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Stupid piston question.

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  • Stupid piston question.

    Oooookkkayyy, so forgive thsi really stupid question, as I have a Master's in Music (conducting, not organ) but I still am not sure of this. What is the real reason for general and the 'other' pistons? Is it to add in mid phrase only to one organ or somethign like that? I guess I play mainly Baroque so I dont' get too much into that other stuff, but I dont' think I've ever askeed one of my instructors that question becuase it seems like I should have learned it when I was 17 years old.


  • #2
    Re: Stupid piston question.

    pistons can be used at the beginning of a work, in mid-phrase, anywhere in the musical texture where the music demands it.

    on an organ where I've subbed on Sundays last year, one group of general pistons
    failed to work on the Pedal stops. once one was aware of this, one could simply grab
    the Pedal stops and pull them on.

    this problem is being worked on by the organ maintenance people at that church and from what I can tell, the real problem lay in the memory level I was using.

    I mention this as a way of showing that pistons are not always a help; they can be a hindrance in a situation like the one described.


    • #3
      Re: Stupid piston question.

      Well I personally generally use generals more than divisionals (uh... whatever they're called).

      The pistons that control specific compasses are for say if you're playing on the great but you're switching over to the swell and you need to just change those stops. Another example is, say, if you have strings in the swell, and a flute on the great (ah one of my favorite combinations), and you decide to change the flute to something else, you can use the compass divisions to change the flute to something else, rather than setting general pistons with the exact same stops plus or minus a few on one division.

      Hopefully that makes sense


      • #4

        Post deleted by author


        • #5
          Re: Stupid piston question.

          When skilled pianists move to the organ, they are often caught in the mindset that music- making consists of pushing keys down. You color and express the music by how lightly of firmly you pressthe keys, little nano-second tricks of timing, etc; but there is no expectation that from one measure to the next it will not sound like a piano. The organ is frustrating to these musicians because of the greater potencial of the organ in "orchestration", expression, and mood shading by means other than the keys, and it is a separate skill that needs practice. The pistons and toe studs are to make that orchestrating and shading easier and quicker, as are the expression box, and the crescendo pedal; as I outlined briefly in the begining of the thread on crescendo pedals.

          Its not a stupid question. I have seen(and been bored by) many organists who make no changes throuout a long piece. I politely congratulate them on thier fine manual technique and go my way. I teach my students to look for oportunities to read emotion into the music and uplift their audience/congregation with a variety of beautiful sound. There is emotion under the mathematics of the Baroque masters, and for edification of the listeners, it is good to bring it out with subtle and not so subtle stop changes. We can only speculate, and many have, on what 17th cen. organists would have done with the organ technology of the last hundred and fifty years, but I am sure they would not have ignored it.



          • #6
            Re: Stupid piston question.

            I absolutely swear by pistons. I can't live without them, especially generals. I am very fussy about having them everywhere, if I was to build an organ, I would have them all over the place. I always like them to be as thumb and toe pistons all the time.


            • #7
              Re: Stupid piston question.

              I hate it when your generals are off above the Great on the left, or elsewhere. They need to be right below the lowest manual where they're easy to get to! And there needs to be lots of them.

              Do y'all set generals by "loudness"? (like 1 is soft, 8 is loud)


              • #8
                Re: There are no stupid questions.

                With modern solid state combination actions,
                any and all pistons can be general pistons.
                There is something called a "range" button
                or some such which will determine exactly
                which stops a given piston will affect, and
                it can be set just like you would set a piston.

                With this system you have complete flexibility.
                If you want the first piston under the Choir to
                affect only Choir stops, that is fine.
                Piston 2 could be a General if you wish.
                Piston 3 might only affect the Positiv and
                certain couplers.
                Piston 4 might affect only one single stop,
                for example the Choir 4 foot flute.
                So pressing 4 would add the 4 foot flute
                to any exisiting combination without
                affecting anything else.

                I like this system, offered by several builders.


                • #9
                  Re: There are no stupid questions.

                  yes, having generals everywhere is great. I VERY rarely use divisionals myself, because instead of a divisional, well you can just have an extra general IMO, although divisionals were very useful when memory/space was limited, nowadays, I think we don't need them near as much. About the 1-8 quiet-to-loud, since I USUALLY have access to an organ with 8 generals for each memory level, I like to set ONE memory level like that for hymn playing....but for the most part, (at church) I am limited to one memory level, and 5 generals, so I improvise with the 5 (I change all 5 up to 3 times per mass, yet have to return them to one type of setting because of the other 3 organists who I've set them for, they don't improvise with stops enough without presets, but I digress) but basically, nowadays, we have enough general pistons to satisfy almost any organist in the smallest organ (although the complete customization idea is excellent) IMO the divisionals are a thing of the past....I myself have NEVER used them. At school I have 10 memory levels of 8 pistons, and divisionals as well, don't use the divs.


                  • #10
                    Re: There are no stupid questions.

                    Just my thoughts here on divisionals ...

                    Our current organ has 4 swell divisionals and 4 great divisionals. No generals. There is nothing that grates on me more than when I need to make a major mood change on both manuals at the same time. I have to try and hit two pistons instead of one and we have a mechanical combination action which means I get that big "ka-chunk" twice as I'm switching around. To get ready for a hymn I accidentally hit two during the preacher's prayer. Yeah ... he wasn't real happy about that one.