Author Topic: No__126__How to approach playing a new pipe organ.  (Read 1116 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, or simple on/off button, which illuminate when active.
Here is an example:



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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Peter Anderson

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Re: No__126___How to approach playing a new pipe organ.
« Reply #5 on: February 21, 2020, 06:40:16 pm »
Couplers

You will see some knobs or switches, which may resemble the stops, but with words like Swell to Great, or Choir to Great, written on them.

These are Couplers.

When drawn out or activated, then by playing on the second named manual on that knob, you will also play the active stops on the first named manual.

So if you select  Swell to Great, and have some stops active on the Swell manual, then when you play solely on the Great manual the notes of the Great manual will also sound as though you were actually playing the Swell manual at the same time.

They are useful for quickly adding extra power, but you can choose to ignore them, if you wish.

However, if you are confident, bear this facility in mind, in order to add something extra to your registrations.
I'll give an example of a useful initial registration, using couplers, later on.

In the next reply, we look at selecting stops.

Peter
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John Szczechowski

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Re: No__126___How to approach playing a new pipe organ.
« Reply #6 on: February 21, 2020, 07:25:36 pm »
Hi Peter

Many organs have something called a bass coupler, which will take the pedal stops and add them to the lowest note played by the left hand - which is great for organists unfamiliar with pedals.

John

Peter Anderson

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Re: No__126___How to approach playing a new pipe organ.
« Reply #7 on: February 22, 2020, 08:20:05 am »
That is an important point, John.

It becomes very useful, if the magnitude of coping with everything else, and means you will find things easier to have the pedals provide a suitable note for you, so that you can ignore them.

This is exactly what we can do on our Yamaha AR organs, of course, but this is not by using a bass coupler, as such, but is an equivalent method that achieves the same effect.

It is called the A.B.C. function, which stands for Auto Bass Chord.

Peter
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Re: No__126___How to approach playing a new pipe organ.
« Reply #8 on: February 22, 2020, 08:20:23 am »
Selecting stops

We are looking at this subject, in order to provide basic survival.     I am assuming that you have either no experience of such strops, or very limited time to explore them.

The basic details, given here can always be expanded on, by further experimentation on a subsequent visit.

So first of all, identify the Great manual and draw an 8' stop, preferably one called Open Diapason.

Test it by playing a few notes.    It should be moderately loud.

Unless you are experienced and know what you are doing, never choose just a 4' or a 2' stop, on their own.

So back to that 8’ stop, that you have selected, if it seems a bit quiet, then also draw a 4' stop.  It could be named something like Principal or Flute.

You now have a basic set up and could easily accompany a whole service just using these stops.   It won't be exciting, but it will be safe.

If time is on your side, identify the Swell Manual.   Select an 8' stop and a 4' stop which will generally be a little quieter than those you have on the Great.

This will give you the opportunity, at suitable points in the music, to change between the Great and Swell and thus have more variety.

In the next Reply we explore more about selecting stops,

Peter
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Re: No__126___How to approach playing a new pipe organ.
« Reply #9 on: February 24, 2020, 06:49:28 am »
Selecting Stops – continued

This is for those of you, who have passed basic survival.

As a general rule, the easiest way to get a louder sound is to include stops at a higher pitch than you are already using. 

For instance, if you have already chosen an 8' stop, add one at 4' pitch.

If you are already using 8' and 4' stops, then chose one at 2' pitch.

And the reverse is true for making the organ quieter.

Take your time, be prepared to experiment a bit and find out what works well.

As I mentioned above, some stops have fractional pipe-lengths, which are known as mutations.

These stops sound very different notes to the one(s) being played.

For instance, a 22/3' stop sounds an octave and a fifth higher than played.

and a 13/5' stop sounds two octaves and a third higher.

If you are familiar with drawbars, then you will recognise these, and know how they function.


Apart for specialised use, these add richness and colour to a combination of stops.

However, they can lead to some very strange sounds, so unless you know what you are doing, or have time to experiment and listen, at this stage ignore them.

Some other stops are named Mixtures, and they have Roman numerals instead of pipe-lengths.

For each note you play, these stops will add several high sounding notes.

When well used, they can add clarity and power.

But, unless you know what you are doing, or have time to experiment and listen, at this stage you can confidently ignore them.

In the next Reply, I point out that some new organs may have a set up that could throw you, at first.

Peter
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Peter Anderson

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Re: No__126___How to approach playing a new pipe organ.
« Reply #10 on: February 25, 2020, 05:38:13 pm »
Many very new organs now come with touch screens, usually placed either side of the keyboards, rather like this:



Don't let this type of set up, put you off, but take it in your stride and pratice with it beforehand, until you are comfortable with it.

Remember, you wont be able to feel solid stop in your hand, so it does take some getting used to.

In the next Reply, I give a suggestion for a starting registration, whatever type of physical stops the instrument is furnished with, that will generate a very good church organ sound.

Peter
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Peter Anderson

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Re: No__126___How to approach playing a new pipe organ.
« Reply #11 on: February 26, 2020, 06:59:23 am »
It might be a help to suggest a good starting point registration, for a 'good' church organ sound, so here goes.

From the Great, choose if they are available on that particular organ, Diapason 8', Principal 4' and Fifteen 2'. 
This will give you a very good 'church organ' sound.

Add a 16' Bourdon to the pedals, and you have a basic set up.

To give a fuller organ sound, try adding Strings and/or Reeds, usually found on the Swell manual, but use the coupler, from Swell to Great, and you only have to worry about one manual.

You will need to 'balance' these extra sounds, and that will most likely be done by the Swell expression pedal.

In the next reply, we consider, changing stops.

Peter
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Re: No__126___How to approach playing a new pipe organ.
« Reply #12 on: February 27, 2020, 06:59:15 am »

Changing Stops

As mentioned in the previous Reply, you can introduce some variety by changing to a different manual, at natural gaps in the music.   It is similarly possible to change stops, either using the suggestions above or things you have found out for yourself.

But, it is vital that the rhythmic flow of the music must not be disturbed, whilst you are looking around for a stop to add or subtract.

Unless you are very careful, it is very easy to follow a change of a stop, with a flurry of wrong notes.   Believe me, I’ve been there and have that T-Shirt!

So it is best not to change stops while you are holding a chord.    It simply leads to an uneasy bump in the music, and can destroy the rhythmic flow.

When playing your Yamaha AR, think back to those occasions when you were playing well and very smoothly, but tried to kick the foot switch, or stop or start the rhythm, and it all went haywire!

Murphy’s law begins to function – if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.

So remove potential pot holes.  Keep things simple and basic, at this stage.

It is vital to continue to give a clear lead, by playing the melody, very smoothly.  Don't forget, that as an organist, with so many other things to be thinking about on this venture, so just by playing a melody line with the appropriate bass note, will sound very good.   There is one tremendous advantage with the organ.  That is, by pressing just 1 or 2 keys, with a wise selection of stops, you can actually generate many notes, at the same time.

So what you play on the manual, may appear to be sparse, but the sound emanating from the organ, will be very full.

In the next reply, we explore further changing stops.

Peter
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Peter Anderson

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Re: No__126___How to approach playing a new pipe organ.
« Reply #13 on: February 29, 2020, 07:06:26 am »

Changing stops continued.

Some organs may have Combination Pistons.   These are normally situated  between the manuals, and similar in appearance to the Yamaha AR Memory buttons, look something like this:




You may have foot switches placed above the pedals, which look something like this:





These combination pistons, activate groups of stops at the same time, and, provided that  you feel confident, they can be used in the same way as changing stops by hand.

In most cases they add extra stops from left to right, but, be warned that is not always the case.

Before using pistons, always test them out to see what sounds they produce.

Some may be ideal for you on the manuals, but the pedal sound may be too harsh, for your liking.

They can be totally ignored if you prefer.

But be warned, if you use a combination piston, it may also add some pedal stops.    That may be OK, but if you have chosen to not play the pedals, and have no pedal stops selected, and are resting your feet on the pedals, you will get some unexpected notes!

However, if you feel uncertain about choosing stops, the careful selection of pistons, usually gives you a good combination that sounds well.

In the next reply, we examine controlling the sound from the manuals,

Peter
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Peter Anderson

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Re: No__126___How to approach playing a new pipe organ.
« Reply #14 on: March 02, 2020, 07:00:50 am »
Controlling the sound from the manuals

Usually, the Swell manual and sometimes the Choir manuals are said to be expressive.

That is, the pipes are tucked away in a box to reduce the sound.    However, by the use of a special foot pedal, shutters are opened in that box and more sound is allowed out.

These special pedals may be Balanced.    That means that they stay in the same position where you leave them, just like your Expression Pedal on your Yamaha AR, where you may well think of that pedal as a volume control.

Expressive Balanced Pedals on Pipe Organs behave the same way as your AR Foot operated Volume control.

They look something like this:



Others are called Trigger Pedals.    These have to be latched open, something like this:




If there is more than one of these pedals, and you are in luck, then they may well be labelled as to which manual they apply to.   Obviously, it is essential to try them out beforehand.

It is not necessary to use these pedals and, if you choose not to, then leave them in the open position, relying on stop selection to generate the volume you require.  To be in the open position, the Balanced pedal will have the toe well forward, whereas the Trigger pedal will be latched down.

But be warned, on occasions, something that looks like a balanced swell pedal may be a general crescendo pedal.      As you open it, it introduces more stops, culminating in a full house.    These are usually labelled but, and especially if the organ has two or more of these unlabelled balanced pedals, then test them before playing and leave such a general crescendo pedal in the closed position, with the heel well down.

In the next Reply, we look at an important consideration, about playing a strange organ in a large building.

Peter
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