions, largely improvised. This one may have begun life in such a way, though it is published now as written music, and would probably be used to introduce a hymn for a Sunday service. Notice the obsession with the five-note ascending pattern that begins this hymn and the ways in which Mr. Manz develops this idea.

But maybe improvisation can be too much of a good thing? This article from the Telegraph in the U.K. gets into organists and their strange "humors."

Week five
"The Organ lets its hair down"

music played in class (or not):
recorded by me (or not)*

Correa de Araujo: Tiento de medio registro de tiple setimo tono

[Lidon: Sonata on the first tone]

Noble: Toccatina*

Cimarosa Sonatas
I'll probably only play a couple of these

Haydn: Piece for flotenuhr

Lefebre-Wely: Sortie in Eb

Ives: Variations on America*

Ayres: Toccata on Amor Satis Est*

*some of these pieces are still under copyright. The Haydn I just didn't get around to yet.
links of interest:

Nick Capone builds a homemade organ and makes the pipes out of cardboard! Here you can see the instrument in progress and hear what cardboard pipes sound like.

In case you'd like to build your own organ, here is a demonstration of how to make paper pipes.

Orgelkids, a project in the Netherlands, provides a kit from which children can assemble a 2-rank, 2 octave organ in under an hour. Watch them do it here. The video is just over two minutes.

If you'd like to read about the "fire organ" (not really an organ, but interesting nonetheless) it has its own very fun website. And, of course, flames.

Of mechanical organs and computers....

Charles Ives' "Variations on America" played by organist Alex Jones. Alex brings his own flair to the score, including all manner of coloristic changes not in the score and many original tempo changes (he also rewrites the ending). He's certainly having fun, as I imagine, is his audience!

Randall Mullins plays Paul Ayre's Toccata on All You Need is Love on (notice?) a Father Willis organ (same set I'll be using).