Author Topic: No__126___How to approach playing a new pipe organ.  (Read 82 times)

Peter Anderson

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No__126___How to approach playing a new pipe organ.
« on: February 03, 2020, 07:24:27 AM »
What do you do if you are asked to play a new organ?

Have you ever been asked to play a strange organ for a funeral or other such session?    A few years ago, I helped a friend out, whose mother had died, and agreed to play the organ for her funeral in the Uxbridge area.   I went to the church early and spent an hour or so playing with, as well as, on the organ.   It presented me with much that I hadn’t seen before, and there was no-one to ask advice from, or any instruction manual conveniently placed on the bench!

I managed to succeed, to fill my obligations to the satisfaction of the family, but I wish that I could have read this Pearl before that occasion.   It would have prepared me well, and enabled me to approach the whole ordeal with a sensible constructive plan, and removed much prior anxiety.

So, the intention of this Pearl, is to suggest practical considerations for you, so that you can build your confidence and save valuable time, before the event, and encourage you to perform well on the day.

Although, this Pearl aims at playing for a funeral service, or some other similar public event, it is also useful if you have the opportunity to play any other pipe organ that you are not familiar with.   It is therefore a very basic guide to enable you to accompany hymns and other simple music.

Some of the information may seem very basic, but I include it for completeness.  Some general tips about accompanying a congregation is given, with suggestions for how someone, who, though they may be very reluctant to take on any playing for a service like this, can manage it in a very acceptable manner, and make a success of it.

Peter
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Peter Anderson

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Re: No__126___How to approach playing a new pipe organ.
« Reply #1 on: February 05, 2020, 06:36:58 AM »

The descriptions and comments that follow are fairly universal but, if you are playing an organ, somewhere for the first time, it makes sense, to always arrive early, in order to check out the instrument and engender some familiarity with the instrument.

Primarily this Pearl concentrates on pipe-organs, but much of its content is also applicable to digital and/or electronic organs.   They are conceptually the same, but it is just that the method of sound production is different.  The object is to lead you to safe, useable accompaniments.

Although it sounds silly, you need to know how to switch the organ on, initially.

We are familiar with our Yamaha AR on/off switch, but pipe organs will also have a switch, to at least start the blower(s). 

Don't forget, the organ has to be 'plugged in' to the mains somewhere, and it may need to be switched on, there, as well.  It can be very frustrating, hunting for that plug!

So be prepared to ask someone.    The guy with a key to the church door and/or the organ should know.

Getting as much practice on the organ beforehand is a primary objective, because every pipe organ has its own peculiarities and idiosyncrasies.

As most of you know there is no difference between a piano keyboard and an organ keyboard, which on an organ is called a manual.   But organ manuals are generally shorter.   Most start two octaves below middle C and range over 5 octaves.  Pipe organs are not touch sensitive, so no matter how hard you strike or press the keys, it will make no difference to the volume.  Furthermore, the sound will not die away as long as you are holding the key down.

Here is an illustration comparing a Piano keyboard with an organ manual:




Some organs have only one manual, with many more having only two manuals.   Of course there are some, bigger organs that have more than two manuals.

In the next Reply, we define these manuals for you.

Peter
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Peter Anderson

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Re: No__126___How to approach playing a new pipe organ.
« Reply #2 on: February 07, 2020, 06:17:59 AM »
Manuals

If there is just one manual, on the organ, things are simplified for you, as they are obviously straight forward.
However, if there is more than one manual, it complicates matters, but here is my recommendation to handle this.

If there are 2 manuals they are called Swell and Great, with the Swell above or beyond the great.   So the Great will be nearer to you, like this:




Others may have three manuals called Swell, Great, and Choir, with the Choir being nearer to you still, like this.




It is not necessary to use all the manuals, and it is perfectly possible to play satisfactory accompaniments on just one manual.   For your initial ‘performance’, I would recommend that you choose the Great and stick with that manual throughout.

You are not likely to run across an organ with four or more manuals but, if you do, the Great and the Swell will always be the second and third from the bottom.

So the picture above, shows you the layout of the manuals, with the 'extra' ones always being stacked above or beyond these three.  Therefore, you will be able to 'know where you are'.

Manuals are not labelled, but generally their stops are, so in the next Reply we take a look at the stops

Peter
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Peter Anderson

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Re: No__126___How to approach playing a new pipe organ.
« Reply #3 on: February 10, 2020, 07:53:08 AM »

Stops

The stops provide the different tone colours and they can vary between very quiet and very loud.

Each of the manuals will have their stops grouped together.  Hopefully, each set of stops for the manuals will be clearly labelled.  If not, be glad you arrived early, and experiment.

Each stop controls a group or rank of pipes.

The longer pipes produce the lower notes and the shorter pipes the higher notes.


To produce sounds at concert pitch, depending on the precise tuning of the organ in question, the length of the pipe for the lowest manual note is about 8 feet in length.

In the organ world, notes around concert pitch are always defined as at 8 foot pitch.    This is universal across the world and  the metric system is not used.

Therefore, stops which play at a pitch that matches the position of the key on the manual, will have the number 8 on them.

With some other ranks, the longest pipe is only 4 feet long.   In this case the whole rank sounds an octave above concert pitch and the rank is said to be at 4 foot pitch.

So with just a 4 foot stop selected, when you play Middle C, then the C an octave above Middle C will sound.

With some other ranks, the longest pipe is only 2 feet long and is said to be at 2 foot pitch and  they sound notes two octaves above concert pitch.

In a similar way a 16' stop plays one octave lower than concert pitch.

To complicate matters, some stops have fractional pipe lengths.

            These include 51/3 ft, 22/3 ft, or  13/5 ft, which we will mention again later.

But, when playing an organ for any public function for the first time, you can confidently decide, if you like, to ignore these fraction stops, as it is not necessary to use them, in order to give an adequate rendition.

In the next reply, we define what these stops can look like.

Peter
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Peter Anderson

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Re: No__126___How to approach playing a new pipe organ.
« Reply #4 on: February 12, 2020, 07:15:42 AM »
These stops can be either drawstops, which have to be pulled out to activate the pipes, and pushed in to silence them, and they will look something like this;




They may however, be tab stops, and these need to be flicked on.    Most are off when up, and on, or selected, when pushed down, and they will look something like this:




Occasionally, the stops are rocking tabs, which illuminate when active.
That is great (no pun intended) until their bulb fails, so you have to pay more attention to their position, as a cursory glance might mislead you.

You may come across very unusual looking stops, which could initially throw you, like this, for example:




They look like drawstops, but the actual rockers appear at first glance, to be another keyboard.

This organ was made by Jean-Emile Kerkoff in 1906.

Don’t worry about the fancy names given to any of the stops.
The important thing is that they each have a number which tells you the length of the longest pipe, so you know which ones sound at concert pitch and which ones at other pitches.

The stops which apply to any one manual are always grouped together and, unless you are very unlucky, are always labelled, with the name of the manual.  This name will generally be above that group of stops.

So look for Great or Swell.

Here is a picture of Norwich Cathedral's organ:



Please let us know if you have the opportunity to play this 4 manual organ.

If there is no labelling, which is very rare then it is vital to test the organ beforehand and hope your memory is functioning well.     Post it notes that you can write on and stick in appropriate places will be a great (another pun) help.

In the next Reply, we look at couplers

Peter
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