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down at toe or heel?

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  • down at toe or heel?

    Hi, this is my first message on the Organ Board and look forward to joining in. I'm an assistant church organist (after many years of not playing) and can't remember what the correct way to leave the volume foot control when finished playing/practising. Is it "down at the heel up at toe" or "down at the toe and up at heel"? I remember getting a huge telling off from the formidable but fantastic organist who gave me lessons 30 years ago and don't want to get it wrong again. I can't ask this lady as 1. I'm in a different location now and 2. this dear lady died a few years ago. Thanks in advance.

  • #2
    It depends upon if it is an electronic organ or a pipe organ.

    On electronic organs, I would expect the console to be left with the expression shoes closed, so that upon turn-on, the sound is muted.

    On a pipe organ, I think the expression shoes should be left open so that air is free to move in and out of the chamber. However, in one case, much damage was avoided to a pipe organ because the organist left the expression shutters closed when a fire occurred. The swell shades kept fire and water damage out of most of the chamber.


    • myorgan
      myorgan commented
      Editing a comment

      Welcome to the Forum. What he said ^^^^^^. Unless the pipe organ is a tracker, most are now built so the shutters close once power is removed to the console and pipes. Trackers should be left open. On an electric/digital organ it doesn't make a bit of difference, but if you're in the habit of accidentally walking on the pedals with stops on, well....

      Welcome to our group, and I look forward to your contributions!


  • #3
    In my part of Canada (Ontario), there are 3 basic kinds of organs:

    1) Pipe organs with an electric action of some sort. Most of these are designed so that before you turn the organ off, you do a "heel down" to the Swell shoes, which essentially closes the shutters. Once the organ is off and electrical influences are removed from the Swell shutters, a spring causes the shutters to open. This is important. If the temperature in the room changes, the whole organ is affected and it will go sharp or flat, mostly together. If the shutters were closed, exposed or unenclosed pipes would change with changes to the room temperature, while the enclosed pipes either wouldn't change at all, or wouldn't change as much, resulting in the divisions being out of tune with each other. It also means that when you re-start the organ, the shutters revert to the closed position. In case a key gets pressed accidentally before you start to play, any sound coming from the pipes would be kept as quiet as possible.

    2) Pipe organs with a mechanical Swell shoe. These shoes are designed to stay where you leave them, and the shutter mechanism is designed to follow what the shoe does. In this case, you would leave them open, i.e. "heel up," for the same reasons as in 1), to allow all the pipes to stay at the same temperature.

    3) Electronic organs. As mentioned in replies 2 and 2.1 above. Leave these "heel down" so that when the organ is next turned on, in case a key gets pressed accidentally, the volume will be as soft as possible. I think I once played an electronic organ where the speaker made a 'bang' of some kind when the organ was first turned on. The volume of the 'bang' matched the position of the Swell shoe.

    Possible exceptions:
    - Among those pipe organs with an electric action to run the shutters, some will bang open or closed when you turn the organ off or on. In a church service, if the wind noise (when I'm not playing) is loud enough to disturb hearing during a sermon, I will turn the organ off, but I need to know which position to leave the Swell shoes, so that when I turn the organ back on, the shutters opening or closing don't bang too loudly. Usually, this is due to something not regulated properly or some felt being worn out, and can eventually be fixed.
    Last edited by regeron; 07-05-2020, 02:46 PM. Reason: clarity


    • #4
      My pipe organ builder tells me that the shades should always be left open when not in use so that the pipes inside and outside of the chambers remain at the same temperature. It's exceptionally important at my church because it isn't air conditioned.



      • #5
        I would say, ask first. If there is no clear directive, go with the defaults, very well described in above posts. That is, unless you have reason to believe a change from defaults would result in an improvement.

        There are exceptions of course. One church I played at, the Swell had a few ranks that were very sensitive to temperature and humidity changes. The chambers were by an exterior wall that was not very well insulated. The music director found though observation, that keeping the swell closed resulted in more stable tuning. So that is what the organists did at the church.